Bulls

NBA Draft: Jahlil Okafor hopes to be the next Tim Duncan

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NBA Draft: Jahlil Okafor hopes to be the next Tim Duncan

When Jahlil Okafor was born in Fort Smith, Ark., Tim Duncan was nearly 1,000 miles away in the middle of his first of two All-American seasons at Wake Forest.

Less than two years later, in 1997, Duncan was selected first overall by the San Antonio Spurs, embarking on a Hall-of-Fame career that has included five NBA titles, two regular-season MVPs, three Finals MVPs and 15 All-Star appearances. And during throughout his historic career - one that is expected to continue as Duncan enters his 19th NBA season - Okafor watched from afar, growing to idolize one of the greatest players in NBA history.

Now ready for his own name to be called at the NBA Draft 18 years later, Okafor hopes to mirror what his idol accomplished for whichever team selects him as the face of their franchise Thursday night.

"I just love everything that he does and the way he carries himself on and off the floor, that's a guy I always look at," Okafor said of Duncan at Wednesday's draft media availability. "For as long as I've been alive he's been in the NBA. So he's been a consistent guy for me to look up to."

It's no surprise, then, that Okafor has drawn comparisons to Duncan. The Chicago native has been touted as having the best offensive post game seen in a college recruit since Duncan averaged 20.8 points on 60 percent shooting as a senior. Okafor, as a freshman with Duke, averaged 17.3 points on 66 percent shooting, using a variety of lethal inside moves and soft finishes that made him look more like a 10-year NBA veteran than a kid a year removed from his senior prom. Okafor said he has no doubts about his ability to score at the next level and he's an apt passer, too, making the right decision when double teamed in the post by averaging 1.7 assists.

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The consensus All-American averaged 15.0 points on 63 percent shooting in six NCAA Tournament games, and though he was limited by foul trouble against Wisconsin in the national championship game he went back to that inside scoring prowess late, hitting a pair of layups in the final 3 minutes as the Blue Devils pulled away to win the program's fifth national title.

In an era where stretch forwards and small-ball are quickly transforming from trend to the norm, Okafor proved in his lone season there's plenty of value in a back-to-the-basket center who can score from the low block. It's why he's confident in his own abilities, whether he's able to show them off in Minnesota (first pick) or with the Lakers (second pick).

"I think there's always a place for a dominant big man," he said. "I'm a basketball player and I think I could fit in anywhere."

[NBA DRAFT: 2015 NBA first round mock draft]

And yet, for a player touting such an impressive skill set offensively, questions still surround the 6-foot-11, 270-pound center. His defense was put under a microscope all year long, as he struggled in pick-and-roll situations and, despite averaging 1.4 blocks per game, isn't considered a leaper with true rim-protector capabilities. He shot just 51 percent from the free throw line, and at this point in his young career hasn't had to expand his shooting range as he'll have to do at the next level.

But Okafor, playing in Durham for a year, is used to the nitpicking. And he believes some good will come out of it when he finally settles in to his NBA home.

"The best guys in the NBA still get criticized, (and) I'm not on their level, so I expect it," he said. "Especially playing at Duke, one of the biggest platforms in college basketball, the attention we get definitely will benefit me going up to the next level."

Okafor certainly will have personal goals at the next level, and his ability to score from Day 1 will make him a popular pick for Rookie of the Year. More important to him, however, is that he becomes the kind of player Duncan was, and not just in numbers and championships.

"I would like to be considered a true professional, one of those guys like a Tim Duncan, somebody who never really had any problems off the court," he said. "When people ask me what's the one player I'm looking forward to playing against I say Tim Duncan. I idolize him."

And in a few short months, the ultra-talented Okafor will get his chance.

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

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ESPN

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

The NBA may have lost another top superstar due to injury.

On Friday, Jimmy Butler appeared to have suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee. He left the game against the Houston Rockets unable to put any pressure on his right leg and needed assistance getting back to the locker room. 

Here's a video of the incident:

Coach Tom Thibodeau said that Butler will have an MRI when the team returns to Minnesota on Saturday.

Butler drew a lot of headlines last weekend after not playing in the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Entering Friday, Butler led the league with 37.3 minutes played per game.

The Bulls also take on the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday night.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.