Bulls

NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in De'Andre Hunter

NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in De'Andre Hunter

When the Bulls went on the clock a year ago during the 2019 NBA Draft, they had three options. The first, which they chose, was to draft a potential defensive foundation piece in Wendell Carter Jr. They could have rolled the dice on a point guard in Collin Sexton but opted to see what Kris Dunn could do for one more season. They also could have drafted for positional need and grabbed 3-and-D wing Mikal Bridges.

The Bulls are certainly happy with what they got out of Carter before he suffered a thumb injury that required surgery in January. But fast forwarding a year, the Bulls now have a chance to go back and draft at a position that still needs plenty of help. Though they have Otto Porter, the need for 3-and-D help on the wing is still glaring, and Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter is the kind of player who could solve those problems.

The 21-year-old sophomore (yes, he’s old for his class) was named First Team All-ACC after averaging 15.2 points on 52 percent shooting and nearly 44 percent from beyond the arc, 5.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Remember, too, when looking at Hunter’s raw numbers that the Cavaliers played the slowest pace in Division I this season, ranking 353rd out of 353 teams with a pace of 59.4 possessions.

Where Hunter made his impact felt most was on the defensive end. He was named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year as the main cog in the Cavs’ No. 5 nationally ranked defense. The 6-foot-7 forward touted a 7-foot wingspan and he used a combination of quick footwork on the perimeter and strength inside to become one of the nation’s most versatile defenders. He’ll be joining an NBA that’s switching more than ever, and his ability to do so only improves his stock.

As a scorer, Hunter was a model of efficiency. He certainly benefited from playing in the country’s second most efficient offense, but Hunter also contributed plenty to that. He shot 55 percent inside the arc, including 68.6 percent at the rim (better than both Ja Morant, R.J. Barrett and Jarrett Culver). Remember, he didn’t have the luxury of many fast breaks with the way Tony Bennett wanted to slow down the offense.

Hunter shot 43.8 percent from beyond the arc on a modest 2.8 attempts per game (again, Virginia’s pace and the Cavs’ embarrassment of riches on offense meant fewer triples). He’s got picture-perfect form (his release may be a little slow) and should have no problem continuing that at the next level. Past his 3-pointers, Hunter scored 1.099 points per possession on 182 jump shots this past season, which placed him in the 83rd percentile nationally. He’s a reliable shooter, and an efficient one at that.

He’s not going to create much on his own at the pro level but he might not have to. His value will come from his outside shooting and versatility as a defender. But that also caps his ceiling to some degree. The safe route may be the correct route for a Bulls team that has hit on its last two first round draft picks and could be looking to make immediate improvements rather than go through another rebuild. What makes Hunter an intriguing prospect are skills that will carry over beginning Day 1.

Ideally, he’d begin his career in a reserve role, acting as a complement on the wing to Chandler Hutchison and whoever the Bulls make their backup point guard (potentially Kris Dunn). Hunter could be used situationally when the Bulls needed shooting or a defensive stop. He could theoretically step in for Otto Porter in two years when the latter is off the books.

In a rather weak draft class after Zion Williamson, playing it safe isn’t the worst option. Role players are just as critical to a rebuild as the guys at the top. Hunter provides one of those pieces, improves a 28th ranked defense the last two seasons and gives the Bulls some much-needed shooting. The Bulls are able to have their cake and eat it, too, grabbing Carter last season and getting their own version of Mikal Bridges a year later.

Why NBA role players could see on-court benefit from bubble environment

Why NBA role players could see on-court benefit from bubble environment

Kenny "The Jet" Smith never made an All-Star team across his 10-year NBA career. Nor earned an All-NBA selection.

But he did display a knack for stepping up when the spotlight shone the brightest. His two rings with the Houston Rockets evidence that. In the two postseasons that yielded those championships, Smith started all 45 games for Houston and averaged 30 minutes, 10.8 points and 4.3 assists per game while canning 44.4% of his attempts from 3.

