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NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in Ja Morant

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in Ja Morant

Success at the point guard position has never been more critical than it is in today’s NBA. Consider that in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the top 30 leading scorers in each season included 12, 8 and 10 point guards. That was an incredible jump from just a decade earlier, when 3, 2 and 3 point guards were included in the top 30 leading scorers in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

A point guard has won MVP each of the last four seasons (Curry twice, Westbrook, Harden) after the position combined to win three MVPs from 1956 to 2014 (if you’d like to count Allen Iverson or Magic Johnson as point guards, feel free to do so. The point remains).

Of the last three draft classes, 2, 3 and 2 point guards were selected in the top-5. The three years prior to that? 1, 1 and 0 point guards went in the top-5.

The strategy is becoming clear: Find your franchise point guard. And ironically it’s the one aspect of the Bulls rebuild that they haven’t aced in terms of unearthing future talent. They traded for and developed a shooting guard in Zach LaVine. They used their expiring contracts and abundant cap space to acquire a small forward in Otto Porter. They drafted their frontcourt in Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter.

And yet the point guard position remains a mystery. Lucky for them, there’s an answer in this year’s draft class.

Two years ago, Ja Morant was an unranked point guard from South Carolina starting as a freshman for a Murray State team that had gone 16-17 the previous year. A lot has happened since then for Morant, who arrived on the national scene after a dominant sophomore season in which he led the country in assists, became the first player in NCAA history to average 20 points and 10 assists, and earned All-American honors for a 28-win Racers team that won an NCAA Tournament game. Here’s how he did it:

Morant was far and away the best transition player in basketball last season. He led the country with 268 transition points, 53 more than anyone else. In fact, the difference from Morant to No. 2 was the same as No. 2 to No. 29 in total transition points.

But it wasn’t just volume scoring; Morant’s 1.202 points per possession on transition attempts ranked 30th in the country. He was absolutely elite as a transition scorer, using his lightning-quick speed to get out on the break and his athletic 6-foot-3 frame to finish at the rim.

But wait, there’s more. Morant also assisted on 93 transition field goals to his teammates. That was nearly 29 percent of his season total, and it doesn’t include passes he made that led to free throw attempts. Morant will enter the NBA as one of the best transition threats in the league. Those instincts, combined with his speed and agility, will convert seamlessly. And in an NBA that just topped 100.0 possessions per game for the first time since 1989, Morant is arriving at the perfect time.

Keeping with the trend of NBA-relatable traits, Morant put together an excellent season in pick-and-roll on an incredibly high volume, averaging 0.776 points per possession in 254 actions. Morant hovered near the likes of Trae Young (0.881 PPP on 335 possessions) and De’Aaron Fox (0.852 on 162 possessions) in this category. Give Morant a capable rim-runner or pick-and-pop shooter (in the Bulls’ case, they have both) and it’ll only make him more explosive. Consider that Morant did all this with defenses keying in on him every night.

Morant did most of his damage in these two areas. That’s good news for his NBA prospects – though admittedly he’ll need to work heavily on his 3-point shot. He’s going to score plenty; Russell Westbrook has averaged 26.3 points per game over the last five seasons and shot 30.9% from beyond the arc.

Guess what else Morant has in common with Westbrook? An assist rate that’ll make you blush. His assist rate of 51.4 percent led the country and he did so on a 36.0 usage rate. Morant distributed in every way imaginable and made it look easy – and anyone knocking his lack of competition should Google what he did against Alabama, Auburn, Marquette and Florida State this past season. Whether it came in transition, off pick and roll or on isolation dribble-drives, Morant kept the ball moving with crisp passes and elite court vision. He’s going to have a direct and immediate impact on whichever offense he joins.

Morant has the frame to become a solid defender at the position but still needs work on that end. He’s a gambler – which was fine against the likes of Austin Peay and UT Martin – and his effort has come into question at times. Athleticism does not equal defense (ask Zach LaVine) but Morant has a chance to improve on that end because of his measurables.

