The basketball part of Summer League is nothing new for Marko Simonovic.
He’s been playing that since the age of seven, and was off to Italy at the age of 14 to start playing professionally.
Sure, the 6-foot-11 forward/center has a ton to learn at the NBA level, but he didn’t seem overwhelmed with that prospect.
The off-the-court adjustment he needs to make in his new home? That’s where it’s going to be interesting for the 21-year-old.
When he came to Chicago last month to start working out for his new team, it was the first time he stepped foot in the city. Then it was off to Summer League, and the first time he’s seen the bright lights of Las Vegas. It’s those moments that he’s trying to take all in?
That’s the only familiarity that he has right now.
“I’ve gone through it,” Bulls Summer League coach – and Australian – Damian Cotter said of the process Simonovic is going through. “I try to talk about it, the importance of fitting into this culture and learning from it. He has a tendency, and this is a good thing, to try to do too much. We’re turning that into a positive.”
Positives that already started showing up when he made his debut on Monday.
In the loss, the big man played with some unexpected physicality in the paint, went 5-of-6 from the free throw line, grabbed five rebounds and finished with 13 points.
In his Game 2 comeback win against the Spurs on Tuesday night, Simonovic played second fiddle to the 30-point performance by Patrick Williams, but not a bad fiddle to play. After falling behind 22 points in the first half, the Bulls rallied in the 92-89 win, as Simonovic finished with 13 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Simonovic is still limited in minutes as they want to build his stamina, but the good news was they were climbing.
All steps the Bulls are hoping will result in Simonovic turning into a rotation player for a very thin frontcourt.
“I think [this upcoming] season I can help the team,” Simonovic said. “I’m a guy who runs the court. I’m a big man but I like to run. I like to share the ball.”
Call that mentality the Nikola Jokic influence. Not the only influence Simonovic had growing up, but definitely a great one to embrace.
“When I was a kid and watching the NBA, Dirk Nowitzki was really amazing for me,” Simonovic said. “It’s one of my idols. I tried to practice how he played. I listened to what he said. I tried to practice how he practiced. Coming also from Europe, from Germany, I think he’s one of the best players ever from Europe to play in the NBA.
“Now in the last two, three years, I always follow Nikola Jokic. This is an amazing guy. We came from the same club from Belgrade. I follow him before I was drafted. How he played, how he shared the ball, everything. How he’s smart on the court. But now when I was drafted, I start to follow the Bulls. Now the most important thing for me is I think because we have [a team in common] is [Bulls center] Nikola Vucevic. He’s my guy also. We come from the same country. We were together on the national team, but I think he will help me.”
As far as the other Bulls rookie who has a lot of eyes on him, Chicago product Ayo Dosunmu had a solid second half, finishing with 10 points and getting four steals.