The 2019-20 NBA playoffs will be unlike any the league has seen before. Over the next three days, 22 teams will make their way to Orlando, Fla. to tie a bow on an eight-game conclusion to the regular season and a 16-team playoff in a bubble environment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Throw home court advantage out the window. All games will take place on a neutral court, and without fans.

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Who could such an environment benefit the most? Smith broke down his thoughts on the latest episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast, hosted by Jason Goff:

“I don’t know if it’ll affect the (quality of the) product,” Smith said of the unprecedented bubble atmosphere. “Like, they’re the best 350 players in the world. But there are levels inside of the 350. Players who are marginal inside of the best 350 in the world are going to play better. Because guys don’t play as well on the road as some play at home. There is no home. There is no road. Every game’s a home game, every game feels like a practice setting.

“The superstars have taken over a lot on road games. There is that. So now, I think you’re going to be like, ‘Man, I did not know such and such was so good,’ because he’s going to have a comfort level that he’s never had before. It’s going to feel like every game feels like an intense practice — more than an NBA game, but a super intense practice, which they’re accustomed to and they’re comfortable in that environment.”

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Of course, there will be other factors in play, as well. Though the NBA baked a three-week ramp-up period and scrimmage schedule into its restart plan to reacclimate players, the league’s four-month hiatus will have impacted each player differently depending on the resources at their disposal from their respective homes. With social distancing a priority, and gyms and practice facilities shuttered, think of the training differences between players living in big-city high-rises compared to sprawling suburban residences, plus the salary gap — and thus, the resource gap — that exists between older and younger players. Also looming will be the still-present dangers of COVID-19, which trump any purely basketball-related consideration.

Still, Smith’s theory is an interesting one. Long has the hypothesis of role players performing better at home than on the road in the postseason persisted. Perhaps the Orlando bubble will mark a definitive test of that.

RELATED: NBA season restart 2020: Schedule for 8-game seeding round for every team 

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Kenny Smith launches virtual basketball camp featuring NBA and WNBA stars

Kenny Smith launches virtual basketball camp featuring NBA and WNBA stars

Two-time NBA champion and TNT analyst Kenny Smith is launching Jet Academy, a virtual basketball camp staffed by the highest-level hoopers in the world to help boys and girls train their game while maintaining social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was sitting at home and social distancing and quarantine, and my kids typically go to basketball camps,” Smith told Jason Goff on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast. “They can’t go to camps anymore, I can’t do my basketball camp in North Carolina, I had 700 kids. And I just noticed it was a need in the world that was going on, and I said I’m going to create — and I created — the first virtual basketball camp for kids and adults and anybody who plays the game, virtually. And you can do it from anywhere, any time, on any device, with anyone.”

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As for the instructors? Kemba Walker, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Victor Oladipo, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Trae Young will all lead or co-lead training sessions. Those seven players account for 35 All-Star appearances and two MVP awards. 

Smith was clear that his intention isn’t to replace traditional trainers, but he believes those that have achieved greatness at the highest level will have special perspective to offer.

“I was talking to Kemba, I was like, ‘OK, Kemba, so this is what we need to do in the camp’ and he’s like, ‘OK, what are the drills you want to do?’” Smith said on the podcast. “I said, ‘No, no, no. Trae, Kemba, I want you to do the drills that you do to get ready. I want to see how you got your jumper like that. That’s what I would want to see. ‘Kemba, show me the pullback.’ He said, ‘Alright, I’ll show you the pullback.’ I said, ‘No, but then you gotta tell us why you use it and when you use it.’ That’s what a trainer at times can’t give you.”

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The camp tips off July 20 and will feature live, daily, two-hour video sessions with instructors that campers can follow along with remotely. Campers will also be able to text questions to instructors, upload video of them training for response within 48 hours, and view sessions on-demand. Smith stressed the importance of that interaction towards developing one’s game. 

Listen to the rest of Smith and Goff’s conversation, which touches on the litany of considerations facing the NBA as it embarks on its bubble experiment in Orlando, here or via the embedded player above.

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