NBA Draft

NCAA Tournament watch guide of Bulls' NBA Draft prospects


NCAA Tournament watch guide of Bulls' NBA Draft prospects

March Madness is upon us, and unless your boss is really breathing down your neck you'll be paying attention to the first round games on Thursday and Friday. And for Bulls fans, that means getting a look at potential pieces of the franchise's rebuild.

And with the Bulls owning the Pelicans' first-round pick, there are even more players to keep your eye on as you watch the games (and watch your bracket implode by Thursday mid-day). Here's a chronological list of games that include first-round picks the Bulls might be interested in, from Thursday at 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday.

Thursday: 11:15 a.m. - No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Rhode Island

Who we're watching on Oklahoma: No. 11 Trae Young (PG)

Why Young? Because when he's on his game he's the most electric player in college basketball. His Sooners went into a tailspin in the final two months of the season after being ranked as high as No. 4 in the country. Young is an outstanding shooter, distributor and decision maker who became the first player to lead college hoops in points per game (27.4) and assists per game (8.8). The Bulls have Kris Dunn, but Young's game was built for the NBA. He's an option with their own pick.

Thursday: 1:45 p.m. - No. 15 Iona vs. No. 2 Duke

Who we're watching on Duke: No. 1 Tre Duval (PG), No. 3 Grayson Allen (SG), No. 34 Wendell Carter Jr. (C), No. 35 Marvin Bagley III (PF)

Why Duval? Duke and their point guards. The latest of the crop is Duval, a super-athletic guard who has admittedly struggled but has potential. While he defers as a scorer, he is averaging 5.5 assists and has contributed as an on-ball defender (1.5 steals). Duval may come back to Durham for a second season, especially with the talent Coach K is bringing in, but he'll be in consideration as a first-rounder on talent alone if he does declare.

Why Allen? Everyone's got an opinion on the kid, but they all agree on one thing: he can shoot with the best of them. Allen is shooting nearly 38 percent on 7.2 3-pointers per game, and he continues to show a little more ever year in the passing department, averaging 4.5 assists this season. There's a belief that his game is better suited in the free-flowing NBA, meaning he could be a consideration for the Bulls' late first-rounder. They could use an upgrade on ball-handlers who can shoot, and his ability to play off the ball - his more natural fit - makes him valuable.

Why Carter? While everyone's talking about Marvin Bagley (below), Carter has arguably been just as good. He's isn't as quick or versatile as Bagley, and doesn't have quite the same perimeter game, but his 260-pound frame allows him to bang inside (9.3 rebounds) and defend at a high clip (2.2 blocks). He has been one of the anchors of Duke's zone defense this season, and he's also shooting 56 percent from the field on the other end. He'll certainly be in consideration for the Bulls when they select in the Lottery.

Why Bagley? On a Duke team loaded with talent, Bagley shines brightest. His 6-foot-11 frame is long and athletic, and he always seems to be in the right spot on the floor. He's averaged 21.1 points, 11.5 rebounds and shot 37 percent on a limited number of 3-pointers. But he plays so well around the rim, has a solid mid-range game and is explosive in transition. He's a superb talent and only just turned 19 years old. He'll continue to expand his game and will have All-Star potential from Day 1 as a pro, but the Bulls will need Lottery luck to have a chance at drafting him.

Thursday, 2:10 p.m. - No. 11 Loyola vs. No. 6 Miami (Fla.)

Who we're watching on Miami: No. 4 Lonnie Walker IV (SG)

Why Walker? Though you'll have to root against the Chicago team in this year's NCAA Tournament, Walker is one of the most fun players in March. He's a combo guard who plays above the rim and with plenty of energy as a defender. That versatility would fit well in Chicago, where the Bulls are still trying to figure out how to utilize their talent off the ball. Walker fits that mold, and if you're looking for him he'll be the blur in transition, the guy scraping for a loose ball or going up top for a dunk.

Thursday, 5:50 p.m. - No. 16 Radford vs. No. 1 Villanova

Who we're watching on Villanova: No. 25 Mikal Bridges (SG)

Why Bridges? The term "two-play player" is overused these days, but it fits for Bridges. He's arguably the best wing defender in the draft, and he expanded his offensive game as a junior, averaging 18.0 points on 52 percent shooting (and 43 percent from deep). He's the No. 2 option on the Wildcats' top-ranked offense, and he can guard four positions (1.1 blocks, 1.6 steals). He's "old" as a junior, but that may be why such a talented player is available for the Bulls late in the top-10.

