Luka Doncic

The Bulls' odds of moving into the top-3, and who should they take if they get there?

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USA TODAY

The Bulls' odds of moving into the top-3, and who should they take if they get there?

An eight-game winning streak and 10-win March all but ended the Bulls' pursuit of heading into May's NBA Draft Lottery with the best, second best or third best odds. In fact, since Dec. 8, when the Bulls were 3-20, they're 21-30; that's better than Detroit (20-30). So while the Bulls won't have a guaranteed top-6 pick they'll still have the opportunity to move into the top-3 if the Lottery balls fall their way. But first a breakdown of how likely it is for teams picking outside the top-4 of moving into the top-3.

In the last 15 years, 14 teams slotted 5th or worse have moved in to the top-3 of the Lottery. Here's a quick breakdown of that:

5th best odds: 5 times (2010, 1st; 2007, 2nd; 2006, 1st; 2004, 2nd; 2003, 2nd)
6th best odds: 4 times (2011, 3rd; 2010, 2nd; 2009, 2nd; 2005, 1st)
7th best odds: 1 time (2007, 1st)
8th best odds: 2 times (2013, 8th; 2011, 1st)
9th best odds: 2 times (2014, 1st; 2008, 1st)

And (spoiler alert) it really pays to have top-4 odds going into the Lottery.

The 1st best odds have fallen out of the top-3 just  three times ('09, '07, '06); the 2nd best odds have fallen out of the top-3 seven times ('17, '15, '13, '11, '10, '08, '05); the 3rd best odds have fallen out of the top-3 eight times ('14, '12, '11, '10, '07, '05, '04, '03); and the 4th best odds have fallen out of the top-3 nine times ('16, '14, '13, '11, '10, '08, '06, '04, '03)

You have to go back to 1999 to find a team with the 10th or worse odds to jump into the top-3. The Hornets did that with the 13th worst odds. So as you can see, minus the 7th slot outlier, it makes a significant difference being 5th/6th and 8th/9th.

The Bulls are currently slotted 8th in the Lottery Watch standings, though they're just one back in the win column from No. 5 Dallas. In theory they could get as high as No. 4, though it would take a few wins from Orlando and potentially some coin-flip luck if the Bulls finished tied with others.

But here's the catch with all that. The last three seasons no team with the 5th best odds or worse has jumped into the top-3, or even the top-4. So maybe the NBA is due for the Lottery balls to fall a certain way that allows a team with poor odds. The Bulls sure hope so. And if they do land in the top-3, here are some scenarios that could play out.

If the Bulls pick first: It's been 10 years since the Bulls jumped eight teams and earned the right to draft Derrick Rose. And if they did so again and the Bulls jumped up to the top of the class, they'd likely sprint to the podium on draft night and select Arizona center Deandre Ayton. He's not the consensus top pick (yet), he very well could be by draft night. Standing 7-foot-1 with an NBA-ready body, Ayton averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds for the Wildcats and was named Pac-12 Player of the Year. His versatile offensive game makes him a perfect fit in today's NBA, and while he's still a work in progress on the other end he managed to block 1.9 shots and hauled in 8.2 defensive rebounds per game.

He's also a perfect fit next to Lauri Markkanen. You're rarely going to hear us mention "need" for the Bulls, because teams picking in the Lottery more ofen than not need to draft the best player available. That's certainly the case at No. 1, but Ayton also fills a need. He shot just 35 3-pointers with Arizona, but he looked comfortable doing it. We'll also toss in here that Karl-Anthony Towns was 2-for-8 from deep in college and is now shooting nearly 44 percent from deep on 265 attempts in his third NBA season. With a soft touch around the rim, incredible athleticism and the body of a 10-year veteran, Ayton would almost certainly be the Bulls' pick at No. 1. An inside-out duo of Ayton/Markkanen, with Bobby Portis as a third wheel, would allow the Bulls to focus exclusively on their backcourt as the rebuild turns another chapter.

If the Bulls pick second: We'll go ahead and assume Ayton will go off the board at No. 1 to whoever picks there. That leaves the Bulls with multiple options. Some of you will like the pick, and others will hate it. But it's just too difficult to look past what Luka Doncic has done at such a young age. He has played professional basketball for three years, and done so in the best league outside of the NBA. And not only has he done that: he's dominated. In 49 games for Real Madrid, Donic averaged 15.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists in just 24.7 minutes. Remember, he's 19. He's a 6-foot-7 ball handler with ridiculous passing skills both in transition and half-court sets, and he succeeds at the rim.

