By Michael Walton II
The inaugural season of the Windy City Bulls is almost upon us. With that being said, it may be safe to assume the average basketball fan is not familiar with the current roster of Chicago's new D League franchise. Well never fear! Your resident hip-hop-and-hoops-head is here to inform you that the team is stocked with talent and is sure to compete this upcoming season.
The starting lineup will most likely be a small-ball group. They should play fast and emulate the style that Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg would like his team to play.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG- Kiwi Gardner
SG- Jerel McNeal
SF- Wesley Saunders
PF- Jamal Jones
C- Ralph Sampson III
Jamal Jones will get the start if he assimilates well with the rest of the group. The Windy City Bulls could go super small and elect to start Casey Prather (a 6-foot 5 athletic swingman from the University of Florida) or one of their other guards, but Jones will get the nod because of his natural size for the power forward position at 6 foot 8. (Jamal Jones scores 26 points on the Erie BayHawks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B65Bsz2TydA)
Jones can get out in the passing lanes in a hurry on defense. On offense his size and leaping ability make him a great finisher in transition, but he could still add a bit more bulk to his frame. The fact that he is a former point guard (in high school) is icing on the cake, as ball-handling from the forward spot is ALWAYS a plus. He played one year at Texas A&M and actually was the offensive leader on the team.
The rest of the lineup is very intriguing as well. Former Creighton and Texas Legends guard Booker Woodfox has one of the cooler names in the NBA D-League. On top of that great name the man is an absolute knockdown three-point shooter. He shot 39 percent from three-point range last season with Texas Legends.
Kiwi Gardner is a 5-foot 7 guard with explosive quickness and slick handles. His ball-handling and shooting ability make him valuable, but his streakiness and size are his biggest disadvantages. Jerel McNeal is a veteran and Chicago native who starred at Marquette in the mid-2000's, but has been fighting for an NBA spot for several years now. He had a brief breakthrough during the 14-15’ NBA season where he played six games with the Phoenix Suns. He spent the last year playing in the Greek A1 league where he scored 14 points per game also shooting 37% from three.
The most interesting pick in the expansion draft was the Windy City Bulls' first one, Wesley Saunders, who was a former Ivy League Player of the Year at Harvard. He hasn’t produced much in the NBA D-League, but he is also the youngest player on the Windy City Bulls so there's plenty of time for him to grow. He sports shaky shooting mechanics, but his offensive versatility will make him very useful to the Windy City Bulls. He operates well as a facilitator, especially in the pick-and-roll, so he, McNeal, Woodfox, and Gardner could conceivably all play well together in various backcourt combinations due to Saunders' ability to get others the ball in their favorite spots on the floor.
The Windy City Bulls will surely having growing pains, just like any expansion team would. But the fact that the Bulls were able to land three players below the age of 25 who could go on to NBA roles is an encouraging sign. When you have players that young with that much potential and you put them on a team with hard workers like Chicago's own Jerel McNeal, you are putting guys in a situation that is built for them to succeed. The expansion draft marks a new era for the Chicago Bulls organization going forward. The collection of talent on the Windy City Bulls roster certainly points towards a bright future for that era.