Thursday, 6:10 p.m. - No. 12 Davidson vs. No. 5 Kentucky

Who we're watching on Kentucky: No. 3 Hamidou Diallo (SG), No. 5 Kevin Knox (SF), No. 22 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (PG)

Why Diallo? If teams were drafting on potential alone he'd be a top-10 pick. But the freshman shooting guard is still incredibly raw and is more of an athlete than a basketbal player at this point. That means he's been fantastic in transition and can get to the rim at will. But he also shot below 34 percent from deep, committed more turnovers than he had assists and doesn't play terriffic defense. But again: potential is critical in the NBA, and GMs love it. Diallo could be an option when the Bulls use their Pelicans pick.

Why Knox? He's your prototypical combo forward in today's NBA. Knox has really come on strong in the second half of the season (like all Cal Kentucky teams), and his inside-out game from a 6-foot-9 scorer has NBA teams salivating. He's a bit rough around the edges and doesn't offer much in the way of defense, but he's capable of going off for 30 on any given night and that will have him in the mix for a top-10 selection.

Why Gilgeous-Alexander? There's something to be said for a 6-foot-6 point guard. Gilgeous-Alexander has really improved his stock in the last month or so, averaging 18.4 points and 6.1 assists over his last eight games. He's also a versatile defender, which has him moving his way up draft boards. The Bulls could use versatility and a stout defender in their backcourt to match what Kris Dunn does. He'll be in play when the Bulls make their first pick of the first round.

Thursday, 8:20 p.m. - No. 9 Alabama vs. No. 8 Virginia Tech

Who we're watching on Alabama: No. 2 Collin Sexton (PG)

Why Sexton? In a league domianted by point guards, Sexton may be the best in this year's class. His numbers will tell you he's a shoot-first point guard, as he's averaging 19.0 points on 44 percent shooting and just 3.5 assists. But more than that, Sexton is a playmakers. He's a smart player, is lightning quick in transition and plays good defense. He's a lot like De'Aaron Fox, who went 5th overall in last year's draft. The Bulls will give Sexton a hard look on draft night. He'd be an excellent fit next to Kris Dunn as the Bulls search for more ball handlers.

Thursday, 8:40 p.m. - No. 13 Buffalo vs. No. 4 Arizona

Who we're watching on Arizona: No. 13 Deandre Ayton, (C)

Why Ayton? Because you want to see a grown man play against a bunch of kids. Apologies to Buffalo, but Ayton is that special. He averaged 20.3 points on 61.6 percent shooting, 11.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in the regular season, and not even those numbers tell the story. He's 7-foot-1 with an NBA-ready body, is a force around the rim yet still made 12 3-pointers, and improved as a defender as the season went on. He'll be the No. 1 pick in June, barring something unforeseen. Pray for Buffalo the same way you pray for the Bulls' Lottery chances.

Thursday, 8:50 p.m. - No. 14 Montana vs. No. 3 Michigan

Who we're watching on Michigan: No. 13 Moritz Wagner (PF)

Why Wagner? Much like D.J. Wilson did a year ago, Wagner is seeing his stock improve as the Wolverines dominate down the stretch. Wagner tested the NBA waters after his freshman season and wound up returning to Ann Arbor. It was a good call, as he's averaged 14.5 points on 53 percent shooting and 7.1 rebounds in a larger role. He's got stretch-forward potential, making 40 percent of his 134 3-pointers this season, and has a built 245-pound frame that could make him playable right away. His defense needs work, but the Bulls could fall in love with his versatility late in the first.

Friday, 11:15 a.m. - No. 10 Providence vs. No. 7 Texas A&M

Who we're watching on Texas A&M: No. 44 Robert Williams (PF)

Why Williams? When he's engaged there are few players who possess the kind of talent Williams has. He can score in a variety of ways and has elite athleticism that's helped him become of the one better rebounders in the conference. The Bulls have remade the power forward position, and Bobby Ports' emergence in Year 4 has made it less of a priority. Still, Williams is someone who could have a huge March and pre-draft process to cement his status as a mid-to-late first-rounder.

Friday, 2:10 p.m. - No. 10 Butler vs. No. 7 Arkansas

Who we're watching on Arkansas: No. 10 Daniel Gafford (C)

Why Gafford? Fred Hoiberg wants to play small, and for the most part the Bulls have done this all year. Still, there's value in the NBA for a center who can run the floor, block shots and pound the glass. That's Gafford's game. The 6-foot-11 freshman is averaging 11.9 points on 62 percent shooting, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. He's only scratching the surface of his potential, so while he may make you scratch your head with a silly play he's also going to wow you a few times every game.

