Bulls

Why Jarrett Allen's athleticism, upside could trump Bulls' draft needs

18554706_10154693549240679_2010048603_n.jpg
USA TODAY

Why Jarrett Allen's athleticism, upside could trump Bulls' draft needs

When the Bulls made – and hit on – their Joakim Noah selection in the 2007 NBA Draft it solidified the center position. Though free agent Ben Wallace patrolled the middle during Noah’s rookie season, and Drew Gooden did so for the early portion of Noah’s second season, the Florida product wound up grabbing the reins in the middle of the 2008-09 season and remained entrenched as the starter through 2015.

In that span he made two All-Star appearances, was named First Team All-NBA and won Defensive Player of the Year in 2014.

The Bulls rotated backups behind Noah in those years, bringing in players such as Brad Miller, Aaron Gray, Omer Asik and Nazr Mohammed to patrol the second unit’s defense. When Noah fell out of favor under Fred Hoiberg before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury two season ago, the Bulls filled that void with Pau Gasol, who had played alongside Noah in his first season (under Tom Thibodeau) at power forward. The Bulls moved on from Noah last year, dealing Derrick Rose to New York for a package that included Robin Lopez. Noah signed with the Knicks to replace Lopez.

Lopez was his usual solid self in his first season with the Bulls. He averaged 10.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 28.0 minutes, and perhaps most importantly appeared in 81 games (and all six in the postseason). Cristiano Felicio also continued his development into a serviceable backup, playing in 61 games.

Since drafting Noah in 2007 the Bulls have selected and kept 10 first-round draft choices. Of those, two were point guards (Rose, Teague), three were shooting guards (Butler, Valentine, McDermott), two were small forwards (Snell, Johnson) and three were power forwards (Gibson, Mirotic, Portis).

The Bulls are one of six teams that have not drafted one of the 45 centers in the first round since 2008 (DAL, LAC, LAL, NYK, ORL are the others). Noah’s presence allowed the Bulls to bypass many of those bigs, and even entering this offseason it’s likely Felicio, a restricted free agent, returns.

But at some point taking the best player available – something Gar Forman said he’ll do  – must trump considering needs for the Bulls. For a team void on young talent, and even more so on athleticism, instant impact is no longer the most valuable attribute a player can have. Doug McDermott and Denzel Valentine, both accomplished seniors, were seen as players who could contribute to a team competing for the postseason, while Portis fell into the Bulls’ lap at No. 22 as a draft-day steal. Tony Snell was a junior and Jimmy Butler a senior, with freshman Marquis Teague sandwiched in between a franchise looking to compete.

The Bulls have needs in multiple areas: point guard and depth on the wing top the list. But if the right player becomes available – even a center – the Bulls need to consider it. Adding the best players regardless of position or age isn’t a sign of a rebuild or not playing to win; it’s a sign of improving your young talent pool, and the Bulls need that perhaps more than any other franchise.

Enter Jarrett Allen. The 6-foot-11 freshman didn’t become a household name in his lone season at Texas as the Longhorns struggled to an abysmal 11-22 record under Shaka Smart. But the five-star product from Austin put together an impressive campaign, averaging 13.4 points and 8.5 rebounds; his numbers impressively spiked to 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in Big 12 play.

Against the six Big 12 teams to make the NCAA Tournament, Allen averaged 15.6 points on 61 percent shooting and 9.8 rebounds in 13 games. His play improved as the competition did in his first and only season of college ball. In two meetings against Kansas he double-doubled in each game and combined to tally 42 points and 30 rebounds, including a whopping 18 offensive boards by himself.

Allen tested well at last week’s NBA Draft Combine. His vertical leap (35.5 inches), ¾ sprint (3.21 seconds) and shuttle run (3.00 seconds) all were first among centers, and his 7-foot-5 ¼ wingspan was fourth among all players. For what it’s worth (very little), he also had the longest hands (9.5 inches). It was rare to see a potential Lottery pick show up at the Combine, but Allen wanted to prove himself, which he did.

"It was important for me to come to show I'm more athletic than people think," he said.

