Don’t tell JaKarr Sampson that the Bulls’ games the last week have been meaningless. Not with his résumé.
The 6-9 forward from St. John’s went undrafted in 2014 and joined the Philadelphia 76ers as they were tanking and promising “The Process” to their fans.
But Sampson’s “process” was much different than it was for the Sixers’ core.
There was a stint with the Delaware 87ers and a cup of coffee with the Denver Nuggets. He had a season with the Iowa Energy before joining the Sacramento Kings. He also played in Reno, Nevada, and China with the Shandong Golden Stars. Finally, he joined the Windy City Bulls before returning to the NBA.
So scoring a career-high 29 points in a loss to the 76ers on Saturday was an unforgettable time for Sampson.
“It was big time,” Sampson said. “The coach [Jim Boylen] trusts me with the minutes. I’m thankful for the opportunity he’s given me to play big-time minutes like this in the NBA. It’s not often it happens. I’ve just got to take advantage of my opportunity. That’s what I’m trying to do, make the best of it.”
He hasn’t only shown an ability to score, averaging 23 points in three games. He has shown a high motor on both ends of the floor, averaging eight rebounds and blocking three shots.
“I feel like it’s all about right place, right time, right coach, right situation, right opportunity,” Sampson said. “And I feel like right now, that’s what you’re all seeing. Right opportunity. I’m getting the minutes. And I’ve been working on my game too.’’
Not only has he added a more consistent three-point shot to his arsenal, he has shown he can play power forward a bit undersized while still able to guard bigger forwards and switch to a guard when necessary.
“The NBA game has changed a lot in the last four or five years,” Sampson said. “You’ve got smaller guys on the court at the four-spot being able to create and switch one through five, one through four. So it’s big time. I always had the defense. But the offense is coming along.”
The bigger question is whether the offense has come far enough that the Bulls will entertain finding a roster spot for Sampson if they can.
He has a two-way contract, and though the Bulls will have very few guaranteed roster spots available after the draft and free agency, there will be creative ways to keep Sampson in a Bulls uniform.
That could be an issue now that Sampson has shown what he can do. He had an eye-opening season with Windy City and hasn’t skipped a step since being called up.
The good news is Sampson wants to stay with the Bulls, likes the direction they’re going and is no stranger to rebuilds.
“Sticking with the process,” he said when asked what the Bulls could learn from the Sixers. “It’s just that. Doing everything the right way every single day. Those days build up over time. Just stay consistent.
“We’ve got team concepts, buy into what Coach is saying, stick together and it will happen.”