Bulls

NBA Buzz: Bulls looking for shooting in NBA Draft

NBA Buzz: Bulls looking for shooting in NBA Draft

With March Madness officially upon us, it's time to watch those college tournament games a little more closely to see if we can find some NBA prospects to help the Bulls. With the recent trade for Cameron Payne, the Bulls' number one need has probably shifted from point guard to finding a knockdown 3-point shooter, preferably at the power forward position.

So, who are the top stretch four prospects in this year's draft? Two players expected to go in the top 10 are Arizona 7-footer Lauri Markkanen and Florida State's Jonathan Isaac. Markkanen is averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Wildcats, showing a lot of the skills we're seeing in Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis, albeit without the freakish athleticism.

Isaac is sharing top billing with small forward Dwayne Bacon at Florida State, but has a nice inside-outside game. And, he's an incredibly raw prospect right now at 19 years old, standing 6'11" and weighing only 205 pounds.

Other power forward prospects include Texas A&M's Robert Williams, Wake Forest's John Collins, Cal's Ivan Rabb, Baylor's Johnathan Motley, Duke's Harry Giles, UCLA's T.J. Leaf, Syracuse's Tyler Lydon, Purdue's Caleb Swanigan and Valparaiso's Alec Peters.

The Bulls also could be in the market for a shooting guard or small forward if Dwyane Wade chooses not to exercise his $23.8 million player option for next season. Players who could be available in the mid-first round include North Carolina's Justin Jackson, Australian Terrance Ferguson, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen, Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Oregon's Dillon Brooks and Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame.

If the Bulls miss the playoffs, there's always the small chance to move up into the top three via the draft lottery for potential franchise-changing talents like Washington PG Markelle Fultz, UCLA's PG Lonzo Ball and Kansas SF Josh Jackson. But after cashing in on a 1.8 percent chance to get Derrick Rose back in 2008, the odds are definitely against lightning striking twice for the same franchise.

Remember, the Bulls traded their second-round pick this year to the Knicks in the Derrick Rose deal, but they will have an early second rounder coming from Sacramento that figures to be in the 35-40 overall range to potentially add another player who can make next season's roster.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

It wasn't all that long ago Miami was thinking about lottery balls, and the chance for a top-three pick this summer. The Heat got off to a miserable start after the departure of franchise icon Dwyane Wade, and looked like one of the league's worst teams at 11-30.

But then out of nowhere, the Heat lived up to their nickname, reeling off 13 straight wins in one of the strangest hot streaks the NBA has ever seen. And Miami still hasn't cooled off, beating the defending champion Cavaliers in back-to-back games on the way to pulling within a half game of the final playoff spot in the East.

At this point, who would bet against Miami qualifying for the postseason? Eric Spoelstra remains one of the league's best coaches, Hassan Whiteside is putting up big numbers at both ends, Goran Dragic is an underrated point guard and players like Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington are playing the best basketball of their pro careers.

The Heat are 20-4 since Jan. 13, playing with the kind of confidence no one would have expected from a roster thrown together by Pat Riley in one of the low points of the franchise after Wade decided to leave for his hometown of Chicago after 13 years starring in South Beach.

Now, while some members of the South Florida media are talking about a possible Wade return next season, Riley is faced with some tough decisions on re-signing some of the young players who've led this playoff push. Waiters will be due for a huge pay raise after averaging nearly 16 points a game, shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. The question is: Will Riley choose to invest in a 25-year-old player like Waiters, or bring back the 35-year-old Wade for a South Beach swan song?

Don't be surprised if Wade opts in for the $23.8 million remaining on his contract with the Bulls, then goes back to Miami for a farewell tour in 2018-19.

We've talked a lot about the battle between the Bulls, Pistons and Pacers for the sixth through eighth spots in the Eastern Conference playoff field, but now it's looking like two of those teams might miss the playoffs entirely. Miami has to be a favorite to grab one of those positions, and the Bucks are also making a late season move.

