On Saturday evening, the Greensboro Swarm beat the Windy City Bulls 120-96 in a blowout win. While that game can be initially looked at as the night where Tyler Nelson and Jaylen Barford could not be stopped from beyond the arc, it marked an end to Windy City’s nine game winning streak. While the team was over .500 both before and after that defeat, it still inarguably stood as one of the more impressive runs of the 2018-19 G League season.
To help celebrate Windy City’s impressive winning streak, we’ve came up with seven reasons as to how the Bulls were able to go nine games without losing.
While his stay with Windy City was limited, as he only played six games with the team before signing with the Shandong Golden Stars of the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association), Sampson still played a role in starting the Bulls’ winning streak. In his final two games with the team, which coincided with the start of Windy City’s streak, the veteran forward averaged 24 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on 59% from the field. That incredible efficiency was due in part to Sampson relying on the same mid-range and on-ball probing skills that allowed him to play 169 games in the NBA.
Although Sampson decided to head to China to make more money when the winning streak was just beginning, it likely wouldn’t have started without his veteran leadership.
As Sampson left to get paid in China, G League veteran Walt Lemon Jr. came to Windy City after the Fort Wayne Mad Ants traded his rights in exchange for the returning rights of Alex Hamilton and a 2019 1st round pick. This deal was meant to give the Bulls some help in a backcourt by Bulls two-way player Tyler Ulis going down with an injured hip.
However, Lemon has showcased himself to be more than just a simple injury replacement as his knack as an all-around offensive weapon has helped all four of the other Bulls that he’s on the court with. As was the case when he was with Maine and Fort Wayne, Lemon has shined as a great scoring threat as he’s averaged 18.8 points on 45% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc.
While his scoring has been solid, Lemon’s best work has come as a distributor as he’s averaging 8.4 assists with a 2.1 Ast/TO ratio. The Bulls guard is able to maintain such solid numbers through the use of crafty handles and patience. Those two traits mesh perfectly together as the veteran guard does a great job of using his dribble moves to attract the attention of the defense while waiting for a teammate to get open. Once a man gets open, Lemon can either throw a bounce pass to a cutting big or wing or a chest pass to an open perimeter shooter.
While Lemon’s skills as a facilitator allowed members of the Bulls to get open looks, those teammates actually needed to hit the jumpers for that plan to be successful. Fortunately, the Bulls had more success than not as Ferrakohn Hall and Kaiser Gates both stand as front-court players that can both knock down perimeter jumpers. During that nine game winning streak, Hall and Gates shot 41% and 46% from beyond the arc, respectively.
Among that duo, Hall’s success from beyond the arc is the most surprising as he was mostly an inside threat that worked his tail off in the paint during his first two stints in the G League. While he did show rare glimpses of being a solid perimeter shooter, as Hall shot 34% from 3 during his 2014-15 run with the Iowa Energy, that seemed to be more of an aberration when you compare it to his time overseas or college. However, that luck has changed over the past month as he’s evolved into a reliable perimeter weapon.
Meanwhile, Kaiser Gates has stood as one of the better power forwards in the G League over the last few weeks as he averaged 15 points and 6.3 rebounds on 48% from field and 46% from beyond the arc on 7.6 attempts per game. That efficiency is largely due to the incredible pick-and-pop chemistry he was immediately able to build with Walt Lemon.
The power of flare screens
In addition to the chemistry that Lemon was able to build with both Hall and Gates, Windy City’s utilization of a lot of flare screens and spacing are the biggest keys behind their offensive success. For those of you not as familiar with X’s & O’s, flares is what happens when the screener moves to the perimeter immediately after they work with the ball-handler.
When successful, that sequence obviously works to the benefit of the offense as the instantaneous nature prevents the opposition from figuring out whether to stick with the handler or go to the screener that works to the perimeter. With that in mind, there’s no surprise how Hall and Gates were able to get so many open looks. In addition to the perimeter benefits, flare screens also can create an open lane for the guard to enter when they want to drive to the rim.
One player that has done a great job of utilizing those flare screens to help with his work as an on-ball driver is Bulls two-way player Brandon Sampson. Joining the team during the midst of the winning streak after signing a two-way deal with Chicago on December 27th, he was immediately able to fit in as a key offensive weapon for the team. In his first four games with the team, he averaged 14.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals on 49% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 5 attempts per game.
While he’s been a fantastic perimeter weapon, the LSU alum has also shown an ability to drive to the paint and be able to score at the rim. In those first four games, Sampson shot 57% on a total of 28 field goal attempts from within the restricted area.
The well-rounded CJ Fair
The players that we’ve talked about so far all have their own individual role within the Bulls rotation. Walt Lemon shines as a stud facilitator, Brandon Sampson is that dual-threat wing while Ferrakohn Hall & Kaiser Gates are sharp-shooting bigs. However, G League veteran CJ Fair is different in the fact that he’s a wing that can make a positive impact on the Bulls in several different ways. His great versatility was evident during that winning streak as he averaged 17.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.8 blocks per game on 51% from the field.
From an offensive perspective, Fair is incredibly solid as he does a nice job of being able to finish within the restricted area whether he’s probing into an open lane or driving directly into contact. His knack of scoring around contact is impressive as he can contort his body to get a good angle while he’s in the air. Alongside that work as a driver, Fair works his tail off on the offensive glass, as he averaged 2.1 offensive boards per game.
On the other end of the court, Fair stand as one of the best defenders in the G League due to how he’s able to defend driving guards or bigs and forwards that are working in the low-post. While his solid 6’8, 215 frame definitely helps him out on defense, Fair is great on this end of the court due to knowing the right situation to get a chasedown block or show on the pick-and-roll on the pick-and-roll to try to steal the ball.
Great team defense
While solid perimeter-oriented offense was a big factor that pushed Windy City to maintain a nine-game winning streak, defense has been the team’s bread and butter since the beginning of the season. Obviously, that didn’t change during the team’s winning streak as teams averaged 102.7 points per 100 possessions against Windy City, which tied the Stockton Kings for the 4th lowest average in the G League. That low points per 100 possessions average was largely due to how the team defended the perimeter as opposing G League squads shot 31% from beyond the arc, which yet again put them 4th in the G League.
The opposition’s lackluster 3-point shooting is primarily due to the Bulls working to close out on open shooters or bigs showing when defending the pick-and-roll. “Showing” is when the big lunges at the opposing ball-handler after working around an off-ball screen. More times than not, that act can be beneficial as it applies more pressure to the ball handler which could lead to turnovers.
Speaking of pressure, the Bulls did a great job of preventing opposing teams from getting open looks around the rim, whether from on-ball drives or passes to bigs inside the paint. In terms of on-ball drives, the Bulls definitely start off on a strong note as they have a handful of solid perimeter defenders like CJ Fair, Brandon Sampson, Mychal Mulder. Those players do a great job of either helping guide the opposing ball-handler to a big waiting at the rim or putting them in position where they’re forced to make an ill-advised pass.