Mark Schanowski

NBA Draft Tracker: Arizona C DeAndre Ayton

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft Tracker: Arizona C DeAndre Ayton

With college teams heading into conference play, momentum is starting to build for Arizona center Deandre Ayton as a potential No. 1 pick in next June's draft.

Ayton already has an NBA body at 7-foot-1, 250 pounds and he's a lot more agile than most young big men. Watching his recent game against Texas A&M, Ayton showed the kind of footwork and explosiveness that will impress scouts and general managers. He doesn't have the Hakeem Olajuwon-like moves of a Joel Embiid, but he's already got the basic NBA post move skill set, including a jump hook and up-and-under package. Ayton exploded for 29 points and 18 rebounds in a win over Alabama on December 9, making 12 of 18 shots.

Ayton is already a force on the defensive end with his quick leaping ability allowing him to alter shots in the paint, and he has a nice touch from the outside, hitting just under 70 percent of his free throws while also venturing out to the 3-point line to attempt a couple shots.

Where does he fit for the Bulls? Robin Lopez is under contract for another season and the Bulls also have three more guaranteed years of seldom-used Cristiano Felicio. Still, all that could change by season's end, with Lopez a potential trade candidate for a contending team looking to add another quality big man. Ayton's size and athleticism could be attractive to a Bulls’ team that's already identified three young starters going forward in Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, especially since the power forward position is overloaded right now with Markkanen, Bobby Portis and Niko Mirotic. 

At this point early in the college season, Marvin Bagley and Ayton probably rank first and second on most teams’ draft boards, followed by Slovenian guard Luka Doncic and Missouri forward Michael Porter, who's out for the season because of a back injury. 

Bagley is the hot name among NBA scouts, but don't be surprised if Ayton gets consideration for the No. 1 overall pick next June. The NBA might be a point guard league right now, but the influx of quality young centers like Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic suggests the big man is still a valuable commodity.

NBA Draft Tracker: Alabama PG Collin Sexton

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft Tracker: Alabama PG Collin Sexton

While most NBA draft evaluators are focused on the group of talented big men at the top of the 2018 pool, Alabama point guard Collin Sexton should hear his name called somewhere in the Top 10 next June.

Sexton put on one of the most amazing displays we've ever seen during a Thanksgiving week tournament. The 6-foot-3 freshman poured in 40 points in a loss to Minnesota, scoring 17 points in the final 10-plus minutes while his team was forced to play 3-against-5 because of ejections and injuries. Even though the nationally-ranked Gophers knew the ball would be in Sexton's hands, they still couldn't stop him. Alabama actually outscored Minnesota during the 3-against-5 stretch, and that was due to the brilliant play of their point guard.

Since point guards Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball were the first two picks in 2017, there might not be a high demand at that position for teams selecting at the top of next summer's draft. Still, Sexton might be able to crack the Top 5 if he continues to play at his current pace. He's averaging nearly 25 points a game while shooting right around 50 percent from the field and 48 percent from the 3-point line. Sexton can create his own shot and is a good finisher at the rim.

It seems unlikely the Bulls would be interested in drafting a point guard with their high 1st-round pick after acquiring former Top 5 selection Kris Dunn in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota. Dunn is already an impact player on the defensive end and his offensive game has been better than advertised. The Bulls also have three other young PGs on the roster in Jerian Grant, Cameron Payne and Kay Felder.

Having an elite point guard is a requirement for contending teams in today's NBA, so whether or not teams have a primary need at that spot, a dynamic player like Sexton will generate a lot of interest as we approach draft night next June.

Could star-crossed Derrick Rose be ready to call it quits?

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AP

Could star-crossed Derrick Rose be ready to call it quits?

I'll never forget watching the reaction of Derrick Rose after he found out his hometown Bulls had won the rights to draft first overall in the 2008 lottery. Rose was smiling from ear to ear as he imagined the possibilities of leading the team he rooted for growing up back to greatness. And, the fact the Bulls faced such long odds to win the top pick made the news even sweeter for the soft-spoken teenager from Simeon high school.

Rose took the NBA by storm, turning in the kind of highlight reel plays Bulls fans hadn't seen since the Jordan era. He was named Rookie of the Year and matched a record set by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by scoring 36 points in his very first playoff game against the Celtics. The future couldn't look brighter for Chicago's hometown hero.

Rose really took off in his first season playing for Tom Thibodeau, averaging 25 points a game while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62-20 record, in the process becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history. The Bulls lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it appeared only a matter of time before Rose brought NBA championship to the city of Chicago.

But then came that fateful Saturday afternoon in April of 2012 when Rose ruptured his left ACL playing the meaningless final minutes of the Bulls' playoff opening win over Philadelphia. The Bulls would go on to lose that series while Rose headed off to a long and frightening rehab. The wunderkind suddenly robbed of his amazing gifts with one fateful misstep.

Rose sat out the entire 2012-13 season, drawing criticism from many fans and some media members who expected Rose to return after the mid-season All-Star break. Eleven games into the 2013-14 season, Rose was hurt again, this time with a season-ending right meniscus tear. Forget the flashy Adidas marketing campaign about Rose coming back better than ever, we would never see the explosive league MVP again.

Only Rose, his family and his trusted friends know the extent of the frustration that Derrick went through as he tried to prove to all the doubters he could still be one of the league's best players. Rose grew more combative with the media when questioned about trying to reshape his game given the new physical limitations. He would have one more knee surgery while a member of the Bulls, missing about six weeks in the 2014-15 season following another right meniscus tear.

Rose had one more heroic moment in a Bulls' uniform, banking in a three-point heave to give the Bulls a 2-1 series lead over LeBron James and the Cavs in the 2015 playoffs, but Cleveland would go on to sweep the next three games of the series, ending Rose's last chance to lead his hometown team to a championship.

Rose was traded to the Knicks in June of 2016 after the Bulls failed to make the playoffs, but after having a productive 2016-17 campaign in New York, Rose would suffer yet another knee injury, leading to another summer of rehab and doubt.

After talking openly with reporters about getting a shot at signing another max contract in September of 2015, two years before he would hit free agency, Rose could only land a veteran's minimum deal to hop on board with LeBron and the Cavs this season. He played fairly well in seven games, averaging 14.3 points on 47 percent shooting from the field, but then an injury sidelined him again, this time an ankle sprain.

Which brings us to Friday's bombshell that Rose was leaving the team to "re-evaluate his future in the NBA." Would the self-described "hooper" actually pull the plug on his NBA career at the age of 29? It seems like all the years of injuries, rehab and reduced effectiveness have taken a substantial physical and emotional toll.

In Rose's mind, he's still one of the league's elite players and should be held in the same regard as LeBron, KD, Steph, Russ and James Harden. Problem is, his body has already betrayed him, and the stat sheets that continually show more turnovers than assists are becoming too difficult to ignore.

Maybe some time away from the daily grind will convince Derrick he still loves the game and wants to get back with the Cavs to play whatever role is needed for a team with an excellent chance to get back to the Finals next June. Or maybe being with his son and family members during the holiday season will convince him that the cycle of injury and rehab is something he just doesn't want to endure anymore, even at the price of giving up the $80 million remaining on his shoe contract with Adidas.

Cavs coach Ty Lue says he's confident Rose will return to the team after some time away, and LeBron has been vocal in his support of Rose trying to re-establish his identity with a championship contender. My best guess is Rose will play again for the Cavs this season, but whether he wants to continue down the road of many injured stars, moving from city to city on minimum contracts, just might not be worth it anymore.