Friday, 3:30 p.m. - No. 10 Texas vs. No. 7 Nevada

Who we're watching on Texas: No. 4 Mo Bamba (C)

Why Bamba? Have you ever seen an 8-foot wingspan? Bamba looks like something out of Space Jam, and he plays with the dominance of a Monstar, too. He was second in the country in blocks per game (3.7) and averaged a double-double (12.9 points, 10.4 rebounds). He's still raw, but one quick look at him and you realize his potential as a defensive star. Once his offensive game fills out he'll be unstoppable. The Bulls will need some Lottery luck to have a chance at drafting this Unicorn of a prospect.

Friday, 5:50 p.m. - No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 8 Creighton

Who we're watching on Creighton: No. 2 Khyri Thomas (SG)

Why Thomas? The Bulls have improved offensively, thanks to Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and - at times - Zach LaVine. The defense, however, has been borderline unwatchable at times. Enter Khyri Thomas, the 6-foot-3 guard with a 6-foot-10 wingspan who is an absolute hound on that end of the floor. He's got All-NBA Defensive Team potential, and he's not too shabby as a shooter - he's made between 39 and 41 percent of his 3-point attempts in three seasons with the Bluejays. He'll almost certainly be in the mix with the Bulls' second first-rounder. For as improved as the Bulls are on the wing offensively, the defense has taken a major hit.

Friday, 6:10 p.m. - No. 14 Bucknell vs. No. 3 Michigan State

Who we're watching on Michigan State: No. 22 Miles Bridges (SF) No. 2 Jaren Jackson Jr. (PF)

Why Bridges? As far as the college game goes, there are few better than Bridges. He's averaging nearly 17 points on 46 percent shooting, and contributes in just about every facet of the game. As an NBA pick, his lack of size (6-foot-7) and outside shooting (36.9 percent shooter from deep) may hurt him. Then again, far less athletic players have made it on skill alone. Bridges could be in that camp, especially if he falls on draft night and the Bulls scoop him up late in the first round. He's a good defender and plays above the rim when attacking the basket. There's a spot in the league for that.

Why Jackson? He's the perfect build for a future NBA power forward. Jackson is raw as a freshman, but he rebounds incredibly well (5.8 per game), is a nightmare at the rim (3.2 blocks per game) and has shown serious capability to make outside shots (40 percent on 96 3-point attempts; he made five in one game). He's made for the NBA, and while he hasn't received the same kind of attention as the Aytons, Bagleys and Mambas of this class, he's incredibly valued because of that skill set. It would surprise no one if he's taken in the top-5 on draft night.

Friday, 8:50 p.m. - No. 9 Florida State vs. No. 8 Missouri

Who we're watching on Missouri: No. 13 Michael Porter Jr.

Why Porter? Because we haven't seen much of him at all this year. Twenty-five minutes, to be exact. A back injury limited him to just two minutes in the regular season, and he wasn't great in his lone SEC Tournament appearance (5-for-17 shooting in a loss to Georgia). But there was a reason he was considered by many as the top prospect in this class. He's 6-foot-10, has an incredible feel for the game and can score from anywhere. The Bulls will need some Lottery luck to have a chance at drafting him, unless the back injury scares off teams.

NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr.


NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr.

If you’ve been following NBA mock drafts since the college season began, you’ll notice Michigan State power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. has been rising steadily. actually has Jackson going second in its latest mock.

There’s no questioning Jackson’s physical talent. The 6-foot-11 freshman runs the floor like a gazelle and has explosive leaping ability, ranking fifth in the country with 3.2 blocked shots per game. He also has an NBA pedigree. His father played 13 seasons in the NBA as a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, averaging 5.5 points a game mostly in a reserve role, which included a championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999.

Jackson has excellent shooting touch for a big man, hitting just under 40 percent of his 3-point tries, but he’s not a major factor in the Michigan State offense, averaging only 6.8 shots per game. His scoring average of 11.3 points ranks only fifth on a Spartans team currently ranked fourth in the country. Foul trouble has been an issue for Jackson, but he’s also been content to watch center Nick Ward, swingman Miles Bridges and guards Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston carry the offense.

What does this mean for Jackson’s pro future? Well, judging by the mock drafts, not much. NBA coaches will find a way to get a player as talented as Jackson more shots, and he should be able to take advantage of his quickness to drive past slower defenders at the pro level.

