Bulls

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Thunder

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Thunder

Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
3:55 PM

By Aggrey SamCSNChicago.com

1. As valuable as Westbrook and Durant are to the Thunder, underrated power forward Jeff Green's contributions can't be ignored. The most-overlooked (and oldest, at the old age of 24) member of Oklahoma City's "Big Three," the fourth-year Georgetown product, acquired on the draft-day deal that sent Ray Allen to Boston, is averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in 14 games--he missed seven contests with an ankle injury--on the season. Green, who was cut from the USA Basketball squad his aforementioned teammates played on in the offseason, wasn't among the class of 2007 players who received a contract extension--Durant, Bulls center Joakim Noah, Atlanta's Al Horford, Memphis point guard Mike Conley and Phoenix reserve Jared Dudley were the only five players who did--this fall. It can be argued that since Green isn't a true post player and doesn't rebound exceptionally well for his position, it's wise for the Thunder to let him test the free-agent market, especially with likely changes to the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement, as well as the fact that they can match competing offers for him. However, while it's easy to say Oklahoma City would be better off with a true low-post anchor, Green's versatility--he has 3-point range, can guard multiple positions and handles and passes the ball like a small forward--might work best for the Thunder, as his ability to step out gives Durant space to operate and frees up driving lanes for Westbrook. On top of that, the undeniable chemistry of the trio--Green's known Durant since they were children in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.--and the young team as a whole could be significantly altered without Green, whose athleticism and understated style seem like a perfect fit.

2. Thunder big man Serge Ibaka has made huge strides in his second season. Oklahoma City's best interior defensive presence, Ibaka is one of the most athletic big men in the league, as evidenced by his 2.2 blocks per game in only 27.4 minutes a night. However, while a still a bit raw offensively, the native of the Congo (via Spain, where he played professionally before coming to the NBA) has developed as a scorer, averaging 11 points per game to go with his 6.7 rebounds an outing. The young team's fast-paced transition game and Ibaka's willingness to do the dirty work make him an excellent complement to Durant, Westbrook and Green, as the high-energy 21-year-old doesn't need the ball to be effective and battles opposing post players in the trenches, despite often giving up both weight and height in the matchups.

3. Much has been made of the Thunder's contract extension for backup big man Nick Collison. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, considered one of the more astute executives in the NBA, structured the deal so that Collison saw a big bump in his salary this season--giving him the 6.5 million the team had under the salary cap, according to reports, so that he's now making over 13 million this season--while making much lower, de-escalating totals for the final four years of the deal. The veteran, known for his rugged defense, is important to the young team as a role-playing glue guy, but also is a valuable locker-room presence.

4. So far this season, the Thunder have an improbable three one-point victories--and a sole loss by a lone point--and two overtime wins, including a triple-overtime triumph over New Jersey on the first of this month. Although it's not ideal to have so many close calls, the fact that the youthful squad has shown the poise--perhaps first showcased in that first-round playoff series lost to the Lakers last spring, after which their passionate home fans gave them a standing ovation--to be victorious in the clutch is a good omen--and a scary one for Western Conference foes.

5. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

Potential top pick in 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter Jr. will likely miss entire freshman season

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USA TODAY

Potential top pick in 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter Jr. will likely miss entire freshman season

The Bulls will be keeping a close eye on the best young talent the loaded 2018 NBA Draft will have to offer. But they likely won't be seeing much of Missouri's Michael Porter Jr.

The school announced Tuesday that their freshman forward, the top recruit in the country, will miss the remainder of his freshman season.

Porter played all of 100 minutes for the Tigers, amassing 2 pioints and 2 rebounds in the Tigers' win over Iowa State.

The injury isn't to say Porter won't declare for the 2018 NBA Draft, or that it will affect his stock at all. He's still considered a legitimate franchise player and certainly someone all teams drafting in the top 5 will have their eye on.

But there will be competition. Players like Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley, DeAndre Ayton and Mo Bamba make up what could be one of the best draft classes in recent memory.

For now the Bulls will have to wait until the spring or summer to see Porter Jr. work out, while doing due diligence on the rest of the class.

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.