Even after the loss of Jabari Parker to a second ACL injury, the Bucks have won eight of their last 11 games to pull within a half game of the final playoff spot. Second-round draft pick Malcolm Brogdon has entered the Rookie of the Year discussion with his strong play off the bench, Khris Middleton has played well in his return from a hamstring injury and Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to put up amazing numbers. Milwaukee has won all three meetings against the Bulls this season, with one more game coming up later this month.

Congratulations to Dirk Nowitzki on joining the exclusive 30,000 point club. Dirk reached the plateau with a turn-back-the-clock first half against the Lakers on March 7, scoring 18 points in the first quarter, then hitting a classic one-legged fadeaway for 30K early in the second. 

Nowitzki is one of the most popular players in the NBA, and congratulatory tweets streamed in from a number of current and former stars. Dirk joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain on the short list of players to hit the 30,000 mark, and he's considered the best international player in the history of the game.

Nowitzki plans to play one more season, which would put him alongside Kobe as the only players to complete a 20-year career with just one franchise.

STATS OF THE WEEK

I asked our stats guru, Chris Kamka, for a little deeper look at Dirk's statistical accomplishments, and here's some of the gems he came up with:

Most career 3-pointers made by 7-footers

(heights via Basketball-Reference.com)

1755 Dirk Nowitzki 7'0"
627 Andrea Bargnani  7'0"
352 Spencer Hawes  7'1"
243   Kelly Olynyk   7'0"
192  Meyers Leonard 7'1"
180  Kristaps Porzingis 7'3"
155  Frank Kaminsky 7'0"

.500 FG%, .400 3P% & .900 FT with 20+ PPG in a season

Larry Bird (2): 1986-87, 1987-88

Dirk Nowitzki: 2006-07

Kevin Durant: 2012-13

Stephen Curry: 2015-16

Most career points with the same team

33643 Kobe Bryant Lakers
30005 Dirk Nowitzki  Mavericks
26496 Tim Duncan  Spurs
26395 John Havlicek Celtics
25279 Reggie Miller    Pacers
25192  Jerry West  Lakers

In Nowitzki's NBA Debut (Feb. 5, 1999), the Mavericks starting lineup was:

Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Shawn Bradley, A.C. Green and Dirk Nowitzki

Eight players have at least 200 NBA Career Win Shares:

(via Basketball-Reference.com)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 273.4  

Wilt Chamberlain: 247.3    

Karl Malone: 234.6    

Michael Jordan: 214.0  

John Stockton: 207.7    

Tim Duncan: 206.4  

LeBron James: 202.3    

Dirk Nowitzki: 200.6    

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Dirk was gracious per usual in thanking everyone who congratulated him on social media, posting on his official twitter account:

Nowitzki also said he celebrated with a Bud Light, something he hadn't done in a long time. Kind of surprising a native of Germany wouldn't have gone with a heartier brew, but then again, he's been living in this country for the last 19 years!

 

NBA Playoffs' youth movement makes clock on long rebuilds tick quicker than ever

NBA Playoffs' youth movement makes clock on long rebuilds tick quicker than ever

New blood has injected life into the opening week of the NBA Playoffs as youthful newcomers have found the bright lights just to their fitting.

For those on the outside looking in, half-decade rebuilding plans appear tougher to sell to fan bases and ownership groups watching players on rookie scale deals outperform their contracts.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown weren’t expected to lead the Boston Celtics this season, but they’ve been thrust into leading roles after Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury on Opening Night and Kyrie Irving’s knee troubles shut him down weeks before the postseason.

But they’ve shown there’s no need to be treated with kid gloves, that redshirting is for the minor leagues. Tatum hasn’t gotten the extra publicity of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, but he’s not to be forgotten about in the playoff equation.

Brown had the benefit of being a rookie for the Celtics last season, and was more bystander than active participant.

But he’s still 21 years old, months younger than Mitchell and Simmons.

The two frontrunners for Rookie of the Year are certainly franchise players, and although they have major help on their respective rosters by way of veterans or fellow phenoms, one could argue the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers would have made the playoffs regardless.

