Bears

Draft needs of Bulls' Central division rivals

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Draft needs of Bulls' Central division rivals

For the past two seasons, the Bulls have dominated the Central Division, though the gap closed a bit with the resurgence of the Pacers last year. Still, even with the Bulls entering a season with lowered expectations due to Derrick Roses recovery from an ACL injury, the rest of the division is playing catch-up.
While Indiana, the other team in the division to qualify for the postseason, has a fairly complete roster, the other teams in the Central have relatively young rosters with holes to fill.
Heres a look at what the Bulls division rivals may look to address in Thursdays NBA Draft:

Cleveland Cavaliers: Nos. 4, 24, 33, 34
After winning the lottery last year and drafting Kyrie Irving, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, the Cavs have two first-round picks, as well as two early second-round choices. Expect Cleveland to continue to bolster its perimeter attack, giving Irving a wing playmate.
Its a foregone conclusion that Anthony Davis will go first overall to New Orleans and if Charlotte keeps the second pick, many believe Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson will be drafted by the Bobcats. The three players who round out the consensus top-five prospects are all wings: North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes, Kentucky small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal.
Since the Cavs need help at both perimeter positions, all of those names are supposedly in play. What complicates matters is the fact that Washington, selecting third overall, has similar needs. So if the Wizards take Clevelands preferred choice after a trade with the Hornets that brought in veterans Emeka Okafor and Trever Ariza, the latter being a starting-caliber small forward; speculation has the Wizards drafting Beal theyll have to settle for the next-best player on their board.
Kidd-Gilchrist was Irvings high school teammate in New Jersey and is regarded as the best defender of the bunch, though outside shooting is his biggest weakness, while Barnes is a better shooter, despite experiencing an up-and-down two-year college career. Beal has garnered some Ray Allen comparisons for his shooting stroke, but showed in college that despite his pedestrian size for an NBA shooting guard, he was a physical player on both ends of the floor.
With the 24th pick in a deep draft, Cleveland could also find a valuable player. The likes of Iowa States Royce White, a playmaking power forward, Syracuse Fab Melo, a true center who would address the teams size issues or Baylors Quincy Miller, a skilled forward with a lot of long-term potential, could all be in the mix. The likes of Vanderbilt small forward Jeff Taylor or Michigan State forward Draymond Green would provide the Cavs with experienced, four-year college players. Clevelands early second-round selections could also yield either a developing young prospect or a solid role player, but dont be shocked if the Cavs are open to dealing those picks, as well as their second first-round choice.

Detroit Pistons: Nos. 9, 39, 44
The rapid progress of big man Greg Monroe and Brandon Knights solid rookie season, as well as veterans Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey on the perimeter gives the Pistons a foundation to build upon. However, for all of Monroes talent, hes not an explosive athlete or a dominant shot-blocking presence, which has made Detroits front office emphasize bringing in an athletic, defensive-oriented post player to complement his game.
In an ideal world, Connecticut center Andre Drummond would slip to the Pistons and while his stock is reportedly dropping, its unlikely he lasts until the ninth pick. Therefore, Detroit is focused on the next tier of big men, including the North Carolina duo of John Henson and Tyler Zeller, Illinois center Meyers Leonard and Mississippi State big man Arnett Moultrie.
Henson is slender and his offense needs development, but he should be able to make an immediate impact as a defender, and his teammate Zeller is more polished on offense, has the size to be a true center and has a mature enough game to be a contributor as a rookie. Leonard, as many fans in Illinois know, has tremendous potential, but has yet to fully harness it, while Moultrie offers size, versatility, athleticism and the ability to stretch the defense with his shooting.
Even if they end up reaching a bit, the pick will probably come down to who the Pistons feel best meshes with Monroe, the future of the franchise. In the second round, a big wing to back up the aging Prince could be the move, though trading either pick certainly is an option.

Indiana Pacers: No. 26
As previously mentioned, the Pacers have one of the more complete rosters around, with depth at almost every position except a true backup center, the position All-Star free agent Roy Hibbert plays. Indianas depth could also allow the Pacers to trade a player on the current roster point guard Darren Collison is rumored to be available, as Indianapolis native George Hill, a free agent, usurped his starting role toward the end of the regular season and use the draft to find a replacement.
That said, if the roster remains intact, a backup for Hibbert looks like the obvious choice. The aforementioned Melo, whose offense remains unpolished, but brings a shot-blocking presence to the table, would be an obvious fit, as would Vanderbilts Ezeli, who has a bit more mobility.
If Collison is indeed on the trading block, perhaps bringing Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague like Hill, an Indianapolis native, as well as the younger brother of Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague home is the way to go. Perimeter players like Baylors Miller or French swingmen Evan Fournier could also be in play as offensive-minded long-term projects who would eventually supplant veteran wing Dahntay Jones in the Pacers rotation.
Milwaukee Bucks: Nos. 12, 42
After acquiring scorer Monta Ellis via trade last season, and pairing him with like-minded point guard Brandon Jennings for a high-octane backcourt, one thing Milwaukee doesnt need is more guards, at least not one worthy of the 12th overall pick. However, since the Bucks gave up upper-echelon center Andrew Bogut, a former No. 1 overall pick, in that trade, they could certainly use some frontcourt assistance.
No one player could effectively replace Bogut with the 12th pick and while the combination of Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova, a free agent, ended the season in strong fashion, neither that duo nor a wing group headed by veterans Luc-Richard Mbah-a-Moute, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Delfino isnt exactly the most formidable bunch. Thus, expect the Bucks to target the best-available frontcourt prospect, preferably one with some size.
Illinois Leonard, Mississippi States Moultrie and the North Carolina tandem of Henson and Zeller are possibilities for Milwaukee, as are Baylors Perry Jones and Kentuckys Terrence Jones. Baylors Jones is an enigmatic sort, with remarkable tools and potential, yet oddly passive play throughout his college career, while the motor of Kentuckys Jones, a versatile scorer, has also been questioned, though winning the NCAA Championship has quelled inquiries about whether hes a selfish player.
Prior to last week, Ohio States Jared Sullinger would have been in the mix, but after being medically red-flagged because of back issues, his stock has reportedly been dropping as evidenced by the news that the NBA didnt invite him to the draft, something reserved for players regarded as lottery picks though his low-post scoring and rebounding ability are attributes the Bucks could use. With their second-round pick, Milwaukee could opt for a bigger wing to complement their diminutive starting backcourt.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?