Mark Schanowski

NBA Draft Tracker: Porter Jr. could benefit Bulls...if they can get him


NBA Draft Tracker: Porter Jr. could benefit Bulls...if they can get him

NBA scouts and general managers have been forced to tweak their travel schedules over the last couple weeks with the return of Michael Porter Jr. to game competition.

The 6-10 forward played in his first game since the season opener last week in a Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinal, and he showed the effects of a 4 month lay-off, making just 5 of 17 shots without the explosiveness he displayed as the nation’s top high school prospect.

Porter Jr. told reporters he’s only around 65% physically following back surgery in early November, so NBA talent evaluators won’t be making any final decisions based on what they saw last week or will see in Missouri’s NCAA tournament game against Florida St. on Friday. Matter of fact, he’ll probably earn high marks from scouts and executives for returning as early as he did to try to help his team in the most important games of the season. 

Porter Jr.’s high school tape shows a fluid combo forward with exceptional scoring ability in the post, mid-range and beyond the arc. And, that tape will probably carry more weight as teams start lining up their draft boards.

How might Porter Jr. fit with the Bulls? Well, even coming off back surgery, there’s no questioning his potential as an elite scorer on the NBA level. Scouts project Porter Jr. as a combo forward, capable of playing the 3 spot because of his mobility and shooting range. The Bulls would love to draft a small forward prospect with Porter Jr.’s skill-set, but unless he has a medical setback, it seems unlikely he’ll fall lower than 6th. And, as we’ve all seen with results among the bottom 9 teams over the last few weeks, the Bulls won’t be moving up in the draft order unless they beat the odds in the May 15th lottery.

Porter Jr. could go as high as 3rd if he shows well in medical testing and individual team workouts later this spring, and may wind up right alongside Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley as the best long-term prospects in this year’s draft class. So, don’t worry if Porter Jr. isn’t at his best in the NCAA tournament, NBA talent evaluators have already done their homework on a versatile scorer who’s already been compared to some of the top stars in the game.

NBA Buzz: Players to watch in the NCAA Tournament


NBA Buzz: Players to watch in the NCAA Tournament

Unless the Bulls are able to defy the odds in the NBA Draft lottery on May 15, it looks like they’ll be picking in the 7-9 range this June. So, if you’re just joining the college basketball party with the start of the NCAA Tournament, here are some players you should keep an eye on as possible Bulls’ draft targets.

Mikal Bridges, 6-foot-7, SF, Villanova — Bridges is your classic “3 and D” guy who brings so much value in today’s perimeter-oriented NBA. Bridges is already an accomplished defender with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and he’s been at his best in the most important games. He would be a good fit at small forward with the Bulls playing alongside Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn.

Kevin Knox, 6-foot-9, SF, Kentucky — Knox wasn’t able to put together eye-popping stats playing for an erratic, freshmen-filled Kentucky team. But when you watch him play, he reminds you of Chicago native Jabari Parker; a big powerful small forward who can overpower defenders in the post. Knox has the potential to develop into a consistent NBA scorer.

Miles Bridges, 6-foot-7, SF, Michigan St. — Bridges surprised a lot of NBA executives by coming back for his sophomore season, even though he would have been a lottery pick last year. Bridges looks more comfortable from the 3-point line this season, but he’s more of a fast-break finisher than a polished offensive player.

Collin Sexton, 6-foot-2, PG. Alabama — The Bulls really don’t need a point guard with Dunn, Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne all signed for next season, but try to take your eyes off the electrifying Sexton. He possesses that extra gear that you only see in the special point guards like Russell Westbrook, John Wall and a pre-injuries Derrick Rose.

Trae Young, 6-foot-2, PG, Oklahoma — The Sooners only got into the NCAA field because of Young, who was the darling of college basketball when he was putting up 30-point, 10-assist games on a consistent basis during the early part of the season. Young’s shooting range is reminiscent of Steph Curry, but teams have reduced his effectiveness with aggressive off-the-ball defense.

Wendell Carter, 6-foot-10, PF, Duke — Again, not a position of need for the Bulls, but Carter showed his inside scoring potential in the four games Marvin Bagley missed because of a knee injury. Could Carter play small ball 5 alongside Markkanen? That will be one of the questions Bulls executives will be pondering while watching Duke in the tournament.

Lonnie Walker, 6-foot-4, SG, Miami — When you’re watching Chicago’s lone NCAA qualifier, Loyola, play in Round 1, keep an eye on Walker (actually you can’t miss him with his very distinctive hairstyle). Scouts love his ability to create his own shot, and he’s one of those classic upside guys that always seem to get over drafted.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6-foot-6, PG, Kentucky — Another player who’s shooting up NBA draft boards based on his athleticism and ability to create off the dribble. Gilgeous-Alexander is painfully thin, but he does remind you a bit of Penny Hardaway with his size and shot-making ability at the point guard position.