Allen’s offensive game is raw – he admitted as much at the Combine – but his impact around the rim at both ends is impressive. All but 20 of his field goals came in the paint, although he converted those at a nearly 64 percent clip. In conference play he grabbed 3.2 offensive rebounds per game, and on the year ranked in the 80th percentile nationally scoring off offensive rebounds, per Synergy Sports Technology. A combination of strong hands and a soft touch at the rim made him a terror in the paint. He also runs the floor well, averaging 1.18 points per possession in transition, which ranked in the 73rd percentile nationally, per Synergy.

Allen has the length and intangibles that make him capable of becoming a great rim protector and defender. He blocked 2.0 shots per 40 minutes and committed just 2.3 fouls per 40 minutes in conference play. Both his block percentage and fouls-committed-per-40 were among the best in the Big 12.

He said at the Combine that a misconception of his game is that he’s not tough, and if he wants to make an immediate contribution in the NBA he’ll need to prove that. He's working out at IMG Academy during the pre--draft process, and something his coaches are stressing to him is lateral movement to help defend pick-and-rolls against guards.

"The first two years I'm going to have to be a defensive guy and bring energy," he said. "My offensive game isn't going to be as polished as it's going to be, so that's the only way I'm going to get on the court."

Allen won’t be the only center the Bulls could consider at No. 16. Creighton’s Justin Patton, Gonzaga’s Zach Collins and Wake Forest’s John Collins are all worthy of a look. But Allen has that combination of athleticism, production and upside (he won’t turn 20 until April) that the Bulls have been missing in recent years.

He would join a successful group of Longhorns to declare for the draft after their freshman seasons. The most recent include Kevin Durant, Avery Bradley, Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Myles Turner. While all those players' successes don't guarantee anything for Allen, the program has a track record of churning out NBA talent.

The draft could fall a number of ways, and no one knows for certain what the Bulls’ big board looks like. But if Allen is around when the Bulls are on the clock it could produce a cornerstone at the position the Bulls haven’t had since Noah. Having Lopez around for two seasons would allow Fred Hoiberg to work Allen in slowly, and though Felicio is just 24 he projects as a career backup (albeit a productive one with talent). Allen met with the Bulls in Chicago during the Combine and said he thinks he'll go somewhere between picks 10 and 20.

Center may not be a position of need for the Bulls, but adding the best talent with significant upside is. Allen checks the boxes there and could bring a new - and sorely needed - skill set to the Windy City.

A history of LeBron James' scoring prowess against the Bulls

lbj.png
USA TODAY

A history of LeBron James' scoring prowess against the Bulls

Yes, we know: LeBron James is a crybaby, he’ll never be Michael Jordan, he’s 3-5 in the NBA Finals and you hate him. All of that is true as long as you believe it, no matter how silly it sounds. Got that out of your system? Great. Because King James is about to become the 7th player in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points. He’s seven away, and seeing as he’s scored in double figures in 836 straight games, we’re fairly confident he’ll reach it tonight against the Spurs.

And wouldn’t you know it? James has done his most scoring damage against the Chicago Bulls. In fact, of his 29,993 points, 1,534 have come against the Bulls. That’s one more than he’s scored against the Bucks (1,533), and just ahead of the damage he’s done against the Pacers (1,452), Hawks (1,431) and Celtics (1,411).

And you’re right: James has played the Bulls 54 times, the same number of times he’s played the Bucks, the most of any opponent. But that scoring average of 28.4 points per game against the Bulls is fourth most against any opponent. Only the Sonics/Thunder (28.5), Jazz (29.4) and Celtics (29.4) have been hurt worse on a per-game average than the Bulls.

That being said, the likes of Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler have held James relatively in check when it comes to scoring explosions. James’ career-high against the Bulls is 41 points (done twice), and only the Rockets, Cavaliers and Clippers have held James below that figure.

