Bears

Aggrey Sam's NBA Mock Draft

Aggrey Sam's NBA Mock Draft

1. New Orleans Hornets: Anthony Davis; 6-foot-10 power forward, Kentucky

Why? By now, Davis' game has been dissected by analysts everywhere, but for those who have been living under a rock, the Chicago native is viewed as the only true franchise-changing prospect in the draft. Already expected to make a major impact as a shot-blocker, Davis will need to bulk up, but should help the Hornets immediately as a rebounder and finisher around the basket. Davis is underrated offensively, with touch in his mid-range jumper and agility that comes from his days as a 6-foot-2 high school guard just a few years ago. New Orleans obviously needs help in many areas, but with free agent Chris Kaman likely departing and fellow center Emeka Okafor rumored to be an amnesty candidate -- though he wouldn't be a bad mentor and bodyguard for Davis as a rookie -- the front court springs to mind as the team's biggest concern.

2. Charlotte Bobcats: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist; 6-foot-7 small forward, Kentucky

Why? Since the Hornets were awarded the No. 1 pick, and Davis is the clear-cut choice, the debate over who the second-best prospect in the draft is has been raging. It has been suggested that team owner Michael Jordan will be tempted by the potential of raw Connecticut center Andre Drummond or continuing his old pattern of selecting North Carolina products and go for fellow Tar Heel Harrison Barnes. But the smart money is on Charlotte deciding between Kidd-Gilchrist and Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson. While Robinson has more college experience and was the go-to player for the national runner-up Jayhawks, Gilchrist was the leader, if not the most-ballyhooed player, on the national champs and fills a hole for the Bobcats.

As far as bringing a winning mentality, Kidd-Gilchrist and Robinson are perhaps equals. But while Robinson might be more polished at this stage, Kidd-Gilchrist could have a higher ceiling and fills a current hole for a team that set an NBA record for lowest winning percentage in a season. Rookie big man Bismack Biyombo was one of the Bobcats' few bright spots, and even if the team projects him as a full-time center, a potential combination with Robinson would be an undersized post duo and one that could lack proficient scoring. Kidd-Gilchrist, on the other hand, while far from a polished scorer, brings a lot of energy and a defensive mindset to the table. He would form an athletic wing duo with young shooting guard Gerald Henderson, Jr. Although nothing will be an instant fix for Charlotte, Kidd-Gilchrist is a solid building block for its future, who should be, at the very least, a high-level role player. If he maximizes his potential offensively, he could possibly be an All-Star.

3. Washington Wizards: Thomas Robinson; 6-foot-8 power forward, Kansas

Why? In this scenario, Kidd-Gilchrist would already be off the board, giving the Wizards the opportunity to bring Robinson, a D.C. native, back to his hometown. With the mid-season acquisition of veteran Nene and strong finishes to the regular season from young big men Kevin Seraphin, -- Joakim Noah's France Olympic squad teammate, a strongly-built center who was ironically, a Bulls draft pick, acquired by Washington in the Kirk Hinrich draft-day deal from two years ago -- undersized power forward Trevor Booker and athletic Czech rookie Jan Vesely, the Wizards would seem to be set in the post, which is why they're rumored to have Kidd-Gilchrist and Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal, a potential back court partner for point guard John Wall, atop their draft board.

However, if Kidd-Gilchrist isn't available, Robinson is the safe bet. His winning background and potential would be a step in the right direction in Washington, where head coach Randy Wittman, recently signed to a two-year contract after ending the season as the interim coach, could pair Nene with youngster in an intriguing front court. The undersized Beal's projected outside shooting would help, but he could be a slight risk that high in the draft, especially in a league where shooters are often available via trades or free agency. The Wizards have both money to spend and young assets to deal.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Andre Drummond; 6-foot-11 center, Connecticut

Why? Another team with a young star point guard, -- Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving -- some front court pieces in veteran Anderson Varejao and rookie Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers could also be envisioning Beal to complete their back court. His shooting, however, wouldn't complement Irving as well as Wall, and there would still be concerns about size at the guard positions. Barnes is another option, as he would fill Cleveland's void at small forward. But with Thompson being the team's power forward of the future, a true center, even one with as much perceived risk as Drummond (who has been compared to the likes of Kwame Brown, Dwight Howard and everyone in between) would plug a major hole. Since Cleveland isn't expected to be a winning team anytime soon, he would have time to develop with the rest of the Cavaliers' young core, giving them a relaxed time frame to realize the reward of his potential.

