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Scouting the NCAA Tournament: Point Guards

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Scouting the NCAA Tournament: Point Guards

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
11:37 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

The first two rounds of this year's NCAA Tournament certainly haven't lacked for excitement. There have been shocking first-round upsets such as Ohio over Georgetown and Murray State's buzzer-beating win over Vanderbilt and other opening-round thrillers like BYU outlasting Florida in double overtime and Old Dominion beating Notre Dame in one extra session. Fans also witnessed second-round shockers (Northern Iowa taking down top-seed Kansas and St. Mary's topping Villanova) as well as down-to-the-wire finishes such as Purdue triumphing over Texas A&M and Michigan State and Michigan State nipping Maryland at the buzzer over the weekend. And of course Cinderella stories like Cornell joining aforementioned Northern Iowa and St. Mary's in advancing to the upcoming Sweet 16 are also hot topics around the water cooler, in barbershops and everywhere else this week.

Ardent observers and casual fans alike were captivated by the annually exciting conclusion of the college basketball campaign known as the NCAA Tournament, or more accurately, March Madness. Joining them -- often live at one of the tournament venues -- were legions of NBA executives and scouts, looking for hidden gems and underrated prospects to help their professional franchises next season.

In reality, these pro personnel types have been watching college players all season, but scouting takes on more of a sense of urgency with the various conference tournaments that have taken place over the past few weeks. Now, with the Big Dance under way and higher stakes for its participants seeking to distinguish themselves enough to play basketball at the sport's highest level, NBA scouts -- but especially executives who may have not seen these collegians develop over the course of the season -- occasionally fall in love with a player based on his performance on the big stage rather than his entire body of work.

Still, some organizations -- such as the Bulls in recent years, for better or worse -- evaluate talent with a greater emphasis on team needs and how a player potentially fits into their system. Of course some players. Derrick Rose for instance, are deemed can't-miss future superstars and that notion sometimes extends throughout the consensus top-five or 10 picks and even the whole draft lottery.

For those who don't watch much college hoops until this time of the year, a handful of players have elevated themselves above the crowd and are tabbed as no-brainer selections for teams in the early part of the lottery this June, depending on what positions they need to fill. Explosive Kentucky freshman point guard John Wall is considered the consensus top pick and is expected to have an immediate Rose-like impact as a rookie, but his teammate and fellow first-year Wildcat, DeMarcus Cousins -- a 6-foot-10 beast on the low block -- has impressed with his unique abilities that have garnered Chris Webber comparisons, while 6-foot-7 Ohio State junior Evan Turner -- a Chicago-area native and a rival of Rose during his days at St. Joseph High School in suburban Westchester -- is the likely national player of the year and appears to be somewhat of a Brandon Roy-type, with his multi-positional versatility and polished, mature all-around game.

Behind that trio, smooth and athletic Syracuse junior swingman Wesley Johnson, workmanlike Kansas junior center Cole Aldrich, raw but intriguing 6-foot-9 Georgia Tech freshman Derrick Favors, versatile Wake Forest 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu, developing North Carolina 6-foot-9 sophomore Ed Davis, talented 6-foot-10 Georgetown junior Greg Monroe and another Kentucky star, 6-foot-8 junior banger Patrick Patterson, are all considered likely lottery picks.

Of that group, only Davis -- who suffered a season-ending injury midway through the defending champions Tarheels shockingly disappointing season (one could argue it would have been less disappointing had Davis stayed healthy) -- played on a team that didn't qualify for the tournament and Turner, Johnson and the trio of Kentucky stars are still playing. That's not a coincidence.

While nothing is written in stone about the aforementioned players -- their performances in the tournament, as well as the entire process leading up to the draft (workouts, interviews, etc.) also will have an impact -- it's the players drafted after the top prospects where things get tricky. For a team like the Bulls, who probably won't have the opportunity to draft a Wall (not that they need another point guard) or any of the other big names, but still would like to bring in an impact rookie to go along with the current group and additions of potential free agents, finding a player that fits a specific niche to pair with its current nucleus.

A scout for an Eastern Conference team discussed with CSNChicago.com on Tuesday some of the players likely to be drafted after the aforementioned top-tier prospects, as well as some of the areas the Bulls could seek to improve through the draft. The source cautioned that nothing is set in stone and players' stocks could drastically fluctuate between now and June. But through his evaluations, he has narrowed down wide-open pool of collegiate talent to a group he and his organization are paying closer attention to.