Here’s a few tidbits about James against the Bulls:

  • James’ best shooting season against the Bulls came in 2012-13, his MVP season with the Heat. James shot 63.8 percent from the field in four games. His worst shooting performance was 8-for-14 (57.1%).
  • James’ highest scoring season (average) was in 2007-08, when he averaged 35.7 points in four contests. His worst point total was 33, joining other game totals of 34, 37 and 39 points. Ironically he went 1-3 against the Bulls that season. The following year he won his first MVP.
  • James has never relied on his 3-point shot, especially against the Bulls. In fact, the most 3-pointers he’s ever made in a season against the Bulls is the current year (8-for-15) and he still has a game left against Chicago in March. This current season is also the best James has shot from the charity stripe against the Bulls, going 15-for-17 (88 percent).
  • James’ worst scoring season against the Bulls was in 2013-14, his final season in Miami. James scored 17, 21 and 17 points in three games, an average of 18.3 points. That year was the last time James has averaged 27 points per game in a season.
  • But that year wasn’t the worst shooting season James had. That would have been his rookie season, when James shot 38 percent in four games against the Bulls. James shot 41.7 percent from the field that season, the only time in his career he’s ever made less than 47 percent of his shots.

And here are the biggest highlights in James’ scoring career against the Bulls during his 15 regular seasons. Again, this includes nothing from the postseason, where James has also done plenty of damage.

Dec. 20, 2003: James wasted no time putting it on the Bulls. In his debut against Chicago, he scored 32 points on 11 of 22 shooting. Though he missed all five of his 3-point attempts he went 10-for-12 from the free throw line and scored the Cavaliers’ last 14 points in the final 5:07. The Cavs dominated the fourth quarter in a 95-87 win. Ironically James didn’t top 18 points in his other three meetings against the Bulls.

March 5, 2006: James finished off a dominant season against the Bulls in which he averaged 34.8 points. It was one of just two seasons in which he scored 30 or more points in each meeting against the Bulls. On this night he brushed aside a small first half by scoring 27 of his 37 points in the second half. In fact, he scored more than half of Cleveland’s 51 points after halftime as the Cavs outscored the Bulls by 21 points.

Nov. 5, 2008: It’s remarkable to think that James only topped 40 points against the Bulls in two of his 54 meetings, and they both came in the same season. Early in the year he was a force at home, scoring 41 points on 57 percent shooting and making 15 of 16 from the free throw line. He scored 41 while failing to make a 3-pointer (0-for-2) as the Cavs led the entire way. James led the game in scoring in both the first (10), second (8) and third quarters (14), and capped it off with nine in the final frame.

Jan. 2, 2009: A few months later James had his lowest scoring game against the Bulls. He managed just 16 points in 37 minutes, though he took only eight shots and deferred to his teammates. The Cavs shot 51 percent as a team and James had 11 assists.

March 14, 2012: James’ best regular-season scoring performance with the Heat against the Bulls came in January 2012. He scored 35 points in 41 minutes, shooting 12-for-23 and getting to the free throw line 15 times. His most memorable play came late in the first quarter when James took an alley-oop from Dwayne Wade and jumped over John Lucas III for a dunk. James scored nine points in a back-and-forth fourth quarter that saw the Heat prevail, 97-93.

Oct. 31, 2014: James made his triumphant return to the Cavaliers in 2014, but the Bulls remembered him as just as good as he was in a Heat uniform. James scored 36 points in the overtime win, saving his best for the final period: he scored eight points, including the first six that pushed the Cavaliers out to a lead they didn’t surrender.

April 9, 2016: If we’re talking scoring, James’ best true shooting performance came on this day. He was as efficient as ever, scoring 33 points on 13-for-17 shooting, making 4 of 5 3-pointers and hitting 3 of 4 freebies. The 33 points on 17 shots gave him a true shooting percentage of 88.0, the best of his career against the Bulls. Chicago, however, won the game and kept its slim playoff hopes alive. The Cavaliers clinched home court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs two days later against the Hawks.

Dec. 21, 2017: James’ most recent game against the Bulls that pushed his total ahead of the Bucks by a lone point. He scored eight points in the final 140 seconds to seal the win for the Cavaliers, finishing with a game-high 23 points on 12-for-23 shooting. He also made all eight free throw attempts and hit a pair of triples. James’ next shot at improving on his Bulls total is on St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago.

NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft

0123_marvin_bagley.jpg
USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft

The majority of the NBA universe is speculating about which players will be traded before the Feb. 8 deadline — but we already did that a couple days ago.

