NBA Buzz: Draft night is almost here

NBA Buzz: Draft night is almost here

With a number of national writers and broadcasters forecasting an active trade market in the hours leading up to Thursday's NBA Draft, the whole idea of a mock draft might just be an exercise in futility at this point. Still, we have learned quite a bit about which players are coveted by teams drafting in the top five after sorting through the smokescreens of the individual workouts.

So, with that in mind, here's my final stab at how Thursday's lottery  picks could play out.

1. Suns: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona.  An absolute no-brainer here. Ayton combines the size and power of an old school center with the athleticism and shooting touch of a new-age "stretch five".

2. Kings: Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke.  Vlade Divac shouldn't risk his good fortune at moving up to the No. 2 slot by taking a risk on Michael Porter Jr.'s health. Remember the Kings already have a rehabbing teenager in one of their first round picks from last season, Duke F Harry Giles. Bagley should be a 20-10 guy in the NBA for the next decade.

3. Hawks: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF-C, Michigan St.  This will be the first spot to look for a possible trade. The Hawks reportedly like Trae Young and might consider offers to move down and draft him later in the top 10. If they stay at No. 3, Jackson offers the rim protection and 3-point shooting ability Atlanta desperately needs.

4. Grizzlies: Luka Doncic, G-SF, Slovenia.  The Grizzlies should run to the podium if Doncic is still on the board at No. 4. The 19-year old wunderkind gives Memphis a secondary shot creator to go along with Mike Conley.

5. Mavericks: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri.  Mark Cuban is looking for his next big star with Dirk Nowitzki entering what is most likely his final season. The Mavs reportedly are also high on Mo Bamba, but Porter's potential as a 20 ppg scorer will probably win the discussion in the war room.

6. Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma.  Good chance of another trade at this spot involving a team that really likes Bamba. Orlando could move down a few spots and still get one of the three top-rated PG's, Young, Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If the Magic stay at No. 6, Young's quick-strike scoring and box office potential are likely to win the day.

7. BULLS: Mo Bamba, C, Texas.  Yes, John Paxson said the Bulls’ biggest need is a defensive-minded wing, but Bamba's ability to dominate at that end of the court is too great to pass up. Bamba is incredibly raw offensively, but he's been working on his low post skills and shooting form since the college season ended. The Bulls were not a good defensive team last season, and adding a shot-blocking threat like Bamba should improve them immediately.

8. Cavs: Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky.  Knox is one of the big risers after the individual workout season, impressing teams with his combination of athleticism and shooting ability. Knox can play both forward spots and could develop into a big-time scorer, replacing you-know-who as the Cavs start to build for an uncertain future.

9. Knicks: Wendell Carter Jr., PF-C, Duke.  The Knicks will be thrilled to add a versatile big like Carter, especially considering Kristaps Porzingis could miss most or all of next season rehabbing an ACL tear. Eventually, Porzingis and Carter could form a nice inside-outside tandem as the Knicks try to build toward playoff contention.

10. 76ers: Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova.  Another perfect fit for a team on the rise. Bridges' defense-first mentality and improving offensive game should blend in well on a Sixers team that's looking to take the next step after losing to Boston in the conference semi-finals. And, his mom already works for the franchise in the human relations department!

11. Hornets: Miles Bridges, F, Michigan St.  Charlotte whiffed on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the 2nd overall pick a few years ago, and Nic Batum has battled injuries since coming over from Portland. Miles Bridges is another combo forward who should thrive in the pro game with his ability to run the court and finish with authority at the rim.

12. Clippers: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama.  The Clippers will be thrilled if Sexton falls this far, giving them a dynamic young option at point guard to go along with veterans Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic. Sexton could go as high as No. 6 to Orlando or No. 8 to the Cavs. He'll be one of the interesting names to watch on draft night.

13. Clippers: Robert Williams, PF-C, Texas A&M.  The Clippers are still waiting to see if DeAndre Jordan exercises his player option for next season, but if he decides to test the free agent market, Williams would be a perfect replacement. The athletic 6-foot 10-inch big man is a classic rim runner who should be able to finish off alley-oop passes just like Jordan.

14. Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Kentucky.  Don't be surprised if Gilgeous-Alexander goes even higher than this after a strong finish to his freshman season. Scouts love his 6-foot 6-inch frame and ability to get to the basket. In Denver, he could come off the bench initially behind young guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.

22. BULLS: Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise St.  So, the Bulls may or may not have made a "promise" to select Hutchison with the No. 22 pick they acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade with New Orleans. Either way, if the Bulls get Bamba at No. 7, Hutchison would be a great addition as the "3-and-D" small forward Paxson talked about in his end of the season news conference. The 6-foot 7-inch swingman improved his 3-point shooting during his senior season at Boise St., and is considered to be an excellent wing defender. Personally, I'd love to see to Bulls draft NCAA tournament hero Donte DiVincenzo of Villanova if he's still on the board at No. 22. 

Around the Association:

While we wait for the draft drama to unfold, NBA Twitter has already been taken over by speculation over where the next super team will be formed. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have been plotting for over a year on how to restore the Lakers' franchise to its past glory, and it looks like they'll be swinging for the fences this summer.

If the Lakers are able to find a taker for Luol Deng's contract or renounce the rights to restricted free agent Julius Randle, they should be able to create two max contract slots once the free agent market opens for business on July 1st. The obvious targets are LeBron James and Paul George, but Magic doesn't plan on stopping there. He's hoping to find a way to convince the Spurs to trade unhappy All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard to the Lakers as well, giving L.A. a super-team that will rival what James put together in Miami.

The Lakers have the assets to get a Leonard trade done with draft picks and young players on rookie contracts (Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart), but would Gregg Popovich actually make a deal with one of his long-time rivals? 

You can bet Pop will do everything he can to convince Leonard to accept a five-year, $219 million super max contract extension this summer and spend his prime years in San Antonio. But if that face-to-face meeting goes sour, Pop will make the deal that's best for the Spurs, preferably to an Eastern conference team he'll only have to face twice a season.


Initial reports out of Houston indicate that free agent point guard Chris Paul plans to re-sign with the Rockets and will do everything in his power to recruit good friend LeBron James. Problem is, Houston has no cap space, so they would have to get the Cavaliers to agree to a trade. And in order to make the money work, the Rockets would want to include high-salaried players like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, neither of which would hold much interest for Cleveland with the team in rebuild mode.

Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey is one of the league's most creative executives, but trying to find a way to fit James into his bloated payroll will be the biggest challenge he's ever faced. Morey also has to deal with the restricted free agency of breakout center Clint Capela, who could draw a big offer sheet from another team.

Chris Paul and LeBron might be good friends, but the logistics could make it next to impossible to join forces in Houston.


Report: Zach LaVine had solo meeting with Jim Boylen


Report: Zach LaVine had solo meeting with Jim Boylen

In a story published on Tuesday afternoon, ESPN reported that Zach LaVine had a one-one-one meeting with Jim Boylen on Sunday.

This meeting apparently came on the heels of the "near mutiny", when Bulls players discussed skipping out on practice.

The one-on-one between Boylen and LaVine was for both sides to "clear the air" and work on forming a solid working relationship. LaVine stated that he considers himself one of the leaders of the Bulls, thus he wanted to make sure his voice was heard.

This is a business, this isn't a dictatorship. We are all grown men, so everybody has a voice.

The story filed by Mailika Andrews and Ramona Shelburne went on to reiterate that the front office supports Boylen's tough coaching style, but most concerning was the apparent disconnect over what was the team's initial plan for the week:

Boylen told reporters that initially he had planned on having a tougher practice but after thinking it over, changed his mind. He said that his change in plans had nothing to do with getting wind of players' plans to not show up.

"I have the prerogative to change my mind," Boylen said on Monday night before the Bulls' 108-89 loss to the Kings.

Boylen is obviously 110 percent correct. He has the right to change his mind about practice plans—or anything else for that matter—but it of course becomes a serious issue if he is telling the players one thing and then doing something completely different. No matter what took place on Sunday, it is clear that the two sides—Boylen and the players—are trying to make things work.

It has been a tumultuous start to Jim Boylen's NBA head coaching career, but his one-on-one meeting with LaVine is a huge step towards normality for a Bulls franchise that has been anything but in 2018.


