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NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in Zion Williamson

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft: What the Bulls would get in Zion Williamson

It’s difficult to determine what’s more incredible about Duke freshman Zion Williamson: The amount of hype, headlines and hyperbole he’s received since he entered the national spotlight 5 months ago, or the fact that he’s deserving of every single ounce of it.

He’s the best NBA prospect since LeBron James in 2003 and the latest can’t-miss prospect since Anthony Davis. He’d be the first pick in just about any NBA Draft in the history of the league. What he does on a basketball court shouldn’t be possible, let alone for a player of his size. He’s part Russell Westbrook, part Draymond Green and part LeBron. There’s no argument against it, and any one that you do hear is someone simply arguing to argue: Williamson is a generational talent that will change the course of one team’s franchise in June.

He’s Shaquille O’Neal in 1992. He’s Tim Duncan in 1997. He’s LeBron in 2003. He’s Anthony Davis in 2011. He’s as can’t-miss as any of those foundational pieces who were selected first overall without any second guessing. Here’s why:

Let’s begin with his frame. Williamson, who officially declared for the draft on Monday evening, is listed at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds. Both figures seem accurate, and seeing as he’s likely to skip on the Combine in May, we won’t get any official measurements. He’ll turn 19 in July but has the frame on a 27-year-old middle linebacker. He’s chiseled, has tree trunks for legs and the broadest of shoulders. He’ll enter the NBA as the second heaviest player in the league behind Philadelphia’s Boban Marjanovic, who has a listed 290 pounds on a 7-foot-3 body.

And yet, Williamson might be the most athletic player in the league next season. You’ve seen him jump out of the gym on dunks, race down the floor in transition and time up blocks on the defensive end. He moves incredibly well both laterally and straight-lined and a 6-foot-10 wingspan only adds to his unbelievable dimensions.

But can he play? Oh, this is going to be fun. Williamson’s raw numbers were stunning. In 33 games, he averaged 22.6 points on 68 percent shooting, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks in 30.0 minutes. Where to begin? He’s the first player in NCAA history to average 22 points and shoot 68 percent from the field; in fact, his closest competition was Blake Griffin, who as a sophomore averaged 22.7 points on 65.4 percent shooting. The last player to reach his rebound/block/steal combination? Nerlens Noel in 2013.

But let’s dig a little on these scoring numbers. Williamson was an absolute freak of nature inside. While it’s true that some of those possessions came on fast-break dunks, consider that Williamson averaged 1.502 points per possession around the basket, per Synergy Sports. What’s even crazier? Williamson broke the database and did so on 219 possessions. Only nine players in the country even reached 200 possessions. And the only other player in its database to reach 1.45 points per possession was 7-foot-1 Deandre Ayton, who went first overall last year to Phoenix. The combination of efficiency and volume was unprecedented.

Don’t let the 2.1 assists fool you. Williamson has elite court vision, constantly passing out of double teams and drives when entire defenses would come crashing down on him. He’s only going to get better in a more spaced NBA setting while finding more talented shooters at the pro level – Duke was 328th of 351 teams in 3-point field goal percentage last year (30.8%). Take out Williamson’s numbers and he was passing to players averaging a combined 30.1% from deep. He’s an outstanding passer. He’ll have no trouble averaging 4-5 assists out of the gate.

That being said, the outside shot is a concern. Williamson only shot 33.8% from beyond the arc and was just 3 of 8 on midrange attempts. Players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons have shown it’s possible to dominate without a jump shot in today’s 3-point-heavy era but it’s something Williamson will at least need to improve on. We’ll add here that he was pretty left-hand dominant, but that’s typical for an 18-year-old freshman. The good news is a jump shot and off-hand dribble are teachable. Everything that makes Williamson great is not.

If Williamson weren’t an historically good offensive talent, his defense would make him a top-10 pick anyway. Williamson’s instincts and timing, combined with his absurd athleticism, made him one of the best defenders in the country. He’s only 6-foot-7 but will have no trouble playing power forward – or center, for that matter – in the NBA. His 285-pound frame will be able to withstand the banging inside – think Draymond Green – and his footwork and quick side-to-side movement will allow him to switch out onto the perimeter.

The Bulls need a point guard. But don’t overthink it. The Bulls, like 29 other teams, could use a generational talent. While it’s true that drafting Williamson would put one of Wendell Carter Jr. or Otto Porter – with Williamson playing the 3 – on the bench, it’d be a minuscule sacrifice for what Williamson would bring to the Bulls.

They’d be able to run the offense through him and instead of Zach LaVine drawing away attention to free up Lauri Markkanen or vice versa, it’d be Williamson attracting attention to give the Bulls two open lethal scoring options. And that’s before considering Porter as a 3-point threat. He’d inject life into a Bulls defense that has been among the league’s worst over the last two seasons, and a Williamson-Carter combination in the frontcourt has serious potential.

The Bulls, like 29 other teams, would sprint to the podium and draft Williamson. The Bulls would instantly be contenders for a playoff spot and, depending on what happens this offseason, a top-4 spot. Williamson would also make Chicago a more attractive landing spot for free agents, specifically a point guard who would like to be surrounded by Williamson, Markkanen, LaVine and Porter.

