Bulls

Sam: Is LeBron Chicago-bound, overrated?

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Sam: Is LeBron Chicago-bound, overrated?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010
5:05 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

LeBron James is overrated. The NBA's MVP is a quitter. His elbow may or may not be as injured as much as observers assume, and is wrongly being used as an excuse for his poor performance against the Celtics. LeBron is tanking the Cavaliers' title hopes and will leave Cleveland--for Chicago--as soon as humanly possible. At least that's what some would have you believe after the superstar's struggles in the Cavs' Game 5 blowout defeat at the hands of Boston.

There's no question that James hasn't played up to par in the second round of the playoffs. After Tuesday night's 30-point loss, Cleveland trails Boston, three games to two, and is on the brink of going on summer vacation if they can't get it together Thursday evening in Beantown, bringing the series back to Ohio. James' 15-point, three-for-14 shooting night--and an overall lack of aggressiveness that has haunted him all series, sans Game 3--is a major reason the league's top regular-season team is in this boat in the first place. However, while the reigning two-time MVP is unquestionably the straw that stirs Cleveland's drink (as well as the glass and the drink itself), his lack of support has also been as issue. Newfound LeBron bashers will say he's equipped with his best supporting cast--including Shaquille O'Neal, Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams--he's ever had. Even Cavs owner Dan Gilbert grumbled that he's done all he can to put the team in the best situation possible.

But it simply could be that the veteran Celtics--who everybody had written off due to their lackluster regular season--have finally gotten healthy, found the necessary cohesion and with point guard Rajon Rondo taking his game to a new level, be the better team? Besides James (matched up with longtime All-Star Paul Pierce, no slouch himself, at small forward), where do the Cavaliers have a clear advantage? For all of Jamison's experience and ability, he hasn't exactly had a lot of postseason success. Even with Williams making the All-Star team last season, he certainly came up short when it counted last spring. As far as Shaq--who was the best Cav on the court in Game 5--he can still get it done in stretches, but his days of carrying a team are long gone.

That said, James' play can't be excused. He's been downright awful against Boston. Seemingly unfocused, passing up scoring opportunities, rarely asserting his will on the game as he did against the Bulls in the first round--it's hard to imagine that his elbow isn't more serious of an issue than he's making it out to be. And while his lack of personal accountability in his postgame comments was a bit appalling at this stage in his career, to interpret anything going on this series--including the courtside presence of James' agent, Leon Rose, with University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari--is a huge leap of faith. James is still an intense competitor, and as much as his desire to be a global icon motivates him, winning consumes him more, or he at least understands the correlation between success on the court with success off of it.

Now, regarding the rumors that he's not only leaving Cleveland, but is headed to Chicago, much still remains to be seen. While James' inner circle does wield some influence over him, at 25 years old, he's no longer the preps-to-pros kid that needs others to make decisions for him. In fact, as he's taken strides in the boardroom (regardless of how much business acumen some perceive him to have), sources admit he's attempted to become much more of an independent thinker, regarding trusted associates he once thought of as advisers as colleagues these days, especially as his LRMR marketing venture has taken shape.

Sure, his high regard for Chicago's young talent has to be encouraging, but the whole big-market theory doesn't as much weight when James' Akron roots are considered. Forget living in the shadow of Michael Jordan--James' desire to be the best, to carve out his own path, to be a pioneer--those things make it possible for even the likes of the Clippers and Nets (let alone the Heat and Knicks) to attempt to sell him on relocating, granted they add the necessary pieces to accompany him. As for potentially hand-picking his next coach, the person that should be most concerned right now is probably Mike Brown. The aforementioned Gilbert has proven that money is no object when it comes to placating James and bringing a championship to Cleveland, so if Calipari (a Pittsburgh native who may not want to again compete for attention in the big city when he can rule a smaller fiefdom like Cleveland, Memphis or Lexington, Ky.) is available and James wants him, the defensive-minded, offensively-challenged Brown, who has earned criticism for his perceived lack of leadership and in-game adjustments, may be out of his prized gig.

The chances of Gilbert simply adding "Coach Cal" and further tweaking the Cavs' roster to James' liking are probably higher--at this point, at least--than the Bulls modifying their decades-long culture by adding the personality-laden Calipari (who didn't experience much success in his stint coaching New Jersey and likely has more of an itch to dominate in-state rival Louisville and nemesis Rick Pitino, win a college national title and coach the top incoming prospects he has set to arrive in Lexington than get back to the NBA), who, additionally, wouldn't come cheap. Furthermore, the thought of losing James to a Central Division rival would lead Gilbert and Cavs general manager Danny Ferry to not only seek out a sign-and-trade scenario (which James would likely agree to, as Cleveland signing him would earn him the biggest potential contract; he could always leave on his own), but almost completely gut Chicago's roster, putting the superstar back to square one, albeit with probably both Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah by his side.

To make a long story short, not only is the Boston-Cleveland series not over yet--statistics are great, but betting against a likely fired-up James isn't necessarily a wise move--but July 1st is a long ways away. Let's just take first things first and see what happens before jumping to conclusions. Of course, a lot could change by the end of Thursday night's game.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Joakim Noah has a new look and it's, uh, interesting

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USA TODAY

Joakim Noah has a new look and it's, uh, interesting

Joakim Noah played in only seven games for the New York Knicks this season, having last appeared in action on Jan. 23. A few weeks later, Noah was granted an indefinite leave of absence by the team.

So what's the former Bull up to now?

Well, apparently he's attempting to audition for one of the latest wild life survival shows.

In honor of Earth Day, Noah showed off his new look on Instagram:

Jah bless the earth

A post shared by Joakim Noah (@stickity13) on

"God bless the Earth and the trees and the sun," he says in the video.

No. God bless you, Joakim.

