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DiVincenzo, Holiday, Hutchinson: Five options for the Bulls at No. 22

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DiVincenzo, Holiday, Hutchinson: Five options for the Bulls at No. 22

Pick No. 7 is clearly the big draw for the Bulls when the 2018 NBA Draft begins next week. A top-10 lottery pick in a deep draft like this means a potential All-Star if the right player falls out of the top 5.

But pick No. 22 in the first round is also an important piece for the franchise's future. It's possible that pick No. 22 is packaged with something else in a trade on, or before, draft night. If the Bulls opt to keep the pick, however, they should have an intriguing group of players to pick from in a deep draft.

And with pick No. 22 holding a very favorable cap number on the NBA's rookie pay scale, hitting correctly on that pick could accelerate the Bulls rebuild while making the franchise a more attractive option for potential free agents.

Here's a look at five players the Bulls should be targeting at No. 22.

These five players were selected based on the probability of being available at pick No. 22 while also being a need and/or good fit for Fred Hoiberg's system. Also be sure to check out five players the Bulls should avoid at No. 22.

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova: After a monster NCAA tournament in which he helped Villanova capture the national championship, the 6-foot-5 DiVincenzo became one of the darlings of the NBA Draft Combine by showcasing versatility, a competitive edge and a combine-leading 42-inch max vertical.

Possessing deep range on his jumper and the ability to play multiple perimeter spots, DiVincenzo's toughness, skill level and potential two-way ability have made him a virtual lock first rounder. Some mock drafts even have him in the late teens. If DiVincenzo falls to the Bulls at No. 22, they shouldn't be afraid to snatch him up. It also doesn't hurt that DiVincenzo worked out with former Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich before the Combine, as Hinrich gave the Villanova product some strong reviews.

Keita Bates-Diop, SF, Ohio State: The former Buckeye will have some local name recognition as he thrived during his high school career at downstate Normal U-High and with the famed Illinois Wolves AAU program. A bit of a late bloomer, in part because of injuries suffered at Ohio State, Bates-Diop eventually became the Big Ten Player of the Year by showing impressive potential as a two-way forward.

At 6-foot-7 with a ridiculous 7-foot-2 wingspan, Bates-Diop passes the look test. He also improved his perimeter jumper (35.9 percent from deep) and overall ball skills during his college career. Not many draft prospects averaged over a block per game (1.6 bpg) while shooting as well from the perimeter as Bates-Diop has. Bates-Diop is especially enticing as a draft prospect because of his ability to play as a four or a five in small-ball lineups.

Troy Brown Jr., SG, Oregon: Most of the players on this list are college veterans. Brown opted to be a one-and-done after an up-and-down freshman campaign with the Ducks. Luckily for Brown, he has been on the NBA radar since he dominated high school seniors, including Jalen Brunson, at the LeBron James Skills Academy when he was only 14 years old.

One of the youngest players in the draft (he turns 19 in late July) the Las Vegas native can play multiple spots on the floor. At 6-foot-7, Brown is a converted former point guard who eventually found his calling on the wing. Capable of doing all of the little things, Brown rebounds, provides secondary ball handling and can operate with the ball in his hands out of high ball screens. Perimeter shooting and adding strength are the two major long-term questions for Brown. But he's a high-character person with a strong work ethic who should carve out a long career in the NBA.

Aaron Holiday, G, UCLA: This potential pick would already have ties to the Bulls as Aaron's older brother, Justin, is currently on the roster. After three stellar seasons with the Bruins, Aaron is now hoping to become the third Holiday brother in the NBA (brother Jrue is with the Pelicans).

Smaller than his older brothers at 6-foot-1, Aaron makes up for his smaller size at the point with an absurd 6-foot-7.5 wingspan that enables him to play bigger on the defensive end. A talented perimeter shooter who never shot below 41 percent from 3-point range during his three years in Westwood, Holiday has shown that he can run a team on the ball or play as a shooter off of the ball. It should also be pointed out that Holiday was a selfless teammates at UCLA. Opting to come off the bench his sophomore season so Lonzo Ball could start, Holiday was great as both a starter and a sixth man during his college career.

Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise State: The Bulls have already been linked to Hutchison during the NBA Draft process as he would be a natural fit on the wing. A classic late bloomer who developed during his final two seasons at Boise State, the 6-foot-7 Hutchison sports a solid 7-foot wingspan to go along with a much-improved scoring package.

Previously a mediocre perimeter shooter, Hutchison worked hard to become more consistent from distance his final two seasons with the Broncos. A fluid athlete who should also be able to grow into a solid perimeter defender, Hutchison is one of the more NBA-ready prospects who should available in the No. 22 range.

Dunc'd on Podcast floats Robin Lopez to Rockets trade idea

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Dunc'd on Podcast floats Robin Lopez to Rockets trade idea

On Tuesday’s episode of the Dunc’d On Podcast, Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux discussed the idea of the Houston Rockets trading for Bulls center Robin Lopez.

This comes in part because of the news that Clint Capela will miss up to six weeks with ligament damage in his thumb and Houston could certainly use a fill-in at the center position.

