Bulls

Can the Bulls catch the Cavs and enter the 14 percent club for Zion Williamson?

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USA TODAY

Can the Bulls catch the Cavs and enter the 14 percent club for Zion Williamson?

When the Bulls went on their hottest stretch of the season, one that began Feb. 13 in a win over the Grizzlies and ended with that ridiculous quadruple-overtime victory in Atlanta, it assumed that their chances at top Lottery odds had vanished.

At that time, March 1, the Bulls were 18-45. Here’s how the bottom of the NBA standings looked:

Phoenix Suns: 12-51
New York Knicks: 13-49 (1.5 GB)
Cleveland Cavaliers: 15-47 (3.5 GB)
Chicago Bulls: 18-45 (6 GB)
Atlanta Hawks: 21-42 (9 GB)

There was actually more concern that the Bulls may stay hot and catch the Atlanta Hawks, thus pushing the Bulls farther down the Lottery standings. But since March 2, two things have happened that have once again potentially changed the Bulls’ fortunes: The Bulls have stopped winning and the Cavaliers have continued playing really well.

First, the Bulls have lost five of their last six games. Perhaps that marathon in Atlanta really took the life out of them, but then again the Hawks are 3-3 since that game so it clearly hasn’t affected them much. The Bulls offense has regressed some – playing twice without Zach LaVine – ranking 19th in the NBA in this recent two-week stretch. The defense has been its usual self, which is to say they rank 28th in efficiency since the four-overtime game.

The Cavs, meanwhile, look rejuvenated. A combination of Kevin Love returning from injury and rookie Collin Sexton turning a corner in Year 1 has given Cleveland new life. They’re also getting nice contributions from Cedi Osman and Jordan Clarkson. The result has been an improved roster and more competitive play. While the Bulls were getting hot the Cavaliers were, too. In fact, since Feb. 11 they’ve actually played .500 basketball (6-6), and their six wins in that stretch were as many as they had from Dec. 8 to Feb. 9.

So here’s how the Lottery standings look now:

New York Knicks: 13-55
Phoenix Suns: 16-53 (2.5 GB)
Cleveland Cavaliers: 17-51 (4 GB)
Chicago Bulls: 19-50 (5.5 GB)
Atlanta Hawks: 24-45 (11.5 GB)

It’s clear the Bulls will finish at worst with the fourth best Lottery odds (12.5 percent chance at the top pick). And for those holding out hope that the Bulls might join the Knicks and Suns at 14 percent, well, there’s actually a chance.

Per our friends at Tankathon, the Cavaliers have the sixth most difficult schedule remaining in the NBA. That includes two games against Milwaukee, one against Boston, and one against Golden State as part of a brutal five-game West road trip. They also play two games against the Spurs, who will be fighting for playoff positioning until the final week of the season.

That’s the bad news. The good news is the Cavs have been competitive against good teams. In the past two weeks they’ve gone down to the wire in Brooklyn and Philadelphia and they spanked the Raptors by 25 at home. That’s not to say they’ll continue this stretch, but it gives hope that they can string together a few wins against tough teams and then beat up on their easier foes that include Dallas, Phoenix and a Charlotte team at the end of the season that could be resting their key players in Game 82.

The Bulls don’t have it as difficult, which could mean more wins. Per Tankathon, they have the 16th most difficult schedule remaining. Their toughest games are against Toronto (twice), Philadelphia (twice), Portland and Utah. Perhaps the biggest threat to the 14-percent chances are the two games remaining the Bulls have against the tanking Knicks. Their game in Phoenix comes at the end of a three-game trip, and the Suns have played well of late.

For what it’s worth, Basketball Reference projects the Bulls to finish 4-9 for a 23-59 record, and the Cavaliers to finish 3-11 for a 20-62 record. That seems about right, given that the Cavaliers could “rest” players down the stretch while Jim Boylen and the Bulls seem to want to go full-speed ahead to finish the regular season strong.

Our best guess is the Bulls finish behind Cleveland in the Lottery standings, but the combination of the Bulls’ lackluster play and Cleveland performing well of late has certainly made it a conversation.

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

This is the first entry in our "8 for 38" series, where will be looking at eight different under-the-radar NBA prospects that the Bulls could snag with their No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Charles Bassey/ 6’11’’/ 275 lbs./ Freshman/ Western Kentucky  

Bassey is a a well-regarded five-star recruit from Nigeria, who played his college ball at Western Kentucky University. He is a physical force on the court but definitely is a raw prospect at this stage of his development.

Bassey came into the season as an assumed first round talent, however, his stock has dropped after his impressive freshman season still revealed holes in his game that will definitely be exploited at the NBA level. All that being said, he was quite the prospect at WKU.

Strengths:

In his lone season at WKU, Bassey averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field. His impressive double double average was built on his insane dominance inside the paint.

