Bulls

NBA Draft Tracker: Oklahoma PG Trae Young

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft Tracker: Oklahoma PG Trae Young

When the college basketball season began, not many fans knew about Oklahoma freshman guard Trae Young. He was nowhere to be found in early mock drafts done by the national websites.

Now, the 6'2 Norman, Oklahoma native is the talk of the college basketball world after matching the Division I record with 22 assists in the Sooners' win over Northwestern St. on Tuesday. He also scored 26 points in that game, becoming the first player in nearly two decades to record at least 20 points and 20 assists in the same game. Young currently leads the nation in scoring and assists, averaging 28.5 ppg and 10.2 apg.

But it's more than just the raw numbers that make Young such an intriguing prospect. His ball-handling skills, quick release and unlimited shooting range remind scouts of a young Steph Curry. And, while it's always dangerous to compare an undersized freshman to a two-time league MVP, remember how undervalued Curry was coming out of Davidson because of concerns about his strength and durability.

If you want to see Young for yourself, he'll be playing against Chris Collins' Northwestern team Friday night at 6 p.m. in a nationally televised game. Watch how easily Young is able to get his shot off, using elite dribbling skills and step-back moves to create separation from defenders. He's got range well beyond the NBA 3-point line which often catches college guards flat-footed, and he's quick enough to blow by defenders for easy baskets in the paint.

Young's passing ability was on full display in that blowout win over Northwestern St. on Tuesday. He's got the full arsenal of no-look passes, with his ball-handling skills allowing him to get into the teeth of an opponent's defense and still find an open teammate.

How does he potentially fit with the Bulls? Well, if they continue on their current hot streak, the Bulls could find themselves picking in the 5-10 range, instead of at the top of the draft. Young was recently listed as the No. 9 pick in a mock draft done by Basketball Insiders, and he should continue to climb up the ladder if he maintains his current numbers against a tough Big 12 schedule.

If the Bulls drafted Young, they could potentially pair him with Kris Dunn in a smaller backcourt, with Dunn taking on the defensive responsibility against taller shooting guards. Zach LaVine would have to slide to small forward in that line-up, but in today's position-less NBA with more teams utilizing guard-heavy line-ups, a Dunn-Young-LaVine trio could work.

Nothing has changed at the top of the draft, where Marvin Bagley, Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic are still the top prizes, but keep an eye on Trae Young throughout the college season. The similarity in his style of play to Curry is pretty remarkable.

NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in Jarrett Culver

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NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in Jarrett Culver

The phrase “getting downhill” became somewhat of a buzzword during Jim Bolyen’s first year at the helm. It may not have elicited the same reactions as his “soul and spirit” comments did, but the Bulls had clear instruction to blitz defenses by getting to spots and attacking the basket. The result was the Bulls leading the NBA in drives per game after Dec. 3, when Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg. They went from 41.9 last season, to 43.3 under Hoiberg this past season to a whopping 55.9 under Boylen.

Personnel certainly played a part, as Kris Dunn averaged 11.7 drives and played just two games for Hoiberg, while an aggressive Lauri Markkanen in February also helped the cause. No matter how you slice it, Boylen likes his guys attacking the rim. The hope is that it eventually leads to kickouts and open 3-pointers, but the Bulls aren’t quite there yet.

They led the NBA in drives per game but were just 15th in points percentage, netting points on just 55.7% of drives (15th best). Despite their pass percentage being 18th in the NBA (they passed after drives 36.4% of the time) they were 28th in assist percentage, with a drive resulting in an assist just 8.3% of the time.

One could surmise that the Bulls need shooters. Instead, we’ll argue today that they should continue to play the drives game. That means going after Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The sophomore put together an outstanding year in Lubbock, Tex., averaging 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals in 38 games. He led the Red Raiders to the NCAA championship game, where they lost in overtime to Virginia.

Culver excelled attacking the rim. Whether it’s using pick-and-rolls, cutting off the ball or using his length in post-up action, Culver was a beast around the rim. Per Synergy Sports, he shot almost 59 percent on 269 attempts around the rim. Though he settles for midrange jumpers at times, he’s got a strong dribble, does a nice job lowering his shoulder and finishes with contact. And again, he plays longer than his listed height. His wingspan will be interesting to see at the Combine as he seemingly hasn’t stopped growing over the last year.

