Bulls rookie Julian Phillips showcases development in career night against Blazers

PORTLAND — Missing two rotational forwards to injuries, Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan had predetermined swinging to rookie Julian Phillips in the Bulls’ 104-96 win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

Before the game, Donovan said he viewed the opportunity as a chance for the youngster to show where he is in his development.

By the time it was over, Phillips had flashed signs that he might be ahead of schedule.

In his best performance yet, Phillips scored a season-high 11 points in a season-high 23 minutes off the bench. He made 4 of 7 shots, including 1 of 3 3-pointers, and he went 2-for-4 from the free-throw line. He added two rebounds, one assist and one jaw-dropping, two-handed block that showcased his athleticism and defensive savvy that made him last year’s 35th pick in the NBA Draft.

“The thing that I’ve been most impressed with from summer league till now has been his ability to pick things up very quickly,” Donovan said. “He’s got a very, very high IQ.”

Donovan credited Phillips’ smarts to his ability to play within himself.

“He plays in a very, very small box for himself,” Donovan said. “He’s a really good cutter. He’s really good athletically on the glass. He does things he knows he can do.”

Phillips, however, passed on the credit to his parents.

“They were both in the military, so it was kind of, like, a lot (thrown) at me when I was young,” he said. “I was trying to learn a lot. So, I would say from them.”

Of course, military discipline mandates following directions the first time.

“You better get it,” Phillips said.

Phillips didn’t just stand out with the impactful plays he provided Sunday. His poise and confidence also were impressive. Despite logging only 99 minutes over 22 contests before Sunday, Phillips looked ready for his moment. In what historically has been a tough road environment, Phillips never flinched.

His first bucket came on an aggressive three-dribble, baseline-driving layup that drew a continuation foul. He timed a cut perfectly for his next basket, an alley-oop dunk from Dalen Terry with the shot clock winding down.

Late in the third quarter, Phillips caught Blazers guard Malcolm Brogdon ball-watching and beat him on a cutting layup from Coby White. It also resulted in a continuation, although Phillips missed both of his and-1 opportunities.

And for his final points, Phillips drifted to the corner at the appropriate time to provide an outlet for a driving DeMar DeRozan along the baseline. When DeRozan trusted his rookie and delivered the pass, Phillips didn’t let him down. Without hesitation, he stepped into a rhythmic corner 3. It put the Bulls ahead by 8 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining.

“I’m real comfortable,” Phillips said.

His teammates did all they could to keep encouraging him Sunday. Alex Caruso and injured forward Torrey Craig, whose absence was coupled with Patrick Williams’ to open playing time, approached Phillips several times to offer advice. One moment came after Phillips was whistled for a bad foul against Jerami Grant with seven seconds remaining in the third quarter.

“I’m just trying to give him the answers to the test,” Caruso said. “Help him be in positions so he doesn’t have to think as much out there. Because, like you can see, he’s talented. When he gets in positions where his talent can just play out on the court, he’s a really good player. So just helping him try to think through the game before the game happens.”

Caruso said Phillips will get better with experience. But he has established a reputation as a willing learner.

“He listens,” Caruso said. “He’s doing the things that we talk about. Obviously, he’s not going to be perfect his first year, halfway through his first year. But I think he’s doing a good job of trying to learn. And he wants to get better. That’s the two most important things.”

Phillips will continue to receive substantial playing time while the Bulls are banged up.

Williams, who missed his fourth game this season, is scheduled for imaging on his left foot to determine the cause of soreness when the team returns from Portland on Monday. The hope is the results come back clean and Williams isn’t forced to miss extended time. Craig has begun sprinting and cutting, according to Donovan, and is nearing a return in early February.

That gives Phillips a little more time to shine and perhaps carve out a steady role.

“He has a knack for getting better,” Ayo Dosunmu said.

(Photo of Julian Phillips shooting past Malcolm Brogdon, right: Soobum Im / USA Today)

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