5. Sacramento Kings: Harrison Barnes; 6-foot-8 small forward, North Carolina

Why? Now that DeMarcus Cousins is seen as the centerpiece of the team, rather than former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, expect Sacramento to proceed with building around the talented young big man in mind. Cousins has the ability to play both power forward and center, so the athletic Drummond's potential as a rebounder and defensive presence would be a possible fit. But his lack of maturity would be a concern, and in this scenario, he'd be off the board anyway. The scoring of shooting guard Marcus Thornton and the surprise play of diminutive rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas -- the final selection in last year's draft -- give the Kings two keepers, albeit undersized, in the back court along with Evans, who could be on the block. Small forward is a different story, and although Barnes is criticized for not being adept at creating his own shot, he's a fundamentally-sound player with size and the ability to knock down shots, which would space the floor for Cousins, a willing passer, on the interior.

6. Portland Trail Blazers: Bradley Beal, 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Florida

Why? Inevitably, a highly-touted prospect drops a few spots in every draft and, although Beal is considered by some observers to be the No. 2 prospect behind Davis, based on need alone, the former Gator falls to Portland in this scenario. Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and small forward Nicolas Batum, a restricted free agent, are the Blazers' two legitimate starters, as point guard Raymond Felton appeared to be a bad fit after coming to Portland via trade. Shooting guard Jamal Crawford will likely depart in free agency after a one-year stint. Center remains a position of weakness and, although Drummond, if available, would be tempting, the franchise's bad luck at the position -- Sam Bowie and Greg Oden come to mind -- make it too easy for picking a player at that position to be criticized by the team's rabid fan base.

Rebounding in general is another area that needs to be improved, so Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger, despite playing the same position as Aldridge, will also be considered. But with Crawford's likely departure and swingman Wesley Matthews' shooting struggles last season, Beal simply makes sense and would be considered a steal with the sixth pick. While his outside shooting in his only college season was what observers projected it would be and he isn't an elite athlete, Beal's toughness and NBA-ready body give him a chance to get on the floor immediately and perhaps push Matthews for a starting role.

7. Golden State Warriors: Dion Waiters; 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Syracuse

Why? This might come as a surprise, with Barnes, Sullinger and hybrid forwards Perry Jones of Baylor and Terrence Jones of Kentucky being rumored to be in Golden State's wheelhouse. But while the Warriors need a starter at small forward after Dorell Wright's disappointing season, they now have their post positions set with the acquisition of center Andrew Bogut last season to go with power forward David Lee. The back court of the future appears to be point guard Stephen Curry and rookie shooting guard Klay Thompson, whose path to the starting lineup was cleared when Monta Ellis was shipped to Milwaukee in the trade that brought Bogut to Oakland. Barnes is already off the board in this scenario, neither of the two Joneses (Terrence and Perry) are proven full-time wing players and Sullinger, while strengthening their interior needs, isn't necessarily a no-brainer pick.

Waiters, who has been rising up draft boards since the end of the college season, brings something different to the table than the injury-prone Curry or Thompson, who is more of a spot-up shooting threat who also has the size to play some small forward. After a disappointing freshman year, Waiters embraced a sixth-man role -- something NBA teams will regard favorably, both for his attitude adjustment and the potential to fill the same niche on the professional level -- and proved to be a tough, capable scorer off the dribble, in pick-and-roll situations, finishing at the rim and with a still-improving outside jumper. His ability to play point guard, at least on occasion, gives the Warriors insurance for Curry.

