Unless the Bulls are able to defy the odds in the NBA Draft lottery on May 15, it looks like they’ll be picking in the 7-9 range this June. So, if you’re just joining the college basketball party with the start of the NCAA Tournament, here are some players you should keep an eye on as possible Bulls’ draft targets.
Mikal Bridges, 6-foot-7, SF, Villanova — Bridges is your classic “3 and D” guy who brings so much value in today’s perimeter-oriented NBA. Bridges is already an accomplished defender with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and he’s been at his best in the most important games. He would be a good fit at small forward with the Bulls playing alongside Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn.
Kevin Knox, 6-foot-9, SF, Kentucky — Knox wasn’t able to put together eye-popping stats playing for an erratic, freshmen-filled Kentucky team. But when you watch him play, he reminds you of Chicago native Jabari Parker; a big powerful small forward who can overpower defenders in the post. Knox has the potential to develop into a consistent NBA scorer.
Miles Bridges, 6-foot-7, SF, Michigan St. — Bridges surprised a lot of NBA executives by coming back for his sophomore season, even though he would have been a lottery pick last year. Bridges looks more comfortable from the 3-point line this season, but he’s more of a fast-break finisher than a polished offensive player.
Collin Sexton, 6-foot-2, PG. Alabama — The Bulls really don’t need a point guard with Dunn, Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne all signed for next season, but try to take your eyes off the electrifying Sexton. He possesses that extra gear that you only see in the special point guards like Russell Westbrook, John Wall and a pre-injuries Derrick Rose.
Trae Young, 6-foot-2, PG, Oklahoma — The Sooners only got into the NCAA field because of Young, who was the darling of college basketball when he was putting up 30-point, 10-assist games on a consistent basis during the early part of the season. Young’s shooting range is reminiscent of Steph Curry, but teams have reduced his effectiveness with aggressive off-the-ball defense.
Wendell Carter, 6-foot-10, PF, Duke — Again, not a position of need for the Bulls, but Carter showed his inside scoring potential in the four games Marvin Bagley missed because of a knee injury. Could Carter play small ball 5 alongside Markkanen? That will be one of the questions Bulls executives will be pondering while watching Duke in the tournament.
Lonnie Walker, 6-foot-4, SG, Miami — When you’re watching Chicago’s lone NCAA qualifier, Loyola, play in Round 1, keep an eye on Walker (actually you can’t miss him with his very distinctive hairstyle). Scouts love his ability to create his own shot, and he’s one of those classic upside guys that always seem to get over drafted.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6-foot-6, PG, Kentucky — Another player who’s shooting up NBA draft boards based on his athleticism and ability to create off the dribble. Gilgeous-Alexander is painfully thin, but he does remind you a bit of Penny Hardaway with his size and shot-making ability at the point guard position.
Around the Association
Injuries continue to be a big story in the 2017-18 season. Boston has been hit especially hard, starting on opening night when free agent addition Gordon Hayward went out with a gruesome ankle injury.
Kyrie Irving carried the Celtics to the best record in the East for the first half of the season with MVP-caliber play, but now Irving is faced with missing several games because of knee soreness. And, if Irving isn’t healthy come playoff time, the Celtics are likely to be knocked out early.
Boston also lost valuable depth this week because of a season-ending injury suffered by rookie big man Daniel Theis and another injury to valuable wing defender Marcus Smart, this time a torn thumb ligament that could have Smart sidelined for several weeks. Add in the concussion suffered by Jaylen Brown in that frightening fall last week, and the Celtics find themselves with a depleted roster for the final 4 weeks of the regular season.
— That means Toronto will most likely finish with the number one seed in the East, and with the Cavs slumping again, they could wind up facing the Raptors in a second round series. Toronto and Boston would love to avoid the Cavs until the conference finals, especially with Kevin Love returning to the line-up soon to give Cleveland a reliable second scoring option alongside LeBron James. Surprising Indiana currently holds a slim lead over Cleveland for third place in the East, but a lot could change over the final month.
— The race for playoff positioning is taking a back seat to the massive tank-a-thon going on at the bottom of the standings. In case you haven’t been watching, wins are scarce these days for the bottom nine teams with all of them hoping to land a top three pick for a shot at franchise-changing bigs Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley. The Knicks have completely given up since the season-ending injury suffered by Kristaps Porzingis, and it probably won’t be long before they pass the Bulls for eighth place in the race to the bottom.
— Finally, here’s hoping Derrick Rose can find a meaningful role in Minnesota after reuniting with Tom Thibodeau, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson (among other former Bulls’ players and coaches). Rose turned the ball over a couple times in a 7-minute debut on Sunday against Golden State, but I don’t think Thibodeau would have brought in the former league MVP unless he planned to give him a serious look off the bench. Rose had a harsh response to critics who think he’s washed up at the age of 29, but if he can’t make it work playing for Thibs again, his NBA future could be in serious jeopardy.