Bulls

Scouting the NCAA: Power Forwards and Centers

Scouting the NCAA: Power Forwards and Centers

Sunday, Apr. 4, 2010
5:20 P.M.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

On the eve of the NCAA Tournament's national championship game--who could imagine hometown Butler would make it to Indianapolis, let alone get to the championship game?--here is the final installment of college players who are prospects in the upcoming NBA Draft, with a slant toward those who could be available when the Bulls make the selection and fit the team's needs. While several post players are expected to go extremely high in the draft this June, there are also some options outside of the elite prospects. Please note that some of these players are centers for their college teams, but will play power forward on the pro level, so the respective positions are combined here.
POWER FORWARDS AND CENTERS
Overview: Although Kentucky's Patrick Patterson is projected to be a lottery pick, the 6-foot-9 junior isn't viewed as having the same upside as other prospects, so the bruiser could slip, depending on the needs of various teams. Georgetown sophomore Greg Monroe is in a similar boat--although he might opt to return for another season, unlike Patterson who will graduate in three years--as his skill set, albeit unique, may not fit every franchise, as the 6-foot-11 southpaw is more of a finesse, passing big man than a true low-block big man.

A pair of post players who weren't on the radar as future pros when the season started, but are now considered at least borderline lottery selections are Baylor's Ekpe Udoh and freshman Hassan Whiteside of Marshall. Whiteside, a seven-footer, is still raw offensively, but his athleticism, shot-blocking ability and strong numbers this season has NBA personnel types salivating, despite coming from a mid-major program. The 6-foot-11 Udoh, a junior transfer from Michigan (where he wasn't much of a standout), is also an excellent shot-blocker, but adds another dimension as a versatile offensive player, as his unorthodox game intrigues next-level decision-makers.

True centers Solomon Alabi, Andrew Ogilvy, Dexter Pittman and Jerome Jordan form a quartet that intrigues pro teams, but each of the players have holes that worry teams. Alabi, a 7-foot-1 shot-blocking force from Florida State, has the defensive presence and athleticism NBA franchises love, but lacks strength and is raw on offense. Vanderbilt's Ogilvy, a native of Australia, has some similarities to countryman Andrew Bogut of the Milwaukee Bucks, but doesn't possess Bogut's athletic ability and projects as more of a role player, although he's skilled--albeit basic--on the offensive end and has the requisite size for his position. While Alabi and Ogilvy are underclassmen with the option to go back to school, Texas' Pittman and Tulsa's Jordan are both seniors. Pittman's massive weight loss throughout his college career speaks to his work ethic, but he is still a project, although his touch and huge frame have scouts convinced he will be drafted at some point, likely in the second round. Jordan may have faced mid-major competition, but he is a known commodity, and like the aforementioned Alabi, he is coveted for his defense and agility, and is a bit more offensively polished.

A group of potential early-entry candidates at power forward are also high on the radar of NBA teams. Georgia Tech's Gani Lawal was overshadowed by teammate and likely lottery pick Derrick Favors, a freshman, this season, but his bruising style and physical, blue-collar mentality appear to be able to translate well to the pro level. Iowa State's Craig Brackins came into the season with high expectations and although he had a bit of a disappointing year, his high skill level and ability to face the basket may be a good fit for teams looking for some versatility. Larry Sanders of Virginia Commonwealth is still somewhat of a project, but his athleticism, rebounding and tremendous shot-blocking talent should earn him a niche as a role player, even though his offense is behind his defense at this stage. JaJuan Johnson of Purdue is in a similar boat, as he needs to significantly bulk up, but showed major signs of development as a high-energy, pogo stick-type on both ends, especially in the wake of the season-ending injury to teammate and Boilermakers star Robbie Hummel.

Lastly, we come to a trio of seniors who have established themselves as college stars, but aren't viewed as having the same ceiling as their counterparts. Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado is one of the most prolific shot-blockers in the history of the college game, but his rail-thin frame and relative lack of offensive prowess has professional organizations wary. Likewise, Notre Dame's Luke Harangody has done everything he can possibly do to improve his stock--increase his shooting range, get his once-flabby body into better shape and continue to dominate the Big East's considerable interior talent as an inside scorer and rebounder--but his lack of explosiveness and size are regarded as deterrents for his future success moving forward. Trevor Booker of Clemson has the necessary strength and explosiveness to make it in the NBA and although his height, at 6-foot-7, is seen as a minus, he is low-maintenance player who doesn't require a lot of touches to be productive, so while he may never be a big scorer, his toughness and workhorse nature may make him a high-value pick in the second round.

Scout's take: "It's always so hard to get that true back-to-the-basket guy beyond the lottery...the majority of points scored in the paint in the modern NBA are scored through dribble penetration."

Potential lottery picks: Cousins, Favors, Aldrich, Monroe, Davis, Patterson

Bulls fit: Booker

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 and read his Running with the Bulls blog.

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

2-23_butler_hurt_espn.jpg
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.