8. Toronto Raptors: Jared Sullinger; 6-foot-8 power forward, Ohio State

Why? Toronto has a few different options at this point: Waiters, Connecticut's Jeremy Lamb and Weber State's Damien Lillard all provide back court firepower in a variety of styles if they want to upgrade their perimeter play, and Baylor's Jones will be hard to resist from a pure potential standpoint. However, Sullinger could not only win the "best player available" battle, but his rebounding and physical presence in the paint also fill major needs for the Raptors, who will reportedly have the services of 2011 first round pick Jonas Valanciunas, a seven-foot center, next season. The bookend duo gives the team a foundation for the future along with swing man DeMar DeRozan and, for at least one more season if he isn't traded first, veteran point guard Jose Calderon to get all of the youngsters the ball. Sullinger isn't flashy and there's been some debate as to whether his upside is closer to Glen "Big Baby" Davis than that of All-Star Kevin Love, but his low-post play should translate to the next level, to some extent.

9. Detroit Pistons: Perry Jones; 6-foot-10 power forward, Baylor

Why? If Sullinger is around, Detroit shouldn't hesitate to take him, as he would form an excellent long-term low-post duo with budding star Greg Monroe. But in this scenario, Sullinger is off the board and while North Carolina teammates Tyler Zeller and John Henson have their merits, neither of them projects to be a star. Now, Baylor's Jones has his detractors for his perceived lack of intensity, but he also has vast potential, something the Pistons can't afford to pass on, even if top executive Joe Dumars has flashbacks to Darko Milicic. If the team can harness Jones' ability -- as an athletic and versatile power forward, not the small forward he's attempting to reposition himself as -- Detroit will have a talented front court pair to go with the scoring-oriented guard tandem of Rodney Stuckey and 2011 rookie Brandon Knight.

10. New Orleans Hornets: Damian Lillard; 6-foot-3 point guard, Weber State

Why? Somebody has to get Davis the ball and, while North Carolina's Kendall Marshall is viewed as the best passing point guard in the draft, the Hornets also need scoring help. Lillard, the second-best scorer in college basketball last season, offers some of both. With Jarrett Jack showing him the ropes, Lillard will have a veteran showing him the way, and the fact that Eric Gordon could depart New Orleans this summer -- though he's a restricted free agent -- a shoot-first point guard who can run the pick-and-roll with the athletic Davis wouldn't be a negative.

11. Portland Trail Blazers: Tyler Zeller; 6-foot-11 center, North Carolina

Why? With two lottery picks, the Blazers can afford to take a chance after going the safe route with their first pick. However, there isn't a high-risk, high-reward prospect on the board worthy of them making such a selection, so they're better off filling a need with a player who can contribute immediately. Zeller fits that description, as he should be able to compete for a starting spot as a rookie. He might not be a star, but his ability to run the floor and solid overall game fortifies a front court led by Aldridge.

12. Milwaukee Bucks: Terrence Jones; 6-foot-8 power forward, Kentucky

Why? Now that the Bucks' strength is their high-powered back court of Ellis and Brandon Jennings, the team's lack of scoring up front is their most glaring issue. Ersan Ilyasova was a revelation at power forward last season, and veteran journeyman Drew Gooden had a solid campaign, but neither has the potential of the versatile Jones, who might also be able to play some small forward. Jones projects as an Al Harrington type of player, with the ability to step outside to beat bigger defenders off the dribble as well as post up smaller players. His consistency is his biggest knock, which might not sit well with Milwaukee head coach Scott Skiles. But his offensive talent should get him on the floor immediately, something that might not be the case with other front court prospects available when the Bucks make their pick.

13. Phoenix Suns: Jeremy Lamb; 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Connecticut

Why? Lamb arguably has the most potential of any shooting guard in the draft, including Beal, but the position simply isn't the biggest priority for several of the teams picking earlier in the process. Phoenix has a need in the back court at both positions, especially if Steve Nash leaves the Suns as a free agent, as many observers expect. While Marshall would also fit as a replacement point guard, Lamb's potential might be too much to pass up. The smooth and slender scorer's long-range shooting, athleticism, mid-range game, ability to move without the ball and defensive upside due to his length make him a no-brainer choice if he somehow lasts this long. The pick makes sense particularly because of the Suns' lack of a traditional, starting-caliber shooting guard to go with the young front court nucleus of rookie forward Markieff Morris and centers Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez.
14. Houston Rockets: Arnett Moultrie, 6-foot-10 power forward, Mississippi State