Duncan and Leroux did not suggest any hyper-specific trades but Leroux suggested the framework of the possible deal as:

“I had floated the idea of them trading Brandon Knight and an asset for Robin Lopez, not because Lopez is a perfect fit though he is a capable center and there is some value in that, but also because it’s a way for the Rockets to get off of 2019-20 money”

The Rockets have oft-discussed issues with the amount of money on their books but it costs to be a winning team, and Houston has found a way to succeed even after not extending contracts to defensive-minded forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah Moute last offseason.

At the time of this writing, Houston is sitting at 25-18, good for fourth in the Western Conference, an amazing turnaround after their rough start to the season. But even with all of their recent James Harden-led success, the Rockets still rank 26th in the league in defensive efficiency, a worse rating than the 10-34 Bulls.

Lopez, while not the the traditional rim-runner or floor-spacing big man that the Rockets would usually go after, still provides a huge defensive upgrade over any big on their roster not named Clint Capela.

Per NBA.com, opponents are shooting 7.1 percent worse when defended by Lopez, a testament to how good he is at using his length to frustrate scorers at the rim, and occasionally on midrange closeouts. Of course, he is too slow-footed to play in a switching defensive system, but the Rockets have not went to that strategy as much as they have in past years.

If the Bulls do decide to use their cap space to acquire draft assets rather than going after free agents, the Rockets-Bulls deal floated by the Dunc’d on Podcast makes a TON of sense.

Brandon Knight, the oft-injured 27-year old guard, still has some promise despite was has been an awful stinit in Houston. He has said all the right things, and by all accounts seems like a great guy who has just had some awful luck with injuries. And it is important to remember, this is a guard who as recently as the 2015-16 season, was putting up 19.6 PPG.

Knight is certainly thankful just to have a chance to prove himself again on the NBA stage.

Houston is gearing up for the stretch run. And Lopez would be perfect to be stationed right in the middle of the paint as the Rockets defensive anchor until Capela is 100 percent.

Another interesting note--though Mike D’Antonio, Daryl Morey and co. definitely aren’t as concerned about it--is that Lopez is shooting a (obviously) career-high 0.9 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, while hitting them at a 28.6 percent rate.

His brother Brook has notoriously turned himself into one of the NBA’s premier 3-point shooting centers, taking 8.7 attempts from 3-point range while hitting 37.8 percent of them. Now no one is expecting Robin to turn into Brook overnight, but on a team that leads the league with 43.3 3-point attempts per game, there is precedent for Lopez to become an interesting (last-ditch) pick-and-pop option, considering how skilled he is at screening combined with the offensive gravity of Harden.

The Rockets are the same team that reportedly offered four-first round picks in an effort to get Jimmy Butler, so it is not insane to think that the Bulls would be able to extract a first-round pick for the Rockets as long as they were willing to take money back.

NBA Buzz: Jabari Parker experiment could be coming to an end

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NBA Buzz: Jabari Parker experiment could be coming to an end

FAILED JABARI PARKER EXPERIMENT COULD BE COMING TO AN END

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It was supposed to be a celebratory occasion. A Chicago prep sensation coming home to start a new chapter of his NBA career with the team he cheered for growing up on the city’s south side.

Jabari Parker’s family and some close friends were in attendance at a news conference at the United Center last summer to formally announce the signing of the Simeon H.S. star to a two-year, $40 million dollar free agent contract. After 4 injury-marred seasons in Milwaukee, the 23-year old Parker was ready to blossom as a high scoring forward for his hometown team.

Except something didn’t feel right. Maybe it was the past experience of facing so many questions about his injuries and the pressure of being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, but Parker seemed uncomfortable with many of the innocent and obvious queries tossed his way by the Chicago media. His responses were mostly short and guarded, hardly reflecting what most assumed was a day of celebration for the Parker family.

Making the news conference even more awkward was the difficulty Bulls’ front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had in explaining how Parker would fit with the glut of players at his preferred power forward position. We were told it was worth taking a chance on a talented 23-year old free agent who fit age-wise with the rebuilding effort. Parker would be brought in as the starting small forward and the coaching staff would decide on the best way to construct the rotation. And, if things didn’t work out, the 2nd year of the contract was a team option.

6 months later Parker has gone from starting small forward to reserve, from reserve to starting power forward after injuries to Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis, from starter to reserve after Markkanen returned and then completely out of the rotation in mid-December when new head coach Jim Boylen wanted more effort from Parker on the defensive end and in practice, and less individual play on offense.

At that point, the Bulls’ front office began working with Parker’s agent to start exploring trade scenarios, and that’s where things stand today two games after Parker was returned to the rotation, reportedly because he met the criteria set by Boylen when he was benched in December.

Parker probably improved his prospects for finding a new home by scoring 29 points while playing reserve minutes in the Bulls’ last two games against the Jazz and Lakers. Jabari told reporters in Salt Lake City he’s thought about playing for the Jazz in the past since he owns a home there and is a member of the Mormon church.