He’s a franchise-altering talent. The moment he shakes Adam Silver’s hand on June 20th he’ll be one of the top 25 players in basketball. He’s everything a team is looking for and he’s 18 years old. He’s got a high floor and a higher ceiling. He’s the no-brainer first overall pick for every reason.

The only debate would be whether Williamson would be allowed to wear No. 1 in Chicago.

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Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

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USA TODAY

Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

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

Midseason expectations: Otto Porter Jr. arrived in Chicago the same night the Bulls posted a 126.3 offensive rating in a 125-120 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Maybe that was foreshadowing for how the offense would look two days later when Porter made his Bulls debut. That was the expectation, at least, that Porter would infuse life into a stagnant Bulls offense, space the floor and give the Bulls some versatility on the defensive end. Given the Bulls were 12-42 when Porter arrived, the expectation was that he’d gain some chemistry with Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen heading into the 2019-2020 season when he’d have an entire offseason to figure out a defined role.

What went right: How about 49 percent from beyond the arc? Again, it was a small sample size, but Porter connected on 39 of his 80 3-point attempts in 15 games with the Bulls. Perhaps a change of scenery and leaving that nightmare of a John Wall-less Wizards offense, was exactly what he needed. Past his lights-out shooting, Porter showed a knack for distributing that he rarely showed in Washington.

Consider that Porter had 40 assists in 15 games with the Bulls, half of the 80 assists he had with the Wizards in 41 games. He had a career-high eight assists for the Bulls in a March game against the Pistons, three more than his high in Washington last season. Porter is never going to initiate offense but playing well in pick-and-roll action and keeping the ball moving around the perimeter only adds to his value.

What went wrong: Pegged as two-way player when he arrived in Chicago, Porter didn’t do all that much on the defensive end. The Bulls were 1.1 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Porter sat than when he played. It’s a small sample size, and the Bulls defense was a mess regardless of who was or wasn’t on the floor, but it’s hard to pick out any real significant defensive plays that Porter made in his 15 games.

The Stat: 111.5

We’ll disclaim here that it was just a 17-game sample size, but that’s still more than 20 percent of the season. In the 17 games between Porter’s acquisition and when he was shut down for the remainder of the season, the Bulls’ 111.5 offensive rating was ninth best in the NBA, better than teams such as the Warriors, Hawks, Sixers and Nuggets.

What’s more, their turnover percentage (13.3%, 13th), effective field goal percentage (53.0%, 11th) and offensive rebound percentage (26.1%, 15th) were all top half of the league. It was their best stretch of the season, and it was no coincidence that it came while Porter was in the lineup and healthy. Small-ish sample size? Yes. Still promising? Yes.

2019-20 Expectations: A lot. No, the Bulls didn’t give Porter that massive contract. But it’s going to stick with him as long as the Bulls are paying him. Expectations are clear: Continue to be an elite 3-point shooter and move the ball – whether it be around the perimeter or in pick-and-roll action – once the defense shifts.

Speaking of defense, Porter will be tasked with changing the narrative in Chicago. The Bulls need to improve their defense if they’re going to have any change of competing for a playoff spot and much of that responsibility will fall on Porter. He’ll routinely be guarding the opponent’s best wing and will need to hide Zach LaVine at times. It’s a tall order, but it comes with the territory while making $27 million per year.

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

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USA TODAY

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

According to a story by Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney, the Bulls may be looking for help in the form of one of the NBA’s better two-way players.

In the post, Deveney goes over the most salient points made by brand new New Orleans Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin. This included the fact that Griffin stated that Pels head coach Alvin Gentry will be back and that Jrue Holiday is considered “a franchise building block”.

This could be a bit of gamesmanship from Griffin, hoping to drive up the asking price for an All-Star caliber player such as Holiday.

But Deveney suggests that New Orleans may indeed be serious about their efforts to keep building with Holiday on the roster. Deveney stated, “if the Pelicans don't trade Holiday, it will set up the team for an attempt at a fast turnaround rather than a long, slogging rebuild......It will also frustrate teams looking for a versatile point guard in his prime, hoping that Holiday would be on the block.”

Phoenix was mentioned as the “top contender” for Holiday’s services should he be made available, as the Suns are one of the few teams with an obvious hole at PG. Along with the Suns, Chicago and Orlando were the other teams listed as having interest in Holiday. The Magic completed a low-risk trade during the 2018-19 season that landed them 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, so they may not be inclined to give up solid assets in a deal.

As far as the Bulls are concerned, any serious inquires on Holiday are likely to come after the May 14 NBA Draft lottery.

Depending on where the Bulls lottery pick ends up, the Pelicans could be much more inclined to make a deal with the Chicago front office. The Pelicans ended the season tied with Memphis and Dallas for the 7th spot in the draft lottery odds, and their specific organizational goals could make moving up in the draft order worth losing a valuable player like Jrue Holiday. And for the Bulls, nabbing a player like Holiday helps build onto the positive team culture that Jim Boylen wants to establish and gives the Bulls a perfect guard to pair in the backcourt with Zach LaVine.