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)
.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
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:
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:
Huge thanks to everyone, who has reached out. I'm humbled and overwhelmed. Honored to be part of the 30k club! #old— Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) March 8, 2017
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!