Utah is trying to make a playoff push after a slow start, and they could have an interest in acquiring Parker. A trade for Derrick Favors’ expiring contract would work under salary cap rules, but would the Jazz be willing to give up Favors’ interior defense and rebounding for a small bump in scoring?

Similarly, the Dallas Mavericks have let teams know they’re willing to trade starters Dennis Smith Jr. and Wesley Matthews. Dallas is looking for a 1st round pick in any deal for Smith Jr., but would they be willing to trade Matthews for Parker straight up? The Mavs are still hoping to make the playoffs this season, and acquiring Parker would allow them to move Harrison Barnes back to his more comfortable small forward spot with proven scorers at 4 of the 5 starting positions alongside rebounding machine DeAndre Jordan. And, Matthews could provide the Bulls some much-needed 3 point shooting as well as a respected veteran presence.

We’ve also seen reports of Parker potentially being included in a trade involving Knicks’ center Enes Kanter, with Kanter going to Sacramento, Parker to New York and the expiring contracts of Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos and maybe a 2nd round pick coming back to Chicago. Obviously, this type of deal would do nothing for the Bulls in the short term, but if they can pick up a draft asset, acquiring expiring deals is probably the best they can do in any trade for Parker.

Reflecting back to that summer afternoon when Jabari was introduced to the Chicago media, the basketball fit didn’t seem right at the time, especially after the Bulls had just matched the four-year, $78 million dollar offer sheet for Zach LaVine.

In a recent interview after the Justin Holiday trade, Paxson told reporters he had no regrets about the Parker signing, saying with the cap space the Bulls had available it was worth the risk to take a flyer on a 23-year old player with proven offensive talent. He also indicated Parker would probably get another chance to re-join the rotation for the Bulls, and we’ve seen that happen in the last week.

Still, with Boylen given the mandate to change the Bulls’ “culture” into a defense-first, hard-working, tough-minded team, it’s pretty clear Parker isn’t a long-term fit. Sports fans and many of us in the media love the story of a hometown hero starring for his city’s pro team. But the Jabari Parker homecoming story appears to be coming to an end soon, almost certainly by the February 7th trade deadline.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

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The amazing James Harden is putting together an incredible run of high-scoring games that just might earn him a 2nd straight MVP award. Harden poured in 57 points Monday night in the Rockets’ win over Memphis, topping the 30-point mark for the 17th straight game, the longest streak the NBA has seen since the days of Wilt Chamberlain.

Since All-Star point guard Chris Paul went out with a hamstring injury last month, Harden is averaging 41.2 points, almost single-handedly lifting the Rockets into position to earn home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. Houston is playing without Paul, starting center Clint Capela and high-scoring 6th man Eric Gordon because of injuries, but thanks to Harden’s brilliance, they haven’t skipped a beat.

Gordon could be back by the weekend, and Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni is hopeful Paul will be ready to play sometime next week, but Capela is out 4 to 6 weeks after suffering a thumb injury, ending his hopes of making the Western Conference All-Star team. Still, with Harden playing at a Jordan-like level, the Rockets should be right in the mix for a top 4 seed until Capela returns.

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Those reports of the Golden State Warriors’ demise may have been a bit premature. The 2-time defending champs marched into Denver Tuesday night and destroyed the team that had owned the best record in the West, 142-111.

The Warriors scored an NBA record 51 points in the first quarter, hitting 19 of 25 shots from the field, including 10 three pointers! Steph Curry is playing at an MVP level, Klay Thompson has regained his long range shooting stroke, and Golden State should be even stronger when 4-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins makes his debut Friday night against the Clippers.

Sure, you can debate whether a ball-dominant player like Cousins will fit with Golden State’s free-flowing offense, but Cousins was averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds for New Orleans when he ruptured his Achilles last January, and his ability to score inside and out gives the Warriors yet another option on offense come playoff time.

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Out East, the Boston Celtics continue to search for consistency. Boston was supposed to run away with the conference championship with the return of veteran All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injury to join the talented young players who led the Celtics to Game 7 of the conference finals last season.

But Boston continues to sputter, losing 8 of its last 15 games. The Celtics are stuck in 5th place in the East with a 25-18 record. And, Irving created headlines when he called out some of his teammates in the locker room following an embarrassing loss in Orlando over the weekend.

He tried to explain his motivation to reporters the following day after the team returned to Boston, saying “It came from a place where I asked for a trade and I’m coming here and I believe in this organization and I want these young guys to be successful. In order to do that, we all got to be on the same page and have that mindset that, a championship or nothing. And sometimes that can get the best of me at times.”

Irving announced to Celtics’ fans during an open training camp scrimmage at T.D. Garden that he planning to re-sign with Boston when he hits free agency this summer. But if the Celtics can’t figure things out by the time the playoffs roll around, you can expect the Knicks and Nets to come calling with max offers for the New York native.

So, don’t be surprised if always-aggressive Celtics’ GM Danny Ainge offers a trade package including Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and any number of the four 1st round draft picks Boston holds in the 2019 draft for an established star for the stretch run.

If we’ve learned anything in this era of NBA free agency, it’s that star players have been known to change their minds after disappointing playoff runs, and those decisions can impact franchises for years to come.