Bulls player preview: Luke Kornet brings a unique skill set to bench

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NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr.

How last year went

Luke Kornet had multiple stints with the Knicks last season, shuttling between New York and Westchester with the team's G-League affiliate. He wound up playing 46 games for the Knicks, averaging 7.0 points and 2.9 rebounds in 17.0 minutes (in 11 games with Westchester, he averaged 18.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 32.5 minutes). It's hard to extract much from Kornet's 2019 based on how dysfunctional the Knicks were, but he put together a solid stretch to close the year, averaging 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 28.7 minutes over the final seven games of the season. One of those games came against the Bulls - 12 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 blocks - which certainly didn't hurt his cause in free agency with the Bulls showing interest.

Expectations for this year's role

One of Daniel Gafford or Kornet will receive the non-Wendell Carter center minutes. While Kornet is probably a better fit with Thaddeus Young, Gafford is probably the better player of the two and the Bulls have more invested in the second-round pick. Kornet's job when he enters games will be simple: Stretch the floor, hit a couple 3-pointers and defend well. We'll have a clearer picture of his role as the preseason rolls along. Outside of point guard, this is the biggest position battle to watch.

Where he excels

Kornet is unusual in that he's a 3-point shooting big who is really talented on the defensive end. He's not Channing Frye, Dirk Nowitzki or Kelly Olynyk. We'll get to the 3-point shooting later, but consider for now that the Knicks were 6.8 points per 100 possession better defensively with Kornet on the floor. His 0.9 blocks per game won't jump out, but he also accumulated those swats in just 17.0 minutes per game. His 4.5% block rate was equal to Wendell Carter's and he had seven games of three or more blocks. His Defensive RPM was 6th in the NBA among power forwards (2.27) and ahead of names such as Jaren Jackson and Pascal Siakam. Kornet isn't a stiff. He's going to give Jim Boylen options on the second unit on whether the Bulls want to emphasize offense (Daniel Gafford) or defense (Luke Kornet).

He's also going to stretch the floor. Kornet isn't an elite 3-point shooter, but his 36.3% from deep on 42 attempts was above league average and seventh best among 7-footers last season. All but one of Kornet's 70 3-pointers were assisted last season, so he won't do too much creating on his own. But the Bulls know they have a center to stretch the floor for the first time in a long time. He'll give defenses a different look and should be able to open up some space on the inside for Thaddeus Young on the second unit. We'll also add here that he's got some versatility. Per Basketball Reference, he played 33% of his minutes at power forward, spending 218 minutes next to Mitchell Robinson. That's good news if the Bulls want to space the floor but also keep one of Gafford or Carter in. Kornet can move around.

Where he needs work

Kornet is who he is. He's a catch-and-shoot floor spacer and a long defender who uses his 250-pound frame well. The Bulls don't need him to be much more given their center depth and investment in Wendell Carter. If there's one area he hopefully will improve in it's his shooting from inside the arc. Kornet made just 41.1% of his 2-point attempts last season; that was the worst 2-point field goal percentage among 34 7-footers last season, and the worst mark for a 7-footer since 31-year-old Channing Frye shot 39.0% on twos for the Orlando Magic in 2015 (Frye incredibly shot better from 3 than 2 that season). It'd need a deep dive to see why Kornet hasn't been successful inside despite his frame, but the Bulls won't necessarily need that from him. He's a floor spacer and rim protector.

Best case/worst case

In a best-case scenario, Kornet beats out Daniel Gafford for the backup center job and becomes an inside-out threat with Thaddeus Young on the second unit. He gives the Bulls another floor spacer and creates a nice pick-and-pop tandem with rookie Coby White. He also gives the Bulls some defensive consistency when Wendell Carter leaves the floor - last year that job was given to Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio, who aren't exactly Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green on that end of the floor.

Kornet was a solid addition because he gives the Bulls a player with traits they were lacking. Kornet made 70 3-pointers and blocked 42 shots last season. The only other players to reach those thresholds? Jokic, Towns, Vucevic, Embiid, B. Lopez, M. Gasol, Dedmon and Len. The Bulls haven't had a player like Kornet, maybe ever. Again, his ceiling is rather limited. He's an end-of-the-rotation player. But his skill set is a nice one to have.

Worst-case? Kornet continues to hover around league average from beyond the arc and is outplayed by Daniel Gafford, rendering him a bench warmer next to Felicio. There's not too much downside with the Kornet signing, similar to the Ryan Arcidiacono signing in a crowded Bulls backcourt.

One key stat

If you can't stop 'em, sign 'em. Kornet dominated the Bulls last season in two appearances.

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