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.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.