The playoffs used to be a place reserved for the veterans, a higher plane of air that young lungs weren’t yet prepared for.

But Simmons is posting numbers that have statisticians scrambling for box scores from the tape-delay era for reference, while Mitchell is showing the teams who passed him up they should check their scouting and decision making.

And even though we could be in store for more of the same in the Finals if LeBron James’ Cavs meet Stephen Curry’s Warriors in June, the road to get there will be filled with so many new faces sure to be more than potholes in the years to come.

Recent NBA history can’t be written without the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder having significant ink. But each is on the verge of going fishing, trailing 3-1 after four games.

Instead, the 76ers are now darlings, the Celtics are chugging along without main cogs and the Jazz aren’t far away from catching the attention of casual fans to become must-see TV.

There’s a shift going on in the NBA, with slow-moving franchises hoping for a traditional clock on a rebuild taking the risk of being passed by those more determined, more opportunistic and unbothered by job security in the pursuit of winning now.

If you have something close to a unicorn, your house better be in order. Of the rising stars who have a level of establishment in the league’s hierarchy, only Kristaps Porzingis’ New York Knicks and Devin Booker’s Phoenix Suns are sitting on the outside of the playoff party. Porzingis is recovering from an ACL injury suffered midseason, otherwise the Knicks would have likely been in contention for a playoff spot.

The Suns, well, they’re a mess.

And it’s no coincidence both franchises are on the hunt for new coaches.

The talent pool in the NBA is so vast, its players seemingly so prepared for the transition to the professional game that the clock on franchises to wait on its players ticks louder than it ever has.

Factoring in booming salaries with young players poised to cash in on restricted free agency, franchises need answers on its young players—and they need them in the form of impact, in the form of wins.

Short of the Philadelphia 76ers’ sham and scam of the league’s rules by tanking for half a decade, it’s tough to envision a team duplicating the strategy with lottery reform on the horizon.

If done right, turnarounds can happen quicker than saving yourself a seat at the draft lottery four or five years in a row.

A correct mix of scouting, coach selection and veteran influence can put teams back in the playoff hunt quicker than before—as opposed to having similarly talented players making big money without having proven much.

For some fan bases, it represents hope.

For some front offices, you wonder if a shudder of fear is seeping into their buildings, knowing their clock is ticking.

NBA Buzz: Should the Bulls pursue Paul George in free agency?

paul_george_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Should the Bulls pursue Paul George in free agency?

Anyone who watched the Oklahoma City Thunder implode in Game 4 of their first-round series against Utah Monday night probably had the same thought run through their mind. “Paul George is so out of there.”

Speculation about George signing a max free agent deal with his hometown Lakers has been running wild since the All-Star forward forced a trade out of Indiana last summer. And, who can forget the scene of George’s parents sitting in the front row at Staples Center cheering on their son as he played a strong game against the Lakers earlier this season?

But if we’ve learned anything through the years watching top level free agents make decisions on their future, it’s that it’s almost impossible to predict what factors will turn out to be most important.

Take the George free agency for example. Sure, he’s talked openly about his desire to play in southern California and his love of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant through the years. But what if LeBron James decides to take his talents to L.A. this summer? Will George be happy playing secnd fiddle to “the king” in his own hometown (if the Lakers can create cap space for a second max contract), or will he look for a better option to showcase his game and his brand?

That’s where the Bulls could come in.

John Paxson said in his season ending news conference it’s unlikely the Bulls would be major players in free agency this year, but he also said he never wanted to go through another season like the one his team had just endured, and that the front office will always be on the lookout for opportunities to add a star player to the mix.

With Zach LaVine’s cap hold and the salary slots included for the sixtth and 22nd picks in this year’s draft, the Bulls would have around $73 million in salary commitments for next season, leaving them just enough space to fit in the first season of a max contract offer for George. And even if they wind up just a little bit shy of a max slot, they could easily create more space by trading one of their back-up point guards or another reserve player.