So, with the college basketball season past its halfway point, how about an early projection of what the 14 lottery teams might do with their first-round selections?

It's never too early for a mock draft.

1. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke. The Kings have been whiffing on lottery picks for most of the last decade, but taking Bagley would be a no-brainer. Sacramento is pretty thin up front after the DeMarcus Cousins trade last season, and Bagley looks like a multiple-time All Star with a variety of post moves and shooting range out to the 3-point line.

2. Atlanta Hawks: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona. The Hawks have completely torn down the roster just a few short years after finishing with the best record in the East. They could use help at every position, but as we saw when the Bulls visited on Jan. 20, the Hawks have absolutely zero rim protection. Enter Ayton, an athletic seven-footer with an NBA-ready frame who should be able to anchor the Atlanta defense for years to come.

3. Orlando Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma. The Magic are another team in major need of a roster makeover, and after watching Elfrid Payton struggle for four seasons at the most important position in the modern game, isn't it time for an upgrade at the point guard position? Young leads the nation in both scoring and assists with Steph Curry-like shooting range. He would definitely be a big-gate attraction in the Magic Kingdom.

4. Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic, SG/SF, Slovenia. After riding international star Dirk Nowitzki to their only NBA title in 2011, how about bringing in the best player currently competing in Europe? Mark Cuban has never been afraid to take chances with personnel moves, and the highly skilled Doncic could turn out to be the best perimeter player in the draft. At the age of 18, his shooting and passing ability have drawn rave reviews from NBA scouts.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: Michael Porter, SF/PF, Missouri. Porter only played two minutes for the Tigers before leaving his first college game with what turned out to be a season-ending back injury. Still, scouts love his potential to play both forward spots at 6-foot-10, and if Porter decides to apply for the draft, it's hard to see him falling beyond this point.

6. Phoenix Suns: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama. The Suns used to be drowning in point guards, but after trading Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe in recent years, their starter is now 5-foot-9 Chicago native Tyler Ulis. Sexton has tremendous scoring and ball-handling skills, showing up on the national radar after almost single-handedly beating Minnesota in a Thanksgiving tournament game when Alabama was forced to play with only three players for a good portion of the second half because of injuries and ejections.

7. Boston Celtics: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas. The Celtics continue to stock up on young talent by virtue of all the great trades made by general manager Danny Ainge in recent years. Boston has just about every position but center covered, and now they get a chance to add a defensive anchor with a 7-foot-9 wingspan. The Celtics are poised for a long run as the beasts of the East.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Michigan State. Power forward really isn't the Cavs' biggest position of need, but if LeBron James leaves in free agency, Cleveland could be heading into rebuild mode. Jackson has a soft shooting touch from 3-point range and is quick off his feet as a shot blocker. He could team up with Kevin Love on a new-look Cavs team post-LeBron.

9. Bulls: Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova. With four starting positions already covered (assuming Robin Lopez remains on the roster), the Bulls would have the luxury to add another shot creator on the wing. Bridges is tall enough to play the small forward spot and has a lightning-quick first step to get to the rim. He also is shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line and 50 percent overall. Adding Bridges to a lineup that features Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn would give the Bulls a young and versatile unit capable of playing with tremendous pace.

10. Charlotte Hornets: Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky. The Hornets could be ready to push the reset button after watching their veteran-laden team underachieve this season. Charlotte will be looking to trade the big contracts of Nic Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, which means they could be in need of a versatile frontcourt player with high-end scoring potential.

11. Utah Jazz: Wendell Carter, PF, Duke. With Derrick Favors likely to leave in free agency, the Jazz could definitely use a young power forward with Carter's ability to score inside. Carter has played in Bagley's massive shadow at Duke, but he figures to get more touches and shot attempts in an NBA offense. The Jazz have had pretty good luck drafting power forwards in the past with Karl Malone and Paul Millsap.

12. New York Knicks: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State. Bridges surprised a lot of NBA executives with his decision to return to Michigan State for his sophomore season considering he was a likely lottery pick last year. Bridges has become much more than just a spectacular dunker, adding a more consistent 3-point shot to his offensive arsenal. He could be an excellent fit in New York alongside Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter.