So does he fit with the Bulls? The verdict is still out on Kris Dunn being the point guard of the future. He's a core piece, to be sure, but once again...teams picking in the Lottery draft the best player, not for need. When you draft for need you wind up trading Kawhi Leonard to the Spurs for George Hill because you already have Danny Granger. Yikes. Dunn or no Dunn, Doncic would give the Bulls a second ball handler and creator for an offense that has really lacked one. He has admittedly struggled from deep in Europe, but he's also not afraid to shoot from out there. Fred Hoiberg can make him a shooter; he has the intangibles that can't be taught. He could play alongside Dunn and LaVine, giving the Bulls a long, versatile backcourt and a second wing that will keep the ball moving if Dunn doesn't have it.

If the Bulls pick third: Ayton will be gone, and in this scenario Doncic is off the board. That leaves the player who, in this author's opinion, will wind up being the best in the class. Duke's Marvin Bagley III is oozing with versatility, potential, length and any other NBA Draft buzzword you want to use. It's not cliche with Bagley, it's the truth. The 6-foot-11 power forward averaged 21.0 points, 11.1 rebounds and nearly a steal and block per game for the Blue Devils. He was great in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 20.0 points, 8.6 rebounds while shooting 21 of 31 (68%). He made 40 percent of his 58 3-point attempts, but at this stage of his career he's much more comfortable around the rim and attacking in the paint. He needs to improve defensively, though he thrived in Duke's zone, but his athleticism will help him as he learns on the go.

Sun-Times reporter Joe Cowley wrote that Bagley is "the player several mambers of the (Bulls) organization believe is better fit with Markkanen." He's a traditional power forward, so while the Bulls would be undersized using a Bagley/Markkanen frontcourt, that versatility is scary-good. Bagley can run the floor, does well in pick-and-roll situations and is lethal at the rim. Acquiring Bagley might make Bobby Portis expendable, which would give the Bulls more room to fill holes elsewhere (especially if they give Zach LaVine a ton of money in July). Bagley looks to be a perfect fit with the Bulls, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him go off the board at No. 2 if the Bulls drafted there.

Mo Bamba, Michael Porter Jr. and Jaren Jackson will all be options here, but for now these are our picks if the Bulls can find some Lottery magic.

NBA Draft Tracker: Slovenian G/F Luka Doncic

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AP

NBA Draft Tracker: Slovenian G/F Luka Doncic

It's no secret the Bulls are intrigued with the potential of 18-year-old European star Luka Doncic. General manager Gar Forman and international scouting director Ivica Dukan have seen the talented swingman in person on numerous occasions. Doncic is a lock to go in the top five of the 2018 draft, and if the Bulls are able to get him, they could feature a 1-2 European tandem with Lauri Markkanen that would shape the course of the franchise for the next decade.

So just how good is Doncic? NBA scouts rave about his potential with ball-handling skills and shot-creating ability seldom seen from such a young player facing quality EuroLeague competition. Doncic turns 19 on Feb. 28, and he's still growing, currently listed at 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds.

If you're old enough to remember "Pistol" Pete Maravich or have seen his work on video, Doncic has some of those qualities with a game that has plenty of flair and instinctive passes. But what really has scouts intrigued is the shot-making ability and physical strength he's shown at such a young age. Doncic has amazing body control and is scoring at a higher clip than any previous EuroLeague player at the same age. He's much further ahead in his development curve than players who’ve come over from Europe in recent years like Bojan Bogdanovic, Nikola Mirotic and Dario Saric. And if you're looking for current NBA comps, how about a player like Gordon Hayward, who features a well-rounded game with 20 points per game scoring ability and excellent court vision? Or maybe Goran Dragic, a tough point guard with the ability to score inside and out?

OK, so why isn't Doncic a slam-dunk No. 1 pick? Some scouts question his overall quickness and ability to move laterally on defense against superior athletes. Then there's the issue of which position he plays. Is he a point guard, shooting guard or small forward? Still, the way the NBA game is played today, it's really not important to be evaluated at just one position. Doncic is a talented perimeter scorer and passer who should be a great fit in any of the three-wing, two-bigs offenses we see on a nightly basis.

How would Doncic fit on the Bulls? He could probably step in right away as the starting small forward or come off the bench as a classic scoring sixth man, capable of backing up at three positions. Having Doncic, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine on the perimeter would pose a major challenge to opposing defenses, with all three players capable of bringing the ball up court with pace and initiating the offense.

At this point in the college season, Duke's Marvin Bagley and Arizona's Deandre Ayton are running 1-2 for the honor of being the first player selected in June. But NBA scouts are also very high on Doncic, Michael Porter Jr., Mo Bamba, Collin Sexton and Jaren Jackson Jr. Yes, the Bulls would love to get a top-three pick, but the list of potential stars runs a lot deeper than that.

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

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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.