Bulls

Breakdown of the debuts of several top 2019 NBA draft prospects

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USA TODAY

Breakdown of the debuts of several top 2019 NBA draft prospects

Through the early season portion of the season the Bulls have seen tremendous growth from Zach LaVine and—in a somewhat rapid fashion—Wendell Carter Jr. Their progression has shown that this core is perhaps closer to being a competitive team than anyone could've imagined.

With all of that being said, the start of the NCAA Men's basketball season gives Bulls fans a look at some of the more NBA-ready talent that have played so far. And with Bleacher Report dropping their latest NBA mock draft on Wednesday, we take a look at some of the prospects B/R projected to be in the range the Bulls would be selecting. 

Nassir Little, SF, North Carolina: Little has been projected to be a top-five pick through the summer and has a game somewhat similar to top 2019 NBA prospect R.J. Barrett, due to the fact that they both have the potential to be high-level two-way players at the professional level. 

In the first game of his college career, Little came off the bench and was not needed much in a 78-67 win over Wofford. His stat line for the night was 7 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks. 

The Tar Heels are a deep and veteran team, so it will be intriguing to see how Little's playing time shapes up. But in his 20 minutes he showcased what makes him such a tantalziing prospect, starting with his ability to create shots off the dribble.

Little has trremendous length with his estimated 7-foot 2-inch wingspan. And on top of using it to create shots in the half court offense, he can be devastating in transition. 

But his offensive potential is perhaps more exciting than any other prospect for the simple fact that he already has the body to be an elite defender at the NBA level. And the fact that he held his own against Zion Williamson in amateur competition bodes well for his future. 

Romeo Langford, SG/SF, Indiana: Indiana won a tightly contested recruiting battle for Langford and in the first game he showed that he may be the Hoosiers most naturally talented player in some time. He has a great jump shot and he supplements that with good body control and finishing around the rim. 

Any game against inferior competition has to be evaluated properly, since a player of Langford's caliber is going to get his numbers against them regardless. He finished 58 percent from the floor—efficiency being more important than the fact the he got 19 pts—and shared the ball with his teammates in an easy win over Chicago State. Langford ended the game with 3 assists and one turnover. 

Langford is not showing any fear finishing through contact and though his 3-point shot hasn't fallen yet, there aren't too many concerns about that aspect of his game at this time. His defense is still a major question mark—he had one steal against Chicago State—but he has too much in his offensive repertoire at 19 years old to fall anywhere lower than the lottery come June. 

Quentin Grimes, PG/SG, Kansas: Grimes is a big-time scorer and certainly asserted himself in Kansas's first win of the season against Michigan State. Grimes led the Jayhawks in shot attempts (14) and points (21), but the way he got his points is what impressed scouts. 

At 6-foot 5-inches and 210 lbs., Grimes has an NBA-ready body. He is a knockdown 3-point shooter—with a compact and quick release—and a solid playmaker as well. Grimes racked up 4 assists and one turnover in his 30 minutes against the Spartans. He didn't get to the free throw line much (1-2 from the charity stripe) and that will be the main concern on nights when his shot isn't falling at the rate it did against MSU.

Grimes' 6-foot 7-inch wingspan is not jaw-dropping by any means, but it is enough to project him to be a decent defender as he adds strength over his career. Because of his ability to definitely play both backcourt spots and possibly on the wing as well, he is the perfect fit or any team that has enough bodies in the frontcourt rotation already. 

Mark Schanowski's NBA Draft Big Board 6.0

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USA TODAY

Mark Schanowski's NBA Draft Big Board 6.0

With all the national debate concerning whether Zion Williamson should continue playing for Duke following the Grade 1 knee sprain he suffered on Thursday, one thing is clear: Zion will be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft no matter what he ultimately decides to do.

Granted, it was frightening to see Williamson’s left shoe explode and his right knee bend inwardly at an awkward angle, but the good news is he wasn’t seriously injured and should be able to play again very soon. It’s hard to believe the injury will have any impact on how Zion’s pro future is being evaluated by NBA scouts and executives, other than a continuing concern over his ability to withstand the rigors of an 82 game schedule at his listed weight of 285 pounds.