First, Chicago's status for the upcoming draft. The Bulls have a first-round pick, but Milwaukee -- through the John Salmons trade -- has the right to swap picks with Chicago, granted it's not a top-10 selection, which is unlikely even with the team's current losing streak. The Bucks probably won't have a much lower pick themselves, but with the Bulls not having a second-round pick this year due to trading for the rights of Turkish big man Omer Asik (who is reportedly having a strong season in Europe) in the 2008 draft, it will be an important selection. At the same time, NBA teams treat draft choices like candy, often dealing away both current and future picks for salary-cap purposes or trade value, so don't be surprised if Chicago ends up with no draft picks or multiple selections.

With that out of the way, let's move on to the current crop of pro prospects. A scouting report of each player would be entirely too time-consuming, but a brief positional breakdown of the talent just below the aforementioned elite prospects, especially as fans reflect upon what they've already seen and continue to watch as the tournament progresses. It must be noted that even though more and more players will declare for the NBA Draft as their seasons end, there's no guarantee that any underclassmen will put his name into the pool, let alone "test the waters" (declare for the draft, but retain their college eligibility by not hiring an agent). Still, whether they choose to stay in college or go pro, only players who are likely to be selected in the draft will be discussed.
Point Guard

Overview: Wall's backcourt mate at Kentucky, fellow freshman Eric Bledsoe, a 6-foot-1 speedster, may be the next best prospect at the position, despite having to play off the ball this season. While some observers seem to think he will stay in college another season to benefit from being out of Wall's shadow and take over primary ballhandling duties, others believe he will turn pro, as his stock is still high. Two Chicago natives, Kansas' Sherron Collins and California's Jerome Randle, are also under consideration, although possibly as second-round picks. While they are similar in height (in the 5-foot-9 range), Collins has a higher profile and a more pro-ready body than Randle, as well as a national championship on his resume. However, there are concerns about Collins weight -- which has fluctuated throughout his college career -- in addition to his ability to explode past and finish over players in the NBA, as the source believes his game might not translate as well to the next level. The diminutive Randle is more of a true speedster, although his slight frame is major question mark despite his ability to shoot from deep range and create for himself and others.

Villanova's Scottie Reynolds is another player who pro decision-makers have concerns about, as he isn't a true point guard and lacks top-notch athleticism, although his successful four-year Big East stint shows he's a player that rises to the occasion. Others who fit the "combo guard" profile (almost a misnomer in the NBA, as "lead guards" who can make plays with the ball in their hands run the show for a lot of franchises) include juniors Dominique Jones of South Florida and Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney. Both are prolific scorers, but fly a bit under the radar because of their respective teams' relative lack of success. Delaney is seen as more of a shooter, while Jones is a tough, athletic slasher.

BYU's Jimmer Fredette is an especially hot name these days as fans now know him for his tournament heroics, but NBA scouts have been hot on his tail for the duration of the season. A big-time shooter, scorer and playmaker, some worry about his lack of explosiveness and lateral quickness. Similar to Fredette -- although he's 6-foot-5 and a senior (Fredette is a junior and likely to at least test the waters) -- is fiery Maryland leader Greivis Vasquez, somewhat of a polarizing figure during his ACC tenure. Simply a clutch player whose had to do it all for his team, Vasquez also lacks great burst, but -- according to the source -- with his "transferable" size, versatility and overall skills, it's not hard to see him being valuable to a pro team, as long as he's in the right system. Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin also fits that bill to a degree, as he's a big lead guard -- at 6-foot-5, with a powerful frame. And while he isn't a blow-by type, he's extremely fundamentally sound, shoots it well, rebounds, distributes at a high level and overpowers smaller guards. Two sophomores with similar games and frames -- UCLA's Malcolm Lee and Memphis' Elliot Williams -- are long and athletic 6-foot-5 guards that are in need of polish and strength, but are highly regarded due to their long-term potential.

Scout's take: "Overall, that position is relatively pretty weak compared to recent years. It's pretty much John Wall and beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Potential lottery picks: Wall and Bledsoe

Bulls fit: Fredette

If Fredette indeed declares for the draft -- early indications are the junior will at least test the waters -- and slips to the second round (not an unlikely scenario, depending on how he performs in workouts), he may intrigue the Bulls with his toughness, long-range shooting and ability to create off the dribble, despite concerns about his defense and true point-guard skills on the NBA level. None of those factors should come into play with the Bulls, as he'd likely be off the ball, paired with Derrick Rose or Kirk Hinrich as a spot-up shooter type. Maryland's Vasquez may also earn a look.

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.

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.