Jackson reminds some scouts of Kevin Garnett with his physical tools, but he doesn’t have the competitive fire (bordering on rage) that drove Garnett to become one of the all-time greats at the power forward position. A more realistic comp might be Serge Ibaka of the Toronto Raptors, who possesses Jackson’s blend of shot-blocking talent and long-range shooting touch.

How would Jackson fit with the Bulls? Well, unless the Bulls get lucky in the lottery, he figures to be long gone before they make their pick. Bulls big man Bobby Portis is another decent comp for Jackson given Portis' size at 6-foot-11 and his 3-point shooting ability, so drafting Jackson would mean some duplication of skill sets. But given the way the NBA game is trending, Jackson could play center at the pro level, especially given his ability as a rim protector. If Jackson slips to the Bulls, I’m sure they could find a way to utilize three talented bigs, including Lauri Markkanen.

The upcoming NCAA tournament offers a great chance to Bulls fans to get a close look at some of the top prospects in the country. And keep an eye on Michigan State because either Jackson or Bridges could wind up in Chicago, depending on how the lottery combinations land on May 15.

NBA Buzz: Mock Draft 2.0 and news on potential future Bulls free-agent targets


NBA Buzz: Mock Draft 2.0 and news on potential future Bulls free-agent targets

As we head into March Madness, NBA general managers and scouts will be criss-crossing the country to further evaluate the top college players under the high-pressure microscope of conference and postseason tournaments.

With that in mind, here's my second mock draft, looking at how the lottery selections might fall. Keep in mind only two games separate the team with the worst record from the eighth-place Bulls, so a lot could change over the final month and a half of the NBA regular season.

Mock Draft 2.0 (order as of Feb. 28)

1. Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona. Even though his name has popped up at the center of the FBI's investigation into college basketball corruption, Ayton continues to play on at a high level. Ayton is probably just a cut below Philadelphia's Joel Embiid in his ability to impact a game on both ends of the court. He might be the one true franchise changer in this year's draft.

2. Atlanta Hawks: Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke. Bagley missed four games recently because of a minor knee strain, but his ability to score inside and outside, plus control the defensive glass and block shots, should make him an instant impact player on the pro level. Based on what I’ve seen, Bagley and Ayton are a cut above the rest of the field. Both project as perennial All Stars.

3. Sacramento Kings: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF-C, Michigan State. The Kings could go for international star Luka Doncic, but given their glut of perimeter players, Jackson could be a bit of a surprise pick here. The 6-foot-11 freshman's shot-blocking ability and athleticism remind some scouts of a young Kevin Garnett, but he could wind up being the next Bobby Portis (solid rotation player, not a star).

4. Orlando Magic: Luka Doncic, SG-SF, Slovenia. The rebuilding Magic have needs at just about every position, and they might be tempted to reach for Oklahoma long-range shooting sensation Trae Young. But NBA scouts love the potential of Doncic, who's grown to almost 6-foot-8 with the passing and ball-handling skills of a point guard. Orlando could try Doncic at the point after trading disappointing former first-round pick Elfrid Payton to Phoenix.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: Michael Porter Jr., SF, Missouri. NBA executives are hoping Porter will play a few games before the end of the season to make sure he's fully recovered from back surgery in November. Sure, it might be a risk to take Porter this high, but remember he was projected to be the No. 1 overall pick before the injury with small forward skills at 6-foot-10.

6. Dallas Mavericks: Mo Bamba, C, Texas. Another team that needs an influx of talent everywhere. Mark Cuban might be intrigued by the star power of Young, especially with Dirk Nowitzki retiring soon. But the Mavericks need a big man to anchor their defense, and the 7-foot Bamba (with a 7-foot-9 wingspan) definitely fits the bill.

7. Cleveland Cavaliers (from the Brooklyn Nets): Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma. We know LeBron James is a big fan after watching Young play at James' annual summer camp in Akron, and that's probably a good enough reason for Cleveland to make this pick. Young can ease into his NBA career as a low-minutes shooting specialist off the bench in the mold of former Bull Kyle Korver.

8. Bulls: Mikal Bridges, SG-SF, Villanova. Watch Bridges play during the postseason tournaments, and you're likely to come away with an appreciation for his all-around skill set. Bridges is a knock-down 3-point shooter with a quick first step on drives, and he's strong enough to finish at the rim. Maybe a little undersized at the small forward spot in the NBA, but his athleticism makes him special.