Williamson’s teammate R.J. Barrett had to turn up his offensive game after Zion went out against North Carolina, and wound up scoring 33 points, while Cam Reddish added 27. Both players figure to go in the top 5 come June.

One player who has caught my attention in recent weeks is Gonzaga big man Rui Hachimura. Even though he’s more of a traditional power forward at 6-foot-8, Hachimura showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive past defenders in recent games for the Zags, and for the season, he’s averaging just over 20 points a game, shooting 60 percent from the field and 42 percent from the three-point line.

With so many of the preseason lottery prospects struggling to find consistency, Hachimura is climbing up draft boards with steady production for the nation’s second ranked team. The Zags’ other starting forward, Brandon Clarke, is also drawing attention from NBA talent evaluators, averaging nearly 17 points and eight rebounds a game on an astounding 69 percent success rate from the field.

With the top 4 picks looking pretty solid right now, expect to see all kinds of movement from the 5 to 14 range in mock drafts heading into the draft combine in May. I’ve got Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland moving up to No. 6 this week, even though he hasn’t played since Nov. 23 because of a meniscus injury.

Maybe sitting out is the best strategy for some of the highly rated prospects who’ve looked decidedly average this season, like Indiana’s Romeo Langford, Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson and North Carolina’s Nassir Little.

This could be a year where performances at the draft combine and individual team workouts lead to a player making a dramatic rise or fall when the picks are announced on June 20.

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Should Zion Williamson shut it down and sit for the rest of the season?

Should Zion Williamson shut it down and sit for the rest of the season?

Decisions...

The great thing about this business is the ability of analyst, pundits, bloggers and pretty much everyone and anyone to have a voice. “I think Zion should (fill in the blank)."

How about we leave that decision up to Zion?

Think about the pressure he faced from friends, family, agents, “coaches”, etc.. before he even went to Duke. I’m sure there were those who asked him, why? Think about your college experience and the valuable lessons you learned and I’m not talking about the classroom. There are still some “kids,” regardless of skill level, that want that college experience. Even it’s only for one year, they’re still developing their game, but more importantly their mind. We always talk about physical ability, but constantly brush over mental ability or maturity.

All these one and done guys are not forced to go to college. There other avenues to get to the NBA but college is currently the the best route. Baseball and hockey have their minor league systems that have been proven to work. Until the NBA fully embraces the G-League, which they’re well on their way, college basketball is the best “ minor league” for the NBA. 

Let me be clear in saying that, as long as the NBA implements the “one and done rule” colleges should be giving these players some kind of payment, more than what they are currently providing these players for their services. I’m also not saying it’s the sole responsibility of the university to provide these payments. I think the NCAA should be involved in this equation, a nonprofit that made over a billion dollars last year by the way.

How much money is not only Duke, but the NCAA makeing off Zion alone? It’s definitely a slippery slope, but there has to be a better way. Just don’t ask the NCAA for the answer.

Finally, the NBA needs to do away with the one and done. Players coming out of high school should have a choice of the direction they want their athletic careers to go. I think if a high school player puts his name in the draft, but isn’t selected he should be able to go to college, on a scholarship, without penalty. I know that’s a risk for university to offer these level of players a scholarship and possibly miss out on another prospect, but I have a feeling that most of these high school kids will be accepting that offer.

I also think that player plus those already in college should be able to put their name in the draft every year, go to the combine, and make an educated choice. This is the process that is being implemented at the moment for the college players. It’s not perfect and needs some refining, but it’s better than the current system. Let’s not forget get that allowing these choices could/should damper some of this, “should he or shouldn’t he,” discussion.   

Now back to our regular scheduled programming. The last 24 games of the Bulls schedule. By the way, I’m still selecting Zion with the first-overall pick in the NBA Draft even if he has to have surgery and miss all of next season.

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