Kris Dunn has the potential to unlock the best version of Zach LaVine


Kris Dunn has the potential to unlock the best version of Zach LaVine

"We're going to need each other, we're going to have to buy in, and we're gonna have to hoop."

This is a quote from Kris Dunn, in ESPN’s Malika Andrews’ story detailing the Bulls 108-89 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Monday night. Dunn was referring to to how the team will deal with any adversity that arises on the trip to Mexico City, but he might as well been talking directly to Bulls guard Zach LaVine.

While former No. 7 overall pick Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are inexorably linked as the frontcourt of the future, Dunn and LaVine are linked as the backcourt of the future, but have much to prove in the 2018-19 season. 

In 2017-18 the Dunn-LaVine pairing saw 308 minutes on the floor together. That duo has played 38 minutes together so far in 2018-19.

Here are the advanced numbers from this season compared to last for the LaVine-Dunn pairing, with an obvious small sample size alert:

Offensive rating

2017-18: 97. 9

2018-19: 105.3

Defensive rating

2017-18: 115.8

2018-19: 127.6

True shooting percentage

2017-18: 52

2018-19: 63.8

The defense in Chicago has been dreadful all the way around but they currently sit at 23rd in the league in defensive rating, an improvement over their 28th finish last season. That side of the ball will get better as players get familiar with what their coach expects of them—and who their coach is for that matter—and as defensive personnel on the roster improves. But offense is a different story. With a player like LaVine in tow, you would expect the Bulls to be a decent offensive team but he is largely inefficient, producing just over 100 points per 100 possessions.

Dunn’s arrival should seriously turn things around. We didn't get to see that much of the duo on the floor against the Kings since Boylen brought Dunn off the bench, but Dunn showed the ability to put pressure on the rim. This is something the Bulls have lacked this season outside of LaVine:

Simply having another guard who makes opposing bigs move side-to-side will take a lot of pressure off of LaVine, who is driving to the rim more times per game than LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard.

LaVine is a beast offensively, sans his incredibly high turnover rate. The only other thing dragging him down this year is a putrid 3-point percentage (31 percent), which may be linked to his gargantuan, Russell Westbrook-like usage rate. Dunn will of course help lower his usage rate, but the most important thing for Jim Boylen and his staff to look at is how Dunn can help change LaVine’s shot profile.

Dunn’s first appearance this season was a 115-109 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. In that game Dunn had 7 assists and LaVine scored on 34 points on an insanely efficient 73 percent shooting from the field. In Dunn’s second appearance on Monday against the Kings, he had 6 assists as LaVine scored 19 points on 53 percent shooting. The eye test would say that LaVine is attacking less from the midrange with Dunn in the game and that would be a very welcome occurrence.

Per Basketball-Reference, LaVine is shooting a scorching 61 percent on corner 3-pointers, yet they account for less than 10 percent of his total shot attempts!

So it is fair to say LaVine (and Dunn) will need to adjust to make this backcourt work, as they both—theoretically—have the skill sets to make up for the others’ weaknesses. Once Dunn gets his confidence level back to where it was last season, we will see defenses pay even more attention to pick-and-rolls when Dunn is involved. LaVine will need to take notice of this, and attempt more catch-and-shot jumpers, rather than looking to attack off the dribble. This is just one example of where LaVine would’ve been better served taking a jump shot off the catch:

NBA.com supports this notion, with LaVine shooting 37 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and a rough 28 percent on pull-up 3-pointers. And as you could probably guess, he is taking way more pull-up jumpers despite that being the less efficient shot for his game. This isn’t all LaVine’s fault, as he has been doing an admiral job carrying a  heavy offensive burden for a ridiculously undermanned team.

But with Dunn back, LaVine has the carte blanche to be patient in searching for his spots to attack.

This should allow him to conserve energy (for defense) and slow down his thinking process so he is not always pressing to score. When defenses are expecting LaVine to commit to a straight-line drive, the roll-man is open often. And he is finally starting notice this, as he did when the Bulls ran an excellent “empty”—all three players not involved in the play stationed on one side—pick-and-roll that took advantage of the lack of weakside help defense.

LaVine has the potential to be the one of the league’s best shooting guards. But to do so he has to let his teammates help him.