9. New York Knicks: Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky. The 6-foot-9 Knox will remind New Yorkers of Carmelo Anthony with his strong build for a college freshman. Problem is, Knox can't score like Melo. Still, he'll give the Knicks another frontcourt option with Kristaps Porzingis on the mend from ACL surgery.

10. Philadelphia 76ers (from the Los Angeles Lakers): Wendell Carter, PF, Duke. Carter hasn't received a ton of media attention with so much focus on the more versatile Bagley. But the 6-foot-10 banger could provide some needed muscle off the bench for a young team on the rise. Carter showed off his low-post scoring ability in the games Bagley missed recently, improving his draft stock.

11. Charlotte Hornets: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama. Sexton is a top-10 talent, but not many teams in the lottery are looking for point guards this year. The Hornets have All Star Kemba Walker at the point, but Steve Clifford could probably play the two together, given Sexton's talent on the defensive end. Similar skill set to last year’s No. 5 overall pick De’Aaron Fox.

12. Detroit Pistons: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State. Bridges can stay in the state of Michigan to start his pro career. The Pistons have been disappointed with the development of young forward Stanley Johnson and could be ready to move him in a trade this summer. That could open the door for Bridges, who improved his 3-point shooting during his sophomore season in East Lansing.

13. Utah Jazz: Robert Williams, PF-C, Texas A&M. The 6-foot-9 jumping jack was expected to be a top 10 pick entering this season but has dropped back because of his limited offensive skill. Williams could step right into the Jazz frontcourt rotation with the expected loss of free agent Derrick Favors.

14. Denver Nuggets: Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami. The athletic shooting guard has been at his best late in the ACC season with an ability to create his own shot off the dribble. At this point in the draft, it's best player available, and Walker has the potential to be a big-time scorer.

In case you haven't noticed, the New Orleans Pelicans keep winning despite the season-ending injury suffered by DeMarcus Cousins. They're now tied for sixth place in the West, which means the first-round pick the Bulls acquired in the Nikola Mirotic trade has dropped to No. 21 overall.

Who will be available in that range? Well, if the Bulls take Mikal Bridges with their first pick in Round 1, they might want to take a chance on a young center like UNLV's Brandon McCoy or high school eligible big man Mitchell Robinson. Several athletic guards could also drop to that spot including Kentucky's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo, Syracuse's Tyus Battle, Miami's Bruce Brown, Duke's Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval and high school eligible Anfernee Simmons.

Around the Association

Chicago native Anthony Davis has just put together one of the most remarkable months we've seen in some time. The All-Star big man averaged right around 36 points, 13 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.5 blocks in February, carrying the Pelicans' offense in the absence of Cousins.

Davis is signed for two more seasons, with a player option for 2020-21, and it's safe to say he's the most coveted player around the league by contending teams looking to poach a small-market star. Problem is, Davis has consistently stated he's happy in New Orleans and enjoys playing with Cousins. If the Pelicans are able to re-sign Cousins this summer, the two All Stars might be content to play the prime years of their careers together in New Orleans.

So, if the Bulls don't have a shot at Davis, what about Kawhi Leonard? We've all read the reports out of San Antonio talking about a disconnect between Leonard and the organization. Leonard has resumed basketball workouts at the team facility, and there's hope he'll be playing in games again sometime in March. But given the age factor on the Spurs roster (Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Rudy Gay and Danny Green are all over 30), will Leonard be willing to commit long term when he's eligible to hit the free-agent market in the summer of 2019?

Teams will be lining up to bid on the 26-year-old Leonard, who was considered a top-10 player before the mysterious quad injury that's limited him to only nine games this season. Leonard hates media attention, so you have to wonder if he'd even consider a big market like Chicago. But the Bulls are trying to maintain salary cap flexibility with the hope of being able to strike when an All-Star player unexpectedly becomes available.

Jimmy Butler can also be a member of the 2019 free-agent class, and the hope is he can make a quick recovery from the meniscus injury he suffered last week. Butler is the latest player coached by Tom Thibodeau to fall victim to a serious injury.

Bulls fans know all too well what's happened to Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng through the years. Rose's injuries weren't directly related to overuse, but Noah and Deng have seen their careers effectively ended by years of ranking among the league leaders in minutes played. Butler was second in the NBA at 37.1 minutes per game at the time of his injury.

Coincidence? I think not.

Butler is determined to return to the Timberwolves' lineup in time for the playoffs, but there's no guarantee Minnesota will even get there with eight teams currently battling for the final six spots out West. At this point, the four-time All Star has to be thinking about how he can stay in one piece to land that next big contract, whether it’s in Minnesota or someplace else.