Bulls

Anthony Davis' rise is unprecedented

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Anthony Davis' rise is unprecedented

Imagine, if you will, Bob "Mr. Baseball" Uecker going from a lifetime .200 hitter to a .350 slugger with 50 homers and 150 RBI in one year. Unlikely? Improbable? Impossible? Not even in the steroids era, right?

Pure fantasy.

Now imagine an 18-year-old kid from Chicago's South Side going from an obscure 6-foot-1 guard to a 6-foot-10 shot-blocking version of Bill Russell, a freshman star in one of the nation's premier college basketball programs and a virtual lock to be the No. 1 choice in the NBA draft--all within a period of about 18 months.

It happened.

Anthony Davis has gone from being an unknown player at an unknown school on Chicago's South Side, Perspectives Charter School, to a high-profile, nationally recognized star at Kentucky, the nation's top-ranked team. And you can't get any more high-profile than that.

He was a 6-foot-1 guard in the summer of 2010, then grew nine inches in 10 months. He became a household name on the AAU circuit and, despite doubters who pointed out that Davis was playing against inferior competition in the Chicago Public League's lowly Blue Division, was ranked among the top 10 prospects in Illinois in the class of 2011. He averaged 32 points and 22 rebounds per game and earned McDonald's All-American recognition.

Kentucky coach John Calipari, who sent another famed Chicagoan (Derrick Rose) to the NBA, marvels at Davis' talent, comparing him to former Massachusetts star Marcus Camby. "Anthony is ahead of Marcus at this stage. Marcus was good but not like this as a freshman," Calipari said.

Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com, who has been evaluating high school players for more than 30 years, also marvels at Davis' skills. He said he never has seen another player develop as fast, from nowhere to stardom.

"The closest would be Shaquille O'Neal, who was an unknown 6-foot-7, 225-pound power forward between his sophomore and junior years who we saw at the BCI summer nationals. At the time, we rated him a Mid-Major prospect with potential talent.

"The next time we saw him he had grown to 6-foot-11 and 245-pounds and he was well on his way to becoming the Shaq we all know and was definitely a High-Major talent and a future No. 1 prospect and a McDonald's All-American. He showed what four inches and 20 pounds can do."

Coleman claims Davis, a 6-foot-2 wing guard who most thought was a Low-Major prospect, was even farther away from being a must-see on every college recruiter's travel agenda.

"He added eight inches to go with his perimeter skills to become the top prospect in his class," Coleman said. "For most of us, we didn't get to see him as a guard. So his rise was unprecedented in that he went from a virtual unknown to top 10 to top prospect."

Old-timers who have observed Chicago basketball since the 1950s have compared Davis to former Manley and Purdue star Russell Cross, another 6-foot-10 shot blocker who led his team to a state championship in 1980. Cross was a two-time All-Stater who put Manley on the map.

But Coleman said Davis' skill set reminds him more of former Farragut star and future NBA Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett. "He can face the basket and score from three or off the dribble from 15 feet or finish with a dunk at the rim. He isn't as polished on the blocks but his jump hook is coming," he said.

"Like Garnett at this stage, he is on the skinny side. But he should add 10 to 15 pounds over the next couple years to give him the stamina to compete at the NBA level. He, like Cross, is a superior shot blocker and that will allow him to be an effective defender down the road where he can play off bigs and not have to use his body to control opponents. But he will use his ability to change their shots with his length and quick bounce to affect their game. Plus his ability to score facing the basket, like Garnett, will make him a tough match-up at the NBA level."

Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye observed Davis as much or more than any coach or recruiting analyst during his senior year at Perspectives and they, too, marvel at how he has developed into one of the most outstanding players in college basketball--as a freshman. And they are just as surprised as anyone else.

"We don't think anyone can say that they saw this coming, at least not so fast," Roy Schmidt said. "We realized how good Davis really was the June before his senior season when he dominated top talent at the elite DePaul team camp. But did we realize he'd be that good that fast? Probably not. Easy for anyone to say after the fact that they did. But this kid completely came out of nowhere. We've never seen anything like it and may never see anything like it again. It is one of those once-in-a-generation stories."

But after watching Davis for the first time for only five minutes at the elite DePaul team camp, the Schmidt brothers immediately rated him as the No. 1 player in Illinois in his class. No one else was even in the discussion.

"We also felt that he was the top player in America, as we had seen nobody on the national circuit yet who could do all of the things that Davis could do," Roy Schmidt said.

"Nobody, and we mean nobody, knew of him in the summer of 2010 except Tai Streets and his Mean Streets people," Harv Schmidt said. "But unless they were told that Davis would grow nine inches in 10 months, we doubt if any of them saw it coming. And how many kids grow that fast without being awkward and clumsy?