Around the Association

Injuries continue to be a big story in the 2017-18 season. Boston has been hit especially hard, starting on opening night when free agent addition Gordon Hayward went out with a gruesome ankle injury.

Kyrie Irving carried the Celtics to the best record in the East for the first half of the season with MVP-caliber play, but now Irving is faced with missing several games because of knee soreness. And, if Irving isn’t healthy come playoff time, the Celtics are likely to be knocked out early.

Boston also lost valuable depth this week because of a season-ending injury suffered by rookie big man Daniel Theis and another injury to valuable wing defender Marcus Smart, this time a torn thumb ligament that could have Smart sidelined for several weeks. Add in the concussion suffered by Jaylen Brown in that frightening fall last week, and the Celtics find themselves with a depleted roster for the final 4 weeks of the regular season.

— That means Toronto will most likely finish with the number one seed in the East, and with the Cavs slumping again, they could wind up facing the Raptors in a second round series. Toronto and Boston would love to avoid the Cavs until the conference finals, especially with Kevin Love returning to the line-up soon to give Cleveland a reliable second scoring option alongside LeBron James. Surprising Indiana currently holds a slim lead over Cleveland for third place in the East, but a lot could change over the final month.

— The race for playoff positioning is taking a back seat to the massive tank-a-thon going on at the bottom of the standings. In case you haven’t been watching, wins are scarce these days for the bottom nine teams with all of them hoping to land a top three pick for a shot at franchise-changing bigs Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley. The Knicks have completely given up since the season-ending injury suffered by Kristaps Porzingis, and it probably won’t be long before they pass the Bulls for eighth place in the race to the bottom.

— Finally, here’s hoping Derrick Rose can find a meaningful role in Minnesota after reuniting with Tom Thibodeau, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson (among other former Bulls’ players and coaches). Rose turned the ball over a couple times in a 7-minute debut on Sunday against Golden State, but I don’t think Thibodeau would have brought in the former league MVP unless he planned to give him a serious look off the bench. Rose had a harsh response to critics who think he’s washed up at the age of 29, but if he can’t make it work playing for Thibs again, his NBA future could be in serious jeopardy.

NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr.


NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr.

If you’ve been following NBA mock drafts since the college season began, you’ll notice Michigan State power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. has been rising steadily. actually has Jackson going second in its latest mock.

There’s no questioning Jackson’s physical talent. The 6-foot-11 freshman runs the floor like a gazelle and has explosive leaping ability, ranking fifth in the country with 3.2 blocked shots per game. He also has an NBA pedigree. His father played 13 seasons in the NBA as a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, averaging 5.5 points a game mostly in a reserve role, which included a championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999.

Jackson has excellent shooting touch for a big man, hitting just under 40 percent of his 3-point tries, but he’s not a major factor in the Michigan State offense, averaging only 6.8 shots per game. His scoring average of 11.3 points ranks only fifth on a Spartans team currently ranked fourth in the country. Foul trouble has been an issue for Jackson, but he’s also been content to watch center Nick Ward, swingman Miles Bridges and guards Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston carry the offense.

What does this mean for Jackson’s pro future? Well, judging by the mock drafts, not much. NBA coaches will find a way to get a player as talented as Jackson more shots, and he should be able to take advantage of his quickness to drive past slower defenders at the pro level.

Jackson reminds some scouts of Kevin Garnett with his physical tools, but he doesn’t have the competitive fire (bordering on rage) that drove Garnett to become one of the all-time greats at the power forward position. A more realistic comp might be Serge Ibaka of the Toronto Raptors, who possesses Jackson’s blend of shot-blocking talent and long-range shooting touch.

How would Jackson fit with the Bulls? Well, unless the Bulls get lucky in the lottery, he figures to be long gone before they make their pick. Bulls big man Bobby Portis is another decent comp for Jackson given Portis' size at 6-foot-11 and his 3-point shooting ability, so drafting Jackson would mean some duplication of skill sets. But given the way the NBA game is trending, Jackson could play center at the pro level, especially given his ability as a rim protector. If Jackson slips to the Bulls, I’m sure they could find a way to utilize three talented bigs, including Lauri Markkanen.

The upcoming NCAA tournament offers a great chance to Bulls fans to get a close look at some of the top prospects in the country. And keep an eye on Michigan State because either Jackson or Bridges could wind up in Chicago, depending on how the lottery combinations land on May 15.