Why? Houston could use some athleticism up front, as veterans Marcus Camby and Luis Scola are no longer young pups, and center Samuel Dalembert seemingly fell out of favor with first-year Rockets head coach Kevin McHale toward the end of the season. Donatas Montiejunas, the team's 2011 first round pick, could come stateside next season, but he's more of a face-up big man and might need more seasoning before making an impact. Henson, a native Texan, would seem like an obvious pick, but Moultrie, despite flying under the radar for his underachieving college team, possesses similar athleticism and rebounding acumen, if not the same defensive prowess, and has a more polished offensive game. Don't be shocked if the sleeper's stock gains steam as the draft approaches and he's discussed as a potential pick even earlier if his workouts go well.

15. Philadelphia 76ers: Terrence Ross; 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Washington

Why? If anything should be obvious from the 76ers' surprise playoff run, it's that the young squad struggles to score. Ross might not be a dominant scorer in the NBA upon arrival, but his outside shooting and athleticism makes him a good fit for Doug Collins' team. Unlike Philadelphia's other perimeter players, he doesn't rely on having the ball in his hands to score. Regardless of whether Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams are back next season, a wing shooter with size is a need for the Sixers, even more than a rookie big man after 2011 second-round pick Lavoy Allen's coming-out party in the Playoffs. It's unlikely that in the middle of the first round an impactful rookie big man is available, so addressing the team's shooting woes would be a more prudent decision.

16. Houston Rockets: Austin Rivers; 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Duke

Why? With their second first round pick, the Rockets can look to bolster their perimeter attack and with athletic wings Chandler Parsons and Chase Budinger developing at small forward, and either Kyle Lowry or Goran Dragic solid options as the team's starting point guard moving forward, (probably the latter, a free agent, as Lowry expressed dissatisfaction with McHale after the regular season) shooting guard is the spot to target. Both Kevin Martin and Courtney Lee have been on the trading block seemingly forever, but even if neither of them is moved over the summer, Rivers' instant-offense game and ability to at least play spot minutes at the point would help Houston. Rivers has garnered comparisons to Ben Gordon and O.J. Mayo for his scoring exploits, and if the son of the Celtics head coach can adjust to coming off the bench, he could make an immediate contribution.

17. Dallas Mavericks: Kendall Marshall; 6-foot-4 point guard, North Carolina

Why? Marshall's passing has elicited Jason Kidd comparisons. The current version of Kidd, that is, as he will never possess the explosiveness of a young Kidd. Mark Jackson might be more appropriate, as his lack of speed and shooting are more comparable to the current Warriors head coach. So it's fitting that he might be replacing or serve as understudy to the future Hall of Famer, who is a free agent this summer. Either way, it seems as if reserve Rodrigue Beaubois isn't developing into a floor general, making point guard a position where the Mavericks need depth. While it's been reported ad nauseum that Dallas will attempt to bring All-Star Deron Williams back to his hometown, Marshall would at least be a capable backup. With his size, he would bring some versatility to any back court and, like Kidd, he could paired with either Beaubois or veteran sixth man Jason Terry, both undersized shooting guards.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves: Quincy Miller; 6-foot-9 small forward, Baylor
Why? Coming off an ACL injury suffered at the beginning his senior year of high school, Miller had mixed results during his lone season in college. Once compared to Kevin Durant and projected as a lock to be a top-10 pick, Miller at times struggled with his explosiveness, but got off to a strong start before Perry Jones rejoined the team after an early-season suspension, which cut into Miller's productivity. Still, even with his frame needing to add bulk, his tantalizing scoring prowess could convince a team to be patient with his development. There's no better candidate than the Timberwolves, who have some issues on the wing with rookie Derrick Williams, the second overall pick in last year's draft, never finding his niche on the perimeter. Also, Martell Webster and second-year player Wesley Johnson have both underachieved, and the mercurial Michael Beasley is reportedly on the trading block yet again. While Minnesota could play it safe with a more proven prospect, at this point in the draft there might not be a player who can distinguish themselves more than their current group, and Miller's upside might make him worth the risk.

