Bulls must find their diamond in 2019 NBA Draft, no matter where it may be hiding


Bulls must find their diamond in 2019 NBA Draft, no matter where it may be hiding

Holding the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft is great, but finding a diamond can happen anywhere. Just pay attention to the NBA Playoffs. The teams that are thrilling us this spring have rosters featuring draft picks that most franchises missed on. They didn't all look like Zion Williamson. Actually, none of them did. They weren't that obvious and some weren't even first round selections. There were living outside the United States, hiding in mid-major schools and, in some cases, found via trade.

Bucks - Milwaukee built their team around the most stunning diamond in the rough. By now, we all know that 14 NBA franchises undervalued the Greek Freak, as Giannis Sina Ougko Antetokounmpo is now arguably the best player in the NBA. It's easy to see how he slipped through the cracks, having started playing the game in Greece just six years before getting drafted. The Bucks didn't miss him, though they've also teamed him with more talent that was once undervalued on draft day.

George Hill and Kris Middleton did plenty of damage against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Middleton was a second round pick by the Pistons, while Hill was the 26th overall pick out of little IUPUI. The Savvy Spurs later turned him into Kawhi Leonard. More on that guy later. The bottom line is this: Brook Lopez is Milwaukee's only player who was drafted in the top-10. Their bench features four former second round selections

Raptors - Toronto doesn't have a single player that was drafted in the top-14. Kawhi Leonard was traded by the Pacers to the Spurs and later to the Raptors, but he was drafted 15th overall in 2011. He just put up the highest scoring average in a playoff series since Michael Jordan and won it with an insane buzzer beater. Playing at San Diego State didn't matter. Stars come from all over and the same goes for role players. The Raptors start two second round guys, a 24th overall pick and a 27th.

Blazers - Did you see CJ McCollum in Game 7 against the Nuggets? There's a 10th overall pick taking over a game (from the same draft as Giannis). Nine teams passed on McCollum. He entered Sunday averaging more than 26 points per game in the Western Conference semifinals. With Portland star Damian Lillard struggling, McCollum put the Blazers on his back to the tune of  37 points and nine rebounds in the series' deciding game.

While Lillard was off in Game 7, he's been All-World in the playoffs. The Blazers found Dame at No. 6 in 2012. That's Weber State and Lehigh University carrying Portland to the Western Conference Finals.

Warriors - You don't build dynasties without hitting on some draft picks. Adding Kevin Durant was huge, but Golden State built their foundation with incredible draft success. Steph Curry was the 7th overall pick in 2009 out of Davidson. Klay Thompson went 11th out of Washington State in 2011. Draymond Green was a 2nd rounder (No. 35 overall) and a pick the Warriors got from the Nets.

Together that's a combined 50 times NBA general managers passed on the Warriors original 3. The rest is history.

If that's not enough? See Nikola Jokic (41st overall), Jimmy Butler (30th overall) and, to a lesser degree, even Joel Embiid (third overall).

The Bulls must find their diamonds no matter where the ping pong balls drop, wherever they might be hiding.

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Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

USA Today

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

The Bulls waived Milton Doyle, Justin Simon and Simisola Shittu Saturday, which is minor news since they were mostly camp bodies competing for possibly a two-way contract.

The bigger development is that the Bulls’ roster is basically set, pending the signing of one player to the second two-way contract still available. No Iman Shumpert. No Alfonzo McKinnie. And that’s just naming two hometown products recently linked to the Bulls via the rumor mill.

The Bulls still want to see what they have in Chandler Hutchison, who did some individual shooting Saturday but missed all training camp with a hamstring injury. Denzel Valentine, currently out of the rotation, is staying ready.

And Shaq Harrison, who missed all five preseason games with his own hamstring injury but now is fully practicing, remains a Jim Boylen favorite.

And that’s what the roster staying set for now is about as much as anything. The buy-in Boylen has received from players dating to voluntary September workouts and bonds that have formed could be disrupted by the waiving of someone like Harrison, whose contract isn’t fully guaranteed but his commitment is.

While the Bulls recognize proven wing depth is a question mark, they value Harrison’s toughness and defensive ability. If Hutchison or Harrison or Valentine---if he gets an opportunity---don’t produce, perhaps a move could be made at a later date.

But expect only the signing of a second player to a two-way contract to join Adam Mokoka for now.

“We’ve been talking about that,” Boylen said. “We’re working on that. We’ve got our list and have reached out to some people. We’re actively in process.”

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Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

You can’t put Lauri Markkanen in a box.

Just as you can’t pigeonhole one of the faces of the Bulls’ franchise offensively, you won’t get him to bite on any statistical goals for himself. As the outside world clamors for him and Zach LaVine to represent the Bulls at All-Star weekend in Chicago, Markkanen is focused on team goals.

“We haven’t made it to the playoffs and haven’t won many games since we’ve been here,” Markkanen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago following Saturday’s practice, alluding to himself, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. “That really bothers us. So we want to win first.”

In fact, as Markkanen fielded questions about a preseason that featured him playing more as a spot-up shooter than the dynamic, double-double machine that defined his February 2019, he shifted the focus to defense and rebounding.

Ho and hum, indeed.

“You’re trying to get me to say 22 (points) and 12 (rebounds) and 3 assists,” Markkanen said, smiling. “I don’t have those kinds of goals. I want to get our wins from 22 to whatever. And I want to get our home wins from nine to whatever. I’m not putting a number on those either. But I think guys are doing a good job of making unselfish plays and making the extra pass. We’re coming together as a team.”

In fact, Markkanen said, at least for now, his only individual goals are to “stay healthy and be consistent.” He reiterated his stance from media day that his goal is to play all 82 games after averaging 60 games his first two seasons.

“I wanted to focus on defense more this preseason and I was a little disappointed in myself in that regard early in preseason. But I watched a lot of film and I think I had my learning moments and I think I got better as preseason moved on,” Markkanen said. “I’ve talked to Coach. We both expect rebounding from me. I think we’re going to be really good offensively. It’s at a high level now, and we’re deeper. If we rebound and can limit their possessions, we have a chance to be really good.”

Don’t mistake Markkanen’s aversion to setting statistical goals for submissiveness. Early in the interview, he called his preseason “maybe not as great as I wanted to play” and acknowledged he needs to increase his free-throw attempts by getting to the rim more.

Of Markkanen’s 42 shots, 24 came from beyond the arc and he attempted just seven free throws in close to 91 preseason minutes. That average of 1.8 free-throw attempts in his four preseason games pales in comparison to the 3.8 he averaged last season.

“I haven’t got to the rim as much. I’m conscious of that. Those are easy points for us,” Markkanen said. “(Driving) is still available to me. But defenses are loading up on me more and trying not to let me get downhill. And we’re not in the post as much (offensively) as we used to be. We’re shooting a lot of 3s.”

Markkanen smiled again as he said this, so it’s clear he likes the Bulls’ approach. He also remains confident his varied offensive game will be on display at some point.

“I don’t always talk to him about his offense to be honest with you,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I talk to him about defending and rebounding and handling the ball. I’ve shown him some of his decisions in transition where he’s handled the ball.

“I want him to compete at the defensive end, rebound, handle the ball and everything else to me takes care of itself. I know he’s going to make shots. Historically, he’s been better when the lights come on.”

Those lights get flipped on for real Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. You can’t put Markkanen in a box. But he can put pressure on himself to help the Bulls make the playoffs.

“I have really high expectations of myself,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. I want to win."