Excitement builds over Sam Dekker's NBA potential


Excitement builds over Sam Dekker's NBA potential

He's picked up all-conference honors, he's been to each of the past two Final Fours, he's wowed on a national stage, and he's even guarded LeBron James.

There are plenty of reasons why people are so excited to see what Sam Dekker can do in the NBA.

Dekker comes pretty close to being able to do everything expected of a 6-foot-9 small forward. He can shoot, he can defend, he can score at the basket — they don't call him Slam Dekker for nothing, you know — and he's proven himself on college basketball's biggest stages.

But he was a little nervous when it came time for his vertical jump to be measured at last month's NBA Draft Combine.

“You did have a little nerves," he said. "My first vertical jump I was overthinking just a bit because this is your first time doing this stuff, everyone’s new to it, a rookie. And I think a lot of guys would be lying if they said they didn’t have any nerves in here. You shouldn’t because you’ve done so much work to get to this point, but it’s human nature, it’s going to happen.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: NBA Draft Profile: Wisconsin F Sam Dekker]

With Dekker, nerves during a vertical-jump measurement comes as a little surprising. After all, this is the same guy who showed America he had ice water in his veins during Wisconsin's march to a second straight Final Four appearance this spring. He scored 20 second-half points on perfect 6-for-6 shooting (5-for-5 from 3-point range) in the Badgers' Elite Eight victory over Arizona, one of three 20-plus-point performances during the Big Dance. And it was Dekker who hit a tie-breaking 3 with fewer than two minutes to play in Wisconsin's Final Four win over Kentucky, the shot that gave the Badgers the lead for good in a win that not only punched a ticket to the national title game but a win that ended the Wildcats' perfect season.

Dekker showed everyone he was Mr. Clutch back in the spring. The summer's been about convincing NBA teams that he can be a valuable addition at the pro level.

“I think I bring a lot of things," Dekker said. "I bring versatility, a competitive drive. The pro game is a style of game I like. I’ve learned a lot of things in regard to discipline and being able to play in systems. So I think when you mix those together, it creates a pretty good combination for someone who can be with many different organizations and fit them well. I think offensively and defensively, I’ll be able to be a good addition to any team, and I’m looking forward to what’s in store here.”

But if the Badgers' NCAA tournament run made Dekker the national star that fans in the Big Ten already knew he was capable of being, it might have also shown what he considers to be one of his biggest weaknesses.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Cameron Payne wants to be NBA's next Stephen Curry]

Two nights after he hit the Final Four's biggest basket, Dekker was cold against Duke, part of the reason Wisconsin couldn't complete its mission to win a national championship. Dekker had 12 points on 6-for-15 shooting, including missing all six 3-point shots he took. He criticized himself after the game, and though he was hardly the only reason the Badgers lost, he put that defeat on himself.

In his post-college career, he's saying he needs to work on being more consistent, specifically when it comes to that 3-point shot, likely because he doesn't want what happened in the national title game to happen again.

“I think I’ve got to be a more consistent outside shooter," Dekker said. "I think I’ve taken great strides doing that, but that’s one thing that was spotty throughout the year, me being able to be a consistent, knock-down outside shooter. I consider myself a pretty good shooter, but I want to become a great shooter. I think I’ll be able to do that.

“Consistency is always going to be a question with everybody, but with me, there’s times I go weeks and play very high-level basketball and then I have a few games where I just wouldn’t be as aggressive. I was passive once in a while. That’s just me maturing and just letting things go and having that confidence that I can be a difference maker every night. That comes with growing up, that comes with maturation, and I think I’ve taken a big step and a big leap in that direction and have gotten much better.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Montrezl Harrell brings talent, high energy to the NBA]

There are many reasons people think Dekker is ready for stardom at the next level, and a lot of those things have to do with his body, his athleticism and his game. He's 6-foot-9, and he touted his versatility at the Combine. He's got a 6-foot-11.5 wingspan. He's got a 34-inch vertical leap. He's long enough to defend just about anyone, like when he went up against LeBron James during the NBA superstar's camp last summer. He can score in just about any way you can think of.

But Dekker's also been through it all over the past two seasons with Bo Ryan's Badgers. In addition to playing in 11 NCAA tournament games in two years, he's gone through the nightly rigors of the Big Ten, a league many say prepares its stars for the NBA more than any other.

“The Big Ten is one of those conferences that you see a lot of different styles. Michigan State’s a physical team that likes to get it out of the rim and go. We have teams like us that kind of like to slow it up once in a while. We don’t mind pushing it. And then teams like Indiana that will run it down your throat and put up 3s. So we’ve seen all different sorts of teams, and we played a tough non-conference schedule. So we had every type of style that you want to play thrown at us this year, and I think we handled them all well, myself included," Dekker said. "I like the style of play that the NBA level has. I’m an open-court type of guy and just like to get moving, so I don’t think I’m going to have any kind of trouble transitioning with that.”

Now it just comes down to where Dekker will be playing his professional basketball. Some mock drafts have him just outside the top 10, others have him going in the mid-20s. We obviously won't know for sure until draft night.

But regardless of which team selects one of Sheboygan's favorite sons, they'll likely be giddy over the potential that Dekker brings with him.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”