13. Detroit Pistons: Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky. Diallo hasn't really stood out on a young Kentucky team, but his physical tools are off the charts. He's a great finisher at the rim but needs more consistency with his outside shot. The Pistons could be in need of a shooting guard with Avery Bradley heading to free agency.

14. Denver Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky. Another talented young athlete who gets kind of lost in a somewhat dysfunctional Kentucky offense. The Nuggets are ready to move on from the Emmanuel Mudiay experiment, though Gilgeous-Alexander offers similar concerns as a raw, underdeveloped prospect.

Around the Association

The big news this week involves the Milwaukee Bucks' decision to fire head coach Jason Kidd, who originally came to Milwaukee because of his longstanding friendship with Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry. Kidd signed a contract extension in 2016 and has a good relationship with All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So why the change? Clearly, Kidd and his staff have not done the best job of developing the talent on the roster. The Bucks made an early season trade with the Suns to acquire point guard Eric Bledsoe, giving them another shot creator to go along with the Greek Freak. They've also loaded up on long athletes over the years, drafting frontcourt players John Henson, Thon Maker and D.J. Wilson, while also adding point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year. And the Bucks starting lineup features a third proven scorer in swingman Khris Middleton, with Chicago native Jabari Parker expected back next month after completing his second ACL rehab.

With the Bucks scheduled to move into their new downtown arena next season, ownership is clearly not satisfied with a team hovering around .500 and in danger of missing the playoffs. Assistant coach Joe Prunty will take over for now, but the names of David Fizdale and Monty Williams have already surfaced as leading candidates to replace Kidd.

The San Antonio Spurs have long been held in high regard as the NBA's model organization. But now ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright are reporting there's a growing disconnect with star forward Kawhi Leonard over the handling of his rehab from a quad injury. Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season because of the injury, and according to the report, he wasn't always on the same page with how the rehab process was done. Leonard is currently sidelined again because of the same injury, and the Spurs aren't sure when he'll be ready to play again.

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford denies there is any problem between the organization and its star player, but it's definitely a situation to watch considering Leonard can opt out of his current contract following the 2018-19 season. If the Bulls decided not be active in this summer's free-agent market, is there a chance they could make a run at one the NBA's top 10 players with a max offer in 2019?

While the Bucks have been one of the league's most disappointing teams this season, the Washington Wizards aren't far behind. Washington currently holds the fifth seed in the East, but that has more to do with the quality of the conference rather than the Wizards' outstanding play. Washington players recently decided to hold a clear-the-air meeting, but things didn't go exactly as planned.

According to the Washington Post, the meeting actually had a negative impact on team morale. John Wall said, "We had our team meeting. A couple guys took it the negative way, and it hurt our team. Instead of taking it a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a little bit."

Wizards leading scorer Bradley Beal added, "Honestly, it was probably — I won't say pointless, but we didn't accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting. We just need to win ballgames. Like I told the guys, it doesn't matter how many meetings we have. We can have a meeting after every game, but if we're not mentally prepared for each game, we're going to lose again."

And that's exactly what happened. In the next game after the meeting, the Wizards got pounded by the Hornets, 133-109. Clearly, there's a lot of work to do before Washington can be considered a legitimate threat in the East.

Speaking of bad team meetings, how about Wojnarowski reporting the embattled Cavs got together before practice on Monday and actually questioned the legitimacy of Kevin Love's illness after he only played three minutes in a blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder? According to the report, Love had to explain to his teammates why he left the arena before the game was over and then missed practice the following day. The Cavs might eventually get their act together before the playoffs, but it sure doesn't look good now.

Quote of the Week

Former Cavs coach David Blatt felt blindsided when he was fired and replaced by Ty Lue midway through the team's 2015-16 championship season. Blatt eventually went back to Europe to resume his coaching career, and he directed one of the teams in a Turkish BSL All-Star Game on Sunday.

When asked about his goals for the game, Blatt offered this classic that resonated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean: "I hope we don't give up as many points as the Cavaliers gave up last night."

Very funny line after the Cavs were torched for 148 points in that loss to the Thunder, which matched a franchise record. Problem is, Blatt's All-Star squad gave up 151 in losing their game. You know what they say about karma.