19. Orlando Magic: Meyers Leonard; 7-foot center, Illinois

Why? No one player can replace Dwight Howard, but if the All-Star center is indeed on the move, then Orlando will need to plug a hole in the middle. Leonard, who had an up-and-down sophomore year at Illinois, might not be ready to take on that task right away, but his athleticism, shot-blocking prowess and upside could prove too difficult to resist. While still raw offensively, he does have a nice touch, and if he can become more consistent and focused in his approach, this pick could yield dividends for the Magic.

20. Denver Nuggets: Tony Wroten; 6-foot-5 point guard, Washington

Why? Equipped with one of the deepest rosters in the league, Denver doesn't have any one particular area to address, making this selection a choice between best available player and the one with the most potential. Wroten offers a little of both, and with the possibility that veteran Andre Miller leaves in free agency -- let alone the fact that the floor general eventually can't keep up his effectiveness as he grows old -- for an opportunity to start, rather than come off the bench behind Ty Lawson, the athletic point guard gives the Nuggets some insurance. It's worth noting that the Nuggets reportedly like seldom-used rookie Julyan Stone, who has unconventional size for the position at 6-foot-7. But Wroten also has excellent size and has unique court vision, despite concerns over his occasionally reckless style of play. But Denver's fast-paced approach and the potential of George Karl pairing Wroten, who can defend both guard positions, with Lawson in the back court, make him a solid prospect to take a chance on drafting.

21. Boston Celtics: Andrew Nicholson; 6-foot-9 power forward, St. Bonaventure

Why? Boston is in dire need of size inside and, while Nicholson isn't regarded as a potential star, after toiling for four years on the college level without much recognition despite his consistent productivity, he's seen as capable of stepping in as a rookie and contributing for a veteran squad. His polished low-post game and versatility should benefit the Celtics immediately, especially with Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass potentially entering free agency this summer. Nicholson, who has been compared to David West, another product of the Atlantic-10, might not be able to replace a future Hall of Famer in Garnett, but he can be a building block in Boston's inevitable rebuilding process.
22. Boston Celtics: Moe Harkless; 6-foot-8 small forward, St. John's
Why? If Nicholson's maturity and solid game can help the Celtics immediately, Harkless' potential can help them in the future. Boston still has Paul Pierce at small forward, but while he's the member of the "Big Three" most likely to stick around and continue producing, it can't hurt to draft his eventual replacement. Harkless flew a bit under the radar for a St. John's team that struggled mightily, but he was good enough to be named the Big East's top freshman. Although he still needs to improve as a shooter, Harkless' length, athleticism and potential as a defender could mesh well with the Celtics' defensive-minded back court of the future: Avery Bradley and All-Star Rajon Rondo.

23. Atlanta Hawks: Royce White; 6-foot-8 power forward, Iowa State

Why? As a pure talent, White should be off the board much earlier in the draft, but concerns about his reported anxiety issues, among other things, could cause his stock to drop despite playing at a high level in the NCAA Tournament. Due to Joe Johnson's large contract and other personnel mistakes, the Hawks are somewhat hamstrung in terms of making major acquisitions unless they trade power forward Josh Smith, which is a possibility. Regardless of whether Smith leaves or not, White would be a good fit as a playmaking forward who can create for others, yet rugged enough to bang inside, finish at the rim and contribute as a rebounder. While a bit undersized for a power forward, White can compensate with his strength and athleticism, as well as unique ball skills, which should cause mismatches against opposing defenders.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jeff Taylor; 6-foot-7 small forward, Vanderbilt

Why? If the Cavaliers do gamble on Drummond early, a safer pick is in store for their second first round selection. Taylor would help Cleveland on the wing, an area of need, with his defensive prowess, athleticism and improving long-range shooting. Although Taylor is criticized for not being proficient at creating for himself off the dribble, with Irving at the point, he'd have a playmaking guard who could make plays for him. Plus, the young squad could certainly use a four-year college player to add a dose of maturity.
25. Memphis Grizzlies: John Jenkins; 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Vanderbilt

