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Bulls rookie Chandler Hutchison embracing his role as defensive stopper

Coach Jim Boylen had a simple message for his rookie forward last month: Find an identity.

Chandler Hutchison didn’t have to be told twice.

Boylen asked him to come off the bench, grab some rebounds and score when the opportunity presents itself. But first and foremost, defend, defend, defend.

When asked if Hutchison is embracing the idea of becoming a defensive stopper, Boylen said, “I think he is. What I talk about [with Hutchison] is my experiences with Kawhi Leonard as a stopper first, Defensive Player of the Year [in both 2015 and 2016]. Paul George was a stopper first, and then Jimmy Butler was a stopper first. I was able to be around those guys and coach them, so that’s what we talked to him about.

“You have to get an identity in this league first. Whatever that identity is. Sometimes it’s effort, toughness, maybe you’re a shooter and work on driving the ball, whatever it is.’’

Especially when the end game is understood.

Since being drafted 22nd overall in June, Hutchison knew right away what his role would be. At Boise State, the 6-7 forward always could defend, but he needed to be a scorer in college.

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn are projected as the core three moving forward. So Hutchison knew his path to playing time would come by building a reputation as a defender, especially on a team that was defensively challenged even before it selected him with the pick acquired from the Pelicans in the Nikola Mirotic trade.

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“For me, right away, the first thing I noticed was I can help the team,’’ Hutchison said. “Then one thing leads to the next if you can help the team. Coaches are going to find a way to get you on the floor, which is a reward for me. But also if I can help the team in areas that we need help, it’s going to help us win.’’

Hutchison has helped accomplish that five times since Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg on Dec. 3. His talents have been showcased in the last four games, in which the Bulls have gone 2-2.

He only scored four points in the Dec. 23 victory at Cleveland, but he was plus-8 in the plus/minus category in 32 minutes.

In the loss Sunday in Toronto, Hutchison played 14 minutes but scored 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting, showing there was some offense in his game.

“I wouldn’t say anything changed,’’ Hutchison said of the game against the Raptors. “Just got the ball in some situations that they were overplaying because they were overaggressive in the passing lanes and just drove the ball, tried to be aggressive.’’

Boylen has preached that mentality with his entire offense. The Bulls don’t scare teams with their outside shooting — they rank 28th in the league in three-pointers made per game with 9.3 — but they have some athletes who can attack the rim.

Hutchison fits that description, and eventually he might be another offensive weapon off the bench. Just not today.

“I think I’m a good defensive player,’’ he said. “I would say I’m above average, especially with what they say about being a rookie and whatever. I take a lot of pride in my defense, and I hate when my guys score on me. Not because I think someone is going to get on me if I don’t [stop them from scoring], but that’s just me.’’

Thus, Hutchison has done exactly what the team has asked of him.