He’d be a no-brainer pick for the Bulls at No. 2. We’ve written ad nauseum about why the Kris Dunn experiment is over, and any veteran free agent signing would be a stopgap. Instead, the Bulls have a chance to find their future at the position. Yes, a Moran-LaVine pairing in the backcourt isn’t ideal defensively. The Bulls don’t have the luxury of waiting around as they enter Year 3 of the rebuild. If there’s a franchise point guard on the board, you grab him.

He'd force Jim Boylen’s hand into picking up the pace offensively, and his pick-and-roll prowess plays right into the hands of Markkanen and Carter. Add in 3-point wings in LaVine and Porter and you’ve got a match made in heaven. There isn’t a better fit for any team in the Lottery than Morant and the Bulls.

NBA Board of Governors pass new, stricter anti-tampering rules

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USA TODAY

NBA Board of Governors pass new, stricter anti-tampering rules

After much discussion over whether or not the NBA should impose harsher penalties on teams for breaking the anti-tampering rules, an official decision has been made. The NBA Board of Governors passed a much more strict set of rules that will force teams to be compliant with the anti-tampering rules.

Among the new measures, the league will be selecting five teams per year that will undergo a "random audit", the maximum amount for a fine related to tampering has been raised to $10 million and team officials are required to save communications with agents for one full year.

The league will also retain the right to take the communication devices of owners if it is deemed necessary in investigations, though it has been stated that it is not something that Adam Silver wants to rely on moving forward. 

Though concrete details have not been released, possible punishments for tampering will reportedly include taking away draft picks, the voiding of contracts and more.

This is all in an attempt to create a more "even playing field" amid the belief that small-market teams are at a disadvantage when it comes to player movement. The new rules sound great but there is already fear among NBA GMs when it comes to how their privacy will be affected with this being a clear area of focus for the league. 

Along with the new, harsher tampering penalties, the league also announced that they have changed the language regarding traveling calls to "address the uncertainty around traveling." Another new rule announced was that teams are now required to announce their starting lineups at least 30 minutes before tipoff as opposed to 10 minutes, in an effort to "increase transparency for teams, media and fans." Teams will still be allowed to change their lineups up to the last minute if a player gets hurt in pregame warmups. 

All of the new anti-tampering rules approved by the league on Friday were a response to this wild NBA offseason we just experienced. There were many deals agreed to right at the start of free agency, such as the Bulls with Thaddeus Young, and the timing of those deals had many owners wanting the league to make tampering a greater focus. To a greater extent, moves like Anthony Davis forcing his way to the Lakers and Kawhi Leonard orchestrating he and Paul George's move to the Clippers are what got this package of anti-tampering measures passed.

Adam Silver has picked up a reputation as an NBA Commissioner who is very willing to listen to new ideas and make changes, and Friday's events support that reputation as he and the league continue to look for the best ways to get NBA teams to be in compliance with the anti-tampering rules. 

Is Ryan Arcidiacono trying to become the fourth Jonas Brother?

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Is Ryan Arcidiacono trying to become the fourth Jonas Brother?

The Jonas Brothers are in Chicago for concerts that are taking place on Thursday and Friday night, and they have enjoyed quite a week. This week the trio has enjoyed a nice golf outing at Village Links in Glen Ellyn, had some quality BBQ at Bub City and even got the amazing opportunity to play a touch football game at Soldier Field. But one particular Bulls guard is looking to add another fun experience to their Chicago trip.

The Bulls organization welcomed the Jonas Brothers to the city with a set of custom jerseys for the trio and their significant others and that's when Ryan Arcidiacono chimed in with his offer. 

Since the Jonas Brothers have already got to play some football on the actual Soldier Field grass, Arci figured they might as well keep the Chicago sports-themed fun going and shoot some hoops with him. 

Now, Arcidiacono didn't make it clear whether or not he was offering for the Jonas Brother to get some shots up with him at the United Center, where their shows take place on Thursday and Friday night. But, either way, his time is running out as they will be moving on to Jackson County, MO for their next stop on tour on September 21.

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