Working in Culver’s favor as far as his NBA prospects are concerned is that he had an excellent season in pick-and-roll action. Though he played 84 percent of his minutes at shooting guard, Culver had 201 pick-and-roll actions. He scored 162 points on those – placing him in the 63rd percentile among all players – and his turnover rate of 14.4% was 18th among the 50 players with 200 or more PnR possessions.

In addition to his ability getting to the basket, Culver is an experienced player who can work off the likes of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. He’s an apt passer, too, averaging the 3.7 assists off the ball.

Then there’s his defense. Wingspan doesn’t equal good defender, but Culver uses it incredibly well. He’s arguably the second best wing defender in the class behind Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, but he projects as someone who would gibe the Bulls continued versatility to switch. A defense with Wendell Carter, Otto Porter and Culver is a large improvement from 12 months ago.

The Bulls need shooting. Badly. Culver’s outside numbers were ugly, but consider two facts: He shot 38.2 percent from deep as a freshman on nearly the same amount of attempts and his form isn’t broken. He had seven games with three or more 3-pointers, and shot 24 of 45 in those games (53.3%). He’s a smart player and can really get going when he feels it.

If you’ve read to this point, consider Jimmy Butler as an NBA comparison. Not overly fast or athletic, but gets to his spots, is strong attacking the rim, plays solid defense and can catch heat from deep from time to time. The Bulls could use Culver as a sixth man who staggers with Zach LaVine and Otto Porter and gives the Bulls someone to attack on the second unit – Shaq Harrison and Wayne Selden didn’t exactly cut it last season. He’d be a good complement to Chandler Hutchison, too, as another lengthy defender who can play multiple positions.

Culver doesn’t have the ceiling of a Zion, Ja or Barrett. But he’s also got perhaps the highest floor of anyone in the draft. His defense is going to translate and there’s room for a non-point guard who can run pick-and-roll action. He’ll keep the ball moving, which should have him at the top of the Bulls’ draft board. If his 3-point numbers get back to where he was as a freshman, he has All-Star potential. Defenses may sag in on him at the pro level, which could make attacking the rim more difficult. But even if that’s the case, he’ll still work well off the ball as a cutter.

His skills translate as someone who can play right away. That’s what the Bulls need after an injury-riddled 28-win campaign didn’t really move the rebuild forward. It’s time to take a step forward, and Culver gives them the best chance to do so if they aren’t lucky enough to move up in the Lottery.

Season in Review: Antonio Blakeney had the Mamba Mentality

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Season in Review: Antonio Blakeney had the Mamba Mentality

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter  | Wayne Selden | Zach LaVine

Preseason expectations: Like most of the end-of-the-bench Bulls, Antonio Blakeney’s role became much larger with the injuries to Denzel Valentine, Kris Dunn and even Bobby Portis. It moved everyone up on the depth chart across the board, and that included Blakeney.

The expectations were simple because of what Blakeney is: a scorer. Good nights would include games where his midrange jumper was falling, and bad ones would be obvious quickly. Then again, the Bulls liked what they saw in his impressive Summer League by giving him guaranteed money on a two-year deal.

What went right: Well, he did provide a scoring punch on occasion. Blakeney topped the 14-point mark eight different times in 2019 and did so in pretty efficient fashion – he shot 50 percent or better in six of those eight games. Blakeney had a knack for reeling off a few makes in a row to help the Bulls in spurts. Of course they happened few and far between, but we’d be remiss not to mention that a hot Blakeney was a really good Blakeney.

What went wrong: A whole lot. On the surface you’ll see that Blakeney shot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc last season. In reality, much of that damage came early in the season. In a five-game stretch in late October he made 14 of 22 triples. The rest of the season he was 22 of 69 (31.8%) and just 15.8 percent from March 1 until the end of the season. He couldn’t top 42 percent from the field and provided very little in the way of passing, rebounding or defense. The Bulls needed Blakeney to provide a scoring punch, and in early November it looked like he might be a surprise. It was a mirage.

The Stat:  432 to 396

It was something we followed all season long but Blakeney ultimately finished the year with more passes (432) than field goal attempts (396). But only barely.

2019-20 Expectations: If the Bulls opt to keep Blakeney and his guaranteed money, he’ll be an end-of-the-bench player without much of a role. Denzel Valentine will be back, the Bulls should add another backcourt player in the draft – with either pick – and Chandler Hutchison will be healthy to give the Bulls more depth. This was Blakeney’s best shot to prove he belongs in the NBA and he did very little with the opportunity.