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NBA Draft Tracker: Texas F Mohamed Bamba

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft Tracker: Texas F Mohamed Bamba

Even in this age of position-less, small-ball NBA, scouts and general managers are still intrigued by the idea of building around a dominant big man. No, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon aren’t walking through that door, but there’s still a place in the league for centers who can score in the low post and protect the rim on the defensive end.

Which leads us to the fascinating case of Texas big man Mohamed Bamba. The 7 foot freshman is painfully thin at 7 feet, 225 pounds, but he has a skill-set that just might fit in the modern game. Bamba has a nice shooting touch from the outside, and might eventually be able to step out to the 3 point line like current All-Star centers Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns. Right now his numbers are fairly modest, 13.7 points per game, 10.8 rebounds and 4.1 blocked shots. Bamba is shooting .544 from the field, .680 from the free throw line and .283 from 3 point range.

Where does Bamba potentially fit with the Bulls? The center position is overloaded right now with Robin Lopez, Omer Asik and Cristiano Felicio, but only Felicio has a guaranteed contract beyond next season. Bamba could anchor the Bulls’ defense for the next decade and form a nice high-low tandem with power forward Lauri Markkanen. Yes, he’ll need to get into an NBA weight room, and he’s probably a couple years away from being a major contributor, but Bamba’s shot-blocking ability and athleticism make him a lock to be selected in the first half dozen picks in June. Teams will project Bamba as a player who will develop into a defensive force with offensive potential like Utah’s Rudy Gobert.

If the Bulls wind up with the 5th or 6th overall pick, they could have an interesting choice to make among Bamba, rehabbing Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr., and star point guards Trae Young and Collin Sexton. Even in today’s perimeter based league, size does matter, and the Bulls need for a young center will make Bamba hard to pass up if he’s still on the board.

Personally, I’ve seen too many thin 7 footers fail over the years to invest such a high pick on Bamba. My guess is Porter will go somewhere in the top 5, but both Young and Sexton are dynamic guards with star potential who could slip to the 6-10 range. If the choice is between Bamba and one of the two point guards, I would take Young 1st, Sexton 2nd and Bamba 3rd.

So, the next time Texas appears on national TV, take a closer look at Bamba and try to figure how he would project playing alongside Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. It’s a question John Paxson, Gar Forman and the Bulls scouts are pondering on a daily basis as they crisscross the country evaluating all of the top prospects.

Mark Schanowski's NBA Draft Big Board 6.0

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USA TODAY

Mark Schanowski's NBA Draft Big Board 6.0

With all the national debate concerning whether Zion Williamson should continue playing for Duke following the Grade 1 knee sprain he suffered on Thursday, one thing is clear: Zion will be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft no matter what he ultimately decides to do.

Granted, it was frightening to see Williamson’s left shoe explode and his right knee bend inwardly at an awkward angle, but the good news is he wasn’t seriously injured and should be able to play again very soon. It’s hard to believe the injury will have any impact on how Zion’s pro future is being evaluated by NBA scouts and executives, other than a continuing concern over his ability to withstand the rigors of an 82 game schedule at his listed weight of 285 pounds.

Williamson’s teammate R.J. Barrett had to turn up his offensive game after Zion went out against North Carolina, and wound up scoring 33 points, while Cam Reddish added 27. Both players figure to go in the top 5 come June.

One player who has caught my attention in recent weeks is Gonzaga big man Rui Hachimura. Even though he’s more of a traditional power forward at 6-foot-8, Hachimura showed the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive past defenders in recent games for the Zags, and for the season, he’s averaging just over 20 points a game, shooting 60 percent from the field and 42 percent from the three-point line.

With so many of the preseason lottery prospects struggling to find consistency, Hachimura is climbing up draft boards with steady production for the nation’s second ranked team. The Zags’ other starting forward, Brandon Clarke, is also drawing attention from NBA talent evaluators, averaging nearly 17 points and eight rebounds a game on an astounding 69 percent success rate from the field.

With the top 4 picks looking pretty solid right now, expect to see all kinds of movement from the 5 to 14 range in mock drafts heading into the draft combine in May. I’ve got Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland moving up to No. 6 this week, even though he hasn’t played since Nov. 23 because of a meniscus injury.

Maybe sitting out is the best strategy for some of the highly rated prospects who’ve looked decidedly average this season, like Indiana’s Romeo Langford, Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson and North Carolina’s Nassir Little.

This could be a year where performances at the draft combine and individual team workouts lead to a player making a dramatic rise or fall when the picks are announced on June 20.

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Should Zion Williamson shut it down and sit for the rest of the season?

Should Zion Williamson shut it down and sit for the rest of the season?

Decisions...

The great thing about this business is the ability of analyst, pundits, bloggers and pretty much everyone and anyone to have a voice. “I think Zion should (fill in the blank)."

How about we leave that decision up to Zion?

Think about the pressure he faced from friends, family, agents, “coaches”, etc.. before he even went to Duke. I’m sure there were those who asked him, why? Think about your college experience and the valuable lessons you learned and I’m not talking about the classroom. There are still some “kids,” regardless of skill level, that want that college experience. Even it’s only for one year, they’re still developing their game, but more importantly their mind. We always talk about physical ability, but constantly brush over mental ability or maturity.

All these one and done guys are not forced to go to college. There other avenues to get to the NBA but college is currently the the best route. Baseball and hockey have their minor league systems that have been proven to work. Until the NBA fully embraces the G-League, which they’re well on their way, college basketball is the best “ minor league” for the NBA. 

Let me be clear in saying that, as long as the NBA implements the “one and done rule” colleges should be giving these players some kind of payment, more than what they are currently providing these players for their services. I’m also not saying it’s the sole responsibility of the university to provide these payments. I think the NCAA should be involved in this equation, a nonprofit that made over a billion dollars last year by the way.

How much money is not only Duke, but the NCAA makeing off Zion alone? It’s definitely a slippery slope, but there has to be a better way. Just don’t ask the NCAA for the answer.

Finally, the NBA needs to do away with the one and done. Players coming out of high school should have a choice of the direction they want their athletic careers to go. I think if a high school player puts his name in the draft, but isn’t selected he should be able to go to college, on a scholarship, without penalty. I know that’s a risk for university to offer these level of players a scholarship and possibly miss out on another prospect, but I have a feeling that most of these high school kids will be accepting that offer.

I also think that player plus those already in college should be able to put their name in the draft every year, go to the combine, and make an educated choice. This is the process that is being implemented at the moment for the college players. It’s not perfect and needs some refining, but it’s better than the current system. Let’s not forget get that allowing these choices could/should damper some of this, “should he or shouldn’t he,” discussion.   

Now back to our regular scheduled programming. The last 24 games of the Bulls schedule. By the way, I’m still selecting Zion with the first-overall pick in the NBA Draft even if he has to have surgery and miss all of next season.

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