He shot an astounding 77.4 percent on shots at the rim and that number is even higher on non-post up shots around the basket. Bassey has a rudimentary hook shot that he can hit over his left shoulder but his postgame isn’t the hub of his offense. He generates most of his points by finishing on pick-and-rolls and using his faceup game.

Bassey’s physicality leads to him setting hard screens, and when he doesn’t set a hard screen, he slips to the basket quickly where he takes advantage with his soft touch when looking to score. It is tough for help defenders to knock Bassey off his path when he is rolling to the rim, as his immense lower body strength allows him to displace smaller players.

When Bassey faces up from 15-feet and in, he uses the aforementioned soft touch to convert on 40.8 percent of his 2-PT jump shots per Hoop-Math.com. On top of that, he generally has the speed to blow by most big men.

Bassey’s biggest strength from day one in the NBA will be his motor. He clearly gets fired up for big matchups, as he showcased when he dominated Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who ended up winning the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the country’s best center. In their late December matchup, Bassey helped hold Happ to a very inefficient 20 points on 23 shots.

In that same game Bassey finished with 19 points (7/8 FG, 5/5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks. He has arguably had better games, but the all-around versatility showcased in the stat line above is outstanding.

Bassey has flashed the ability to make nice passes before:

Since Bassey’s NBA offense will be centered around pick-and-roll plays, further developing his decision making on the short-roll will be a boon to whatever team drafts him.

On defense, Bassey already shows the ability to be an asset in the right system. When he is allowed to play in a traditional defensive system that has the center dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, he swallows up shots with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Weaknesses:

The gigantic weakness Bassey showcased this season was an inability to function as a switch defender. He was great when it comes to protecting the rim--he averaged 2.4 blocks per game-- but he was consistently beat off the dribble by guards.

Of course it is rare to find any center--let alone a young one--that has the legitimate ability to function at a high-level when it comes to switching on to smaller, faster players. But that is precisely what makes Bassey the exact type of center you can find easily.

This is why a player of his talent level can slip into the second round.

Another big issue for Bassey is hands, or more specifically, the inability to hold on to passes when diving to the rim. As mentioned above, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop basketball is how Bassey will carve out a niche in the league. But he occasionally struggled to hold on to the ball on throws that many would not even consider to be “tough passes”.

In the above strengths section it is mentioned how Bassey has some untapped potential as a passer, but he will never cash in on that potential if simply possessing the ball is a difficulty for him. He isn’t as explosive as usual if there are multiple defenders crowding him and raking at the ball, which happens often.

Over 1,067 minutes Basey amassed 24 assists as compared to a whopping 97 turnovers.

Long term outlook:

I believe Bassey will have a long NBA career due to his finishing in the paint and ability to block shots.

Bassey ran roughshod over his mostly Conference USA opposition on the season.

His 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes were a few of the many things that showed that Bassey is at least ready for the physicality of the NBA.

But to become much more than a solid journeyman center, Bassey will have to hone his perimeter jump shot to the point that he can become a solid 3-point threat. He shot 45 percent on a very limited 20 attempts from 3-point range and converted on 76.9 percent of his free throws, an enticing set of numbers that show the type of player he could be in the future.

Whether or not Robin Lopez stays, the Bulls will be short on center depth next season.  After Wendell Carter Jr. went down for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, we saw the Bulls play ultra-small lineups that got beat up on the glass often as Jim Boylen was still reluctant to play Felicio more than 15 minutes per game.

Adding a high-upside prospect like Bassey helps Boylen and co. avoid over-using lineups with Lauri Markkanen at center, which helps keep Markkanen fresh and theoretically improves the overall team defense. 

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

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NBC Sports Chicago

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

 

Michael Jordan is no stranger to amazing comebacks.

The man widely agreed upon to be the greatest player of all time, won six NBA Championships, with three of them coming after a full season sabbatical in which he played minor league baseball with the White Sox affiliate. And of course, MJ had his even later comeback with the Washington Wizards from 2001 to 2003, in which the year 40-year old Jordan averaged 21.2 PPG over two seasons to close out his career.

That is why Jordan’s effusive praise of Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters victory should not be taken lightly in the greater context of sports history.

In an article written by The Athletic’s David Aldridge, Jordan talks about how he holds Woods’ 2019 Masters win in extremely high regard, calling it “the greatest comeback I've ever seen."

Jordan, a famously avid golfer himself and a friend of Woods, stated, “I’ve been a fan for I don’t know how long.....I never thought he’d get back physically.....He didn’t think he’d get back physically.”

Major success had escaped Woods--who only had one victory in 2018--due to a litany of back injuries and subsequent surgeries.

With Woods having a major victory under his belt for the 2019 season, he certainly has momentum rolling in his favor. That momentum could carry Woods to another major run of PGA Tour success, and MJ agreed that Woods’ belief in himself was perhaps the biggest factor in his 2019 Masters win.

“No one expected him to be back the way he is now. He's probably the only person who believed he could get back.”