"But if you are talking about from last spring to now, we are not surprised that Davis will be the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft. When we first saw him, there was no doubt in our minds. At 6-foot-10, he could play point guard almost as good as Penny Hardaway. He was so fluid, got his shot off against everyone, handled the ball like an all-star guard, had unlimited range, but yet could also cause havoc inside with an unstoppable fadeaway post shot, run the floor and block shots like nobody we have seen since Kevin Garnett."

Today, watching him block shots and run the floor and intimidate opponents while playing for the nation's top-rated college team, it is easy for critics to acknowledge his enormous and still developing talent. But in the summer of 2010 and even during the 2010-11 season at Perspectives, playing against the likes of Juarez and Wells and Best Practice, few scouts believed a superstar was emerging on the horizon.

"Until you saw him for the first time, you had to wonder whether Davis was the product of vintage hype and Internet hyperbole," Roy Schmidt said. "Everyone is trying to discover the next phenom, the next Michael Jordan. Any scout with any credibility is at first naturally skeptical until you see for yourself.

"Plus, the 'big game' and 'big event' scouts have a tendency to exalt kids who shine at these events. Then there is nowhere to go but down. We've seen lots of kids get hurt by this and lots of recruiting mistakes made as a result. But when we first saw Davis play at the DePaul elite team camp, it took only five minutes to make up our minds. We both said: 'He is a future No. 1.' Not too many scouts miss a sure-fire No. 1."

Former Collinsville star and all-time Kentucky great Tom Parker, who still lives in Lexington and has four tickets to games in 23,500-seat Rupp Arena, also is very impressed by Davis' performance.

"He is an amazing young man," Parker said. "He is a great player and I love his demeanor on the floor. He's an amazing story with the growth spurt that he went through. What a great future he has in store. What a great attitude he has and what a great team player he is. He is one of a kind. It is neat that we can claim Anthony as one of our own."

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

On draft night, there is a decent possibility that the Bulls front office looks at their draft board and collectively decide that they can get a player with No. 7 pick value later in the first round. They could be inclined to feel this way more than in most years due to the 2019 draft class being such a toss up after the top three picks. If the Bulls traded down in the draft, I am assuming they would be netting a valuable future first-round pick, likely with some minimal protections. In this series, we will be looking at prospects the Bulls could take should they trade down in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Rui Hachimura per The Stepien:

71 percent at the rim

44.2 percent on short midrange

47.6 percent on long midrange

52.1 percent on NBA 3s (12/23)

Boylen talked a ton this season about “toughness” being a key tenet of the new Bulls culture moving forward. The idea of that “toughness” didn’t translate on the court heavily, though the Bulls did improve slightly in rebound rate under Boylen.

From the time for Boylen took over, the Bulls ranked 14th in defensive rebound rate and 25th in total rebound rate, up from 16th and 28th respectively under Hoiberg. Those numbers are a bit of smoke-and-mirrors with all the factors at play this past (weird) Bulls season.

But Boylen did have a much heavier focus on generating points inside first, with the team ranking third in the league in points in the paint per game during his tenure. Rui Hachimura fits in extremely well with the idea of the Bulls punishing teams inside with low-post scoring depth, resulting in open looks on the perimeter.

Hachimura stands 6-feet-8-inches tall, 230 lbs., with a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan. He is a very physical player and utilizes his wingspan incredibly well in traffic. Hachimura posted a 17.4 percent defensive rebound rate over his three-years at Gonzaga. I mentioned above how Hachimura embraces contact and his career average of 7.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes helps showcase his ability to be a wrecking ball in the paint.

He has the potential to excel as a small-ball center with the right personnel surrounding him. The fact that he can grab a defensive board and initiate the fastbreak makes him an even more valuable prospect. But when you consider that lineups with he and Markkanen as the two bigs on the floor would have five capable ball-handlers, the idea of Rui in Chicago becomes even more enticing.

Overall, Hachimura is a great prospect with a solid skill set that should allow him to be a decent scorer from day one, it all just depends on how much of an opportunity he gets.

The Bulls--as John Paxson has reiterated many, many times now--feel comfortable with the starters they have at the two, three, four and five positions, with point guard being their main area of weakness. While the Bulls don’t necessarily need another big, they do need to add productive players who are young. With Boylen’s emphasis on having multiple ball-handlers, driving the ball and points in the paint, Hachimura would be a logical selection, though No. 7 overall could be a bit of a reach for the 21-year old big.