Would George be receptive to a Bulls offer? Hard to say. The Lakers are obviously his first option and he might also consider the Clippers and 76ers. Doc Rivers would have to do some salary cap gymnastics to make a run at George, but Philadelphia will be in position to sign a major free agent outright, and the thought of George joining forces with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons would be scary for the other Eastern Conference contenders.

After years of toiling in Indianapolis, it’s hard to imagine George being interested in joining a rebuild in Chicago, but as I mentioned earlier, stranger things have happened in free agency.

The assumption in league circles is the Bulls will wait until 2019 to make their big move when players like Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving could be on the market, and might consider signing with the Bulls after watching another year of development from LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.

But Paxson couldn’t have been more transparent in describing the mental pain he endured watching his team play for the best possible draft position during a 27-55 season, so he’s not going to pass up on a chance to add a franchise player if one suddenly becomes available this summer.

Paul George signing with the Bulls is an extreme long shot, but it’s not totally impossible.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

The biggest surprise in round one of the playoffs has to be the Pelicans’ 4-0 sweep of Portland. After losing DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending injury, not many people expected New Orleans to even make the playoffs, much less win a series.

But Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry designed a new offensive system, utilizing a three-guard offense of Jrue Holiday and former Bulls Rajon Rondo and E’Twaun Moore to get the ball to superstar big man Anthony Davis, with another ex-Bull, Niko Mirotic providing floor spacing as a third scoring option.

Add to that the almost annual transformation of Rondo into an elite playoff performer, and all of a sudden the Pelicans are dangerous. Granted, they’ll probably come up short in the next round against Golden State, but casual basketball fans are finally getting a chance to see just how good Davis is playing on a national stage. He’s a top 5 talent, who has consistently pledged his loyalty to the organization that originally drafted him.

Assuming the Pelicans re-sign Cousins this summer, it will be interesting to find out what the ceiling might be for this team that seemed to be treading water just a few short months ago.

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On the other side of that series, losing four straight playoff games could signal major changes ahead for Portland. The backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is one of the league’s best, but the Blazers are capped out and have to make a decision on signing restricted free agent center Jusuf Nurkic.

Portland was one of the biggest offenders in the Wild West free agent chase in 2016 after the new tv contracts ushered in a $20 million spike in the salary cap. The Blazers signed Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe and Myers Leonard to ridiculously inflated contracts and then overpaid free agent forward Mo Harkless the following summer.

General Manager Neil Olshey was able to unload Crabbe’s contract in a deal with Brooklyn, but the Blazers are already over next year’s projected salary cap with the contracts already on the books, making it extremely difficult to improve the team’s frontcourt.

So, would Portland consider trading McCollum or Lillard for a package of young players and picks? Lillard just had his best season and is a fixture in Portland, so it’s unlikely he would be moved. But if Olshey decides the current roster has maxed out, he might explore trading McCollum to bring in the reinforcements the Blazers need to contend in the brutally tough West.

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Similarly, what’s next for Tom Thibodeau and the “Timber-Bulls” after they get eliminated by top seeded Houston in round one?

It’s been fun watching Derrick Rose re-kindle memories of his MVP past with his end to end attacks and twisting finishes at the rim. Rose has averaged around 15 points off the bench in the series, probably earning an invitation back to be a rotation player for Minnesota next season.

But what about the uneasy alliance between Jimmy Butler and the TWolves young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins? Butler has one guaranteed season left on his contract, but in an interview with the Sun-Times' Joe Cowley, Butler admitted it’s been tough watching players who don’t share his passion for winning and constantly working to improve their games. Don’t be surprised if Jimmy isn’t already planning his exit strategy with an eye towards Los Angeles.

Butler also said in the Cowley article he has a lot of love for the Reinsdorf family and wouldn’t rule out finishing his career in a Bulls uniform. Now that sounds like an even bigger long shot than my Paul George idea, but after all this is the NBA!

Just visualize Kevin Garnett screaming in his on court interview after the Celtics won the NBA title in 2008. “Anything’s possible!”