Why the Bulls should draft Deandre Ayton if they win the Lottery

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USA TODAY

Why the Bulls should draft Deandre Ayton if they win the Lottery

Something special occurred on the campus of Oregon University in late February. The Arizona Wildcats were in town, 24 hours removed from an ESPN report that claimed head coach Sean Miller had discussed paying $100,000 to land blue-chip prospect Deandre Ayton. The report shook the college basketball world, Miller took a leave of absence from the team and the Wildcats, ranked 14th in the country, became the lead story on sports talk shows for all the wrong reasons.

And the 19-year-old Ayton found himself at the center of the turmoil. Heading into Eugene, a place the Ducks were 31-3 at over the last two seasons, the Oregon student section mercilessly heckled Ayton all night, chanting “wi-re tap” and “hun-dred thou-sand” at the freshman star. The 7-foot-1 Bahamian could have crumbled in the moment. No one would have blamed him if he had.

Instead, Ayton dominated. He took over the game for 44 minutes, resting for 66 seconds in the first half before playing the final 26:37 of the overtime thriller. His final line – 28 points, 18 rebounds, 4 blocks – somehow didn’t do the performance justice. He made 11 of 15 shots, including 17-foot jumpers, offensive rebound put-backs, low-post moves and transition dunks. In a season of extraordinary for the Pac-12’s eventual Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year, that Saturday night may have been his most impressive, all things considered.

And it’s one of many reasons why, if that 5.3 percent chance becomes reality, the Bulls can’t pass on Deandre Ayton with the first pick in June’s NBA Draft.

Let’s begin with the raw stats. Ayton joined Duke’s Marvin Bagley as the only freshmen since 1993 to average 20 points, 11 rebounds and shoot 60 percent from the field. What’s more, only 10 others – regardless of year – had accomplished the feat, last done by Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin in 2009. Four of those 10 were drafted first overall (Michael Olowokandi, Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut and Griffin). So, spoiler alert, there’s precedent for a dominant big man being selected first overall. Ayton certainly could join that list, which we’ll note has a respectable success rate.

Those offensive numbers were compiled in impressive fashion. Ayton has been blessed with a remarkable skill set for a 19-year-old. Per Synergy, his 1.16 points per possession (PPP) ranked in the 98th percentile, and he did while playing out of position most of the season; Miller insisted on playing Ayton alongside 7-footer Dusan Ristic, which clogged up the offense at times. He’ll have more freedom in the NBA.

There’s no denying the 260-pound Ayton was a force around the rim, using his NBA-ready frame to overpower opposing frontcourts; he shot 76 percent from inside 5 feet (200 of 263) and ranked in the 90th percentile in post-up situations (1.05 PPP). But his game, like his frame, is NBA-ready, too. Ayton displayed an above-average jump shot, shooting 38 percent on 104 possessions; Kentucky’s Anthony Davis shot 34 percent on just 67 possessions in 2012. Ayton also spent more time as a pick-and-roll roller (14.6% of his possessions) than Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns or Joel Embiid in their respective college years.

He also expanded his game out to the 3-point line, attempting 35 triples in 35 games. That may not seem like much in “today’s game,” but consider: Joel Embiid (1-for-5), Karl-Anthony Towns (2-for-8) and Anthony Davis (3-for-20) combined for fewer made and attempted 3s than did Ayton in one year; Towns shot 42 percent from deep this past NBA season, Embiid made 66 triples with the Sixers and Davis has increased his made 3s each of his first six NBA seasons. Shooting can be taught, and Ayton is already ahead of schedule, even if he’s going to earn his money 15 feet and in. Ayton will jell in an NBA offense from Day 1. His game was made for the NBA.

That physically imposing frame made him a terror around the rim. Ayton stands 7-foot-1 and weighs 260 pounds; only six NBA players were listed at that size or taller/heavier. Ayton is as physically ready a rookie as we’ve seen in a handful of years.

It also makes some of his defensive metrics perplexing. Ayton’s block percentage, per KenPom.com, was 6.1%; Towns, Davis and Embiid all had double-digit block percentages. Ayton was also a liability defending the post, ranking in just the 34th percentile (allowing .919 PPP). And though some of these ugly numbers can be attributed to playing out of position, his motor has come into question and he looked out lost at times on that end of the floor. It’s certainly an area he’ll need to improve upon; it’s not enough to say he’ll roll out of bed and score 20 points. He’s got the easy part down, standing 7-foot-1 with a 40+-inch vertical. A strong defensive-minded coach will do Ayton wonders early in his career.

So why the Bulls? Well, as you’ll read a lot in this series, the team needs an injection of talent. Team need isn’t going to come into play much after Cristiano Felicio averaged 17.8 minutes per game. The Bulls need talent, and Ayton defines that. It also fits that Ayton would make for a near-perfect 1-2 punch with Lauri Markkanen, a fellow Wildcat. Ayton saw significant time as the “hi” man of Arizona’s hi-low sets with Ristic. With Markkanen maneuvering the perimeter, Ayton would be free to work 15 feet and in where he’s at his best. Having Robin Lopez as a mentor for a year would only improve Ayton’s game, and his pick-and-roll numbers would improve with Kris Dunn, who made even Felicio look serviceable.

Ayton is the best prospect in the class. There isn’t much else to say. As the series progresses we’ll need to make stronger arguments for prospects, but not with Ayton. He’s the best center prospect since Karl-Anthony Towns, and his offensive game is ahead of any frontcourt prospect with two eyebrows the last decade. Prospects like Ayton come along once every few years (Towns, Embiid, Davis) and he’s as close to a sure thing as there is in this draft. If, 10 years after the Lottery gods smiled down on the Bulls, lightning strikes twice, Deandre Ayton is the man to lead the Bulls back to contention in the Eastern Conference.