His defense definitely has a long way to go--as with most NBA draft prospects--but Hachimura’s situation is unique since he literally had a language barrier to overcome when he first got to Gonzaga in 2017. The belief right now is that Hachimura is in a comfortable spot right now in terms of both speaking and understanding English, as reporting from Sam Vecine of the The Athletic (LINK is behind a paywall) and others has backed up.

With that being said, the Japanese forward still makes too many mistakes on the defensive end of the floor to be a surefire top 10 pick.

He is at his core an offensive-minded player, and as a result has not exactly developed much in the way of defensive intensity over the years. Hachimura averaged 0.6 steals per game and 0.5 blocks per game for his NCAA career.

For comparison’s sake, his steal and block rates are almost identical to Marvin Bagley III during his time at Duke. Bagley had a highly productive rookie season with the Kings--landing a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First-Team--but the Kings defense was still four points worse when he was on the floor per cleaningtheglass.com ($).

Despite having similar measurements to Bagley, I don’t believe that Hachimura posses quite the level of athleticism that Bagley does, making his path to becoming an above average defender that much harder.

Ultimately, if Hachimura’s awesome shooting numbers from NBA 3-point range (41.7 percent) on a small sample size (36 attempts) aren’t smoke-and-mirrors, he will greatly outplay his draft position. Hachimura shot 52.1 percent on his NBA range 3-pointers and also has a career 74.6 percent free throw percentage. Whether he was diving to the rim on pick-and-rolls with Lauri spacing the floor, or playing in a high/low offense with another big on the bench unit, there is a clear path to Hachimura being effective in Chicago. It would just take a ton of patience from the Bulls new-look coaching staff.

White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal leads the minors in strikeout rate, but it’s not translating to hits

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal leads the minors in strikeout rate, but it’s not translating to hits

When the White Sox drafted Nick Madrigal with the fourth overall pick in last June’s draft he was known as an elite contact hitter who could play good defense on the infield.

In nearly a year in the minors, that has mostly held true, but not exactly according to plan. Madrigal raced through three levels of the minors in 2018 and hit .303 in 43 games between those three stops. He only had five strikeouts.

This season has not gone as smoothly. Madrigal is hitting .261 for Single-A Winston-Salem, but he still isn’t striking out much at all. In fact, according to a write-up on Milb.com, Madrigal leads of all minor league baseball with a 3.3 percent strikeout rate.

“Madrigal has plus speed, and that should lead to more hits as his sample increases, but he'll have to hit a lot more to provide value from his specific profile,” Sam Dykstra wrote.

So what’s with Madrigal not hitting for higher average? How can a batter strikeout so rarely and not find more hits?

White Sox director of amateur scouting Nick Hostetler, one of the key decision makers in drafting Madrigal, talked about Madrigal’s progress on an episode of the White Sox Talk podcast earlier this week.

“The one thing he’s still doing is making contact,” Hostetler said. “So that is what we expected. We expected that out of him. I’m not sure he was probably expecting the streaks. I think he’s dealt with a lot of streaks in his offensive game this year. I think he had one stretch that was 0-for-16 or 17 and he came back with a couple hits. So he’s been a little streaky this year. But I think he’s starting to learn. He’s starting to develop. He’s had one home run. He’s starting to hit some doubles, but he’s starting to learn to get the ball in the air a little bit. He’s learning how teams are shifting him, how they’re playing him.”

The shifts Hostetler referred to are another interesting part of Madrigal’s unusual profile. He is actually going to opposite field more than pulling the ball down left field and opposing defenses are playing him accordingly. That could be one reason to explain why Madrigal isn’t getting more hits out of all the balls he is putting in play.

He is showing a bit more power this year as opposed to last year (11 extra base hits vs. 7 in only 10 more plate appearances). His spray charts for 2018 and 2019 show he is pulling the ball more than he used to, a sign that he is adjusting.

2018 spray chart:

2019 spray chart:

Note that Madrigal has more balls resulting in hits getting pulled down the left field side than he had last year. As defenses are shifting him to hit the ball to opposite field, as Hostetler noted, this will be a key part of his development.

He is showing progress in other areas. He is drawing more walks (14 this season vs. 7 last year) and is showing off his speed with 12 stolen bases.

Hostetler isn’t pushing the panic button on Madrigal.

“This is part of development,” Hostetler said. “Unfortunately the new wave we’re in everybody thinks ‘well, they’re a college guy and he’s drafted so high he needs to hit like this and go right away and be there in a year.’ Some guys just take a little bit.

“The one thing I’ll say is the defense has been exactly what we thought it would be. It’s Gold Glove caliber defense and he’s making contact. As long as he keeps making contact, keep fielding those balls like he is, he’ll figure out the rest.”

 

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