Why? If the Grizzlies are smart, they won't let Taylor's college teammate, a Tennessee native, ever get a chance to leave the state. Jenkins is arguably the best pure shooter in the draft and outside marksmanship is something Memphis desperately needs. While Jenkins isn't great off the dribble, the passing of big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol when they're doubled in the post, as well as point guard Mike Conley, should create plenty of open looks for him. Furthermore, the Grizzlies may need to replace sixth man O.J. Mayo, who could depart via free agency. And since the small-market Grizzlies already signed Rudy Gay and the aforementioned trio of Randolph, Gasol and Conley to long-term extensions, the draft could be a more feasible route than signing a veteran.

26. Indiana Pacers: Fab Melo; 7-foot center, Syracuse

Why? Indiana has established itself as a half-court, defensive-oriented team that emphasizes its size up front, so the shot-blocking Melo fits the bill. The Brazil native is still somewhat of a project offensively, but if motivated and in shape, his massive frame and defensive acumen would make him an excellent backup to All-Star center Roy Hibbert, who is a restricted free agent this summer. Center is the one spot where the Pacers don't have a legitimate backup, as rugged power forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Louis Amundson currently fill the role.

27. Miami Heat: Draymond Green; 6-foot-7 power forward, Michigan State

Why? Green's maturity and body of work on the college level have won him many admirers around the league, despite his "tweener" status. His uncanny passing skills, ability to shoot from distance, toughness and rebounding give him a chance to create mismatches as a role player, even though his lack of size and athleticism could hamper him. Still, his basketball I.Q. make him an ideal candidate to play for a Pat Riley-run organization. And on a Heat team without a need for rookies who take too long to develop, it wouldn't be shocking to see him earn some playing time as a rookie.

28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Festus Ezeli; 6-foot-11 center, Vanderbilt

Why? It might seem as if the Thunder could use depth at point guard behind All-Star Russell Westbrook, but despite Derek Fisher's advanced age, it shouldn't be forgotten that the much younger Eric Maynor was a more than capable backup before his season-ending knee injury. Assuming Maynor fully recovers and returns to that role, then maybe a wing player to back up league scoring champ Kevin Durant and provide insurance for sixth man James Harden's potential departure, would be the way to go. But this deep in the draft, unless the Oklahoma City front office sees a perfect fit, then adding additional size up front would be the smart move. Veteran Nick Collison does a tremendous job off the bench, but Chicago native Nazr Mohammed isn't getting any younger and it's never too early to plan for the future, so yet another Vanderbilt product in Ezeli is the answer. Still developing on offense, Ezeli doesn't need touches to be productive, a la current Thunder starting center Kendrick Perkins, and is a physical presence with a defensive mentality.

29. Chicago Bulls: Will Barton; 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Memphis

Why? This is a bit of wishful thinking, as teams that pick before the Bulls are impressed with the slender swingman, but Barton's potential and current abilities make him an easy pick if he's still around this late. He still needs to get stronger, but his improved jumper, ability to create for himself and others, versatility and length give him a chance to crack the rotation right away for a Bulls team that will likely have several new faces. Down the road, however, is where Barton could pay dividends as a potential back court partner with fellow Memphis product Derrick Rose, giving the Bulls a big, athletic guard tandem.

30. Golden State Warriors: Marquis Teague; 6-foot-2 point guard, Kentucky

Why? While Golden State could still look to address its small forward void or interior issues here, it might be too hard to pass up on Teague's potential this late. After all, the team's head coach was one of the great point guards of his era and he could be willing to take a chance on Teague, whose older brother Jeff starts for the Hawks, as a future backup to Curry, even if Waiters is selected with their first draft pick. Teague was inconsistent in his lone college season, but improved as the year went on and comes equipped with the requisite athleticism and size for the position in a league dominated by point guards.

Bubble: Evan Fournier, 6-foot-7 shooting guard, France; Orlando Johnson, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, UC-Santa Barbara; Doron Lamb, 6-foot-4 shooting guard, Kentucky; Scott Machado, 6-foot-1 point guard, Iona; Kyle O'Quinn, 6-foot-10 power forward, Norfolk State

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?