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Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Previous making the case for: Deandre Ayton | Luka Doncic | Mo Bamba | Marvin Bagley | Michael Porter Jr.

The modern NBA center is transforming. Last season 12 centers (as listed by Basketball Reference) made 50 or more 3-pointers, up from 10 players in 2016-17. The year before that, in 2015-16, five players accomplished that feat. Four players did it in 2014-15, three did it in 2013-14, and from 1990 to 2012 only Mehmet Okur (five times), Channing Frye (three times) and Byron Mullens (once) accomplished it.

Many of the names on that list, however, don’t exactly cut it on the other end. Sure, players like Joel Embiid, Al Horford and Marc Gasol are elite defenders. But repeat 50+ club members also include Karl-Anthony Towns, Marreese Speights, Kelly Olynyk, DeMarcus Cousins and Pero Antic. In other words, players Rudy Gobert won’t have to worry about contending with for Defensive Player of the Year.

But that former list – the Embiid, Horford, Gasol one – could add another member to it in the coming years. Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. was a rarity in college basketball this past season. He became the fifth player since 1992 to compile 35 or more 3-pointers and 100 or more blocks in a single season. Jackson had 38 and 106, respectively, and he accomplished those numbers in 764 minutes; the other four players on the list averaged 1,082 minutes, and the next fewest was Eddie Griffin’s 979 minutes in 2000-01.

Staying on those minutes, Jackson averaged 21.8 per game. That was decidedly fewer per game than Carter (26.9), Bamba (30.2), Ayton (33.5) and Bagley (33.9). We’ll get to why those minutes might be an issue, but for now it’s a reason to not be scared off by his lack of raw numbers (10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks).

Jackson’s block percentage (14.2%) ranked fourth in the country. That was higher than Bamba’s 12.9%, despite Bamba tallying 3.7 blocks per game. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Jackson was elite as a rim protector. He ranked in the 99th percentile in defensive possessions around the rim, allowing a mere 0.405 PPP. To put that number in context, freshmen Joel Embiid (0.844), Karl-Anthony Towns (0.8) and Myles Turner (0.667) weren’t even close. This past season Bamba allowed a whopping 1.088 PPP in that area, ranking in the 33rd percentile nationally.

Jackson plays bigger than the 236 pounds he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine. Here’s where we tell you he’ll need to add muscle like all 18-year-olds entering the NBA (oh, he’s also the youngest first-round prospect in the class). But defending the interior shouldn’t be a problem; his defensive rebounding rate wasn’t spectacular (19.8%), but the Spartans were a solid rebounding team as a whole – 76th nationally – so Jackson didn’t need to be great for the Spartans to succeed.

Jackson is going to defend at a high level, and in five years he’ll likely be known more for his defense than his offense. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have potential on that end of the floor. He ranked in the 91st percentile in points per possession (shooting 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep helps), doing his most damage in the post (1.22 PPP, 98th percentile) and on jumpers, which were almost exclusively 3-point attempts (1.09 PPP, 81st). He was even a plus on pick-and-rolls, averaging 1.11 on a limited 27-possession sample size.

But not all 3-pointers are created equally. Consider that Jackson did almost all of his damage beyond the arc from the top of the key. He went 21-for-42 from straightaway, according to Synergy Sports, an absurd percentage on that many attempts. From all other areas he went 17-for-54. But in the pick-and-roll era, Jackson’s ability to pop out to the top of the key after setting a screen, and his confidence to take and make those shots, is priceless.

He needs polish on both ends. That seems like the easy way out, and a generic statement that could be made for all these prospects. But so much of his game is still raw; again, there’s a reason he played just 54 percent of all available minutes, and tallied 15 minutes in the Spartan’s NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse.

He committed 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes (Bamba committed 4.3, for reference) and he shot just 48 percent on non-dunks inside 6 feet. His post numbers were good because he is nearly 7 feet tall and was always one of the most talented players on the floor. It’ll get tougher at the next level, and he’ll need to improve his feel around the rim as well as his post moves.

It doesn’t appear likely at this point, but there’s still a chance Jackson could fall to the Bulls at 7. We’ll safely assume Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic will be off the board. If Michael Porter’s medicals check out he should go in the top 5, and the other three selections could be Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba and Trae Young. Young is certainly the least likely of the bunch, but it only takes one team to fall in love with his potential. Orlando at No. 6 is a natural fit.

If he is there at No. 7, he needs to be the Bulls pick. Admittedly this would be less of a decision than some of the other picks we’ll get to in the coming weeks. Allowing Lauri Markkanen to roam the wings while Jackson set picks for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine would improve the offense drastically. And putting an elite rim protector next to Markkanen only covers up the latter’s weaknesses and, thus, makes him a better player.

If teams fall in love with Bamba’s length, Young’s shooting and Porter’s health, Jackson could be waiting when the Bulls pick at No. 7. He isn’t the wing the front office covets, but he is a two-way player with immense upside.

Bulls observations: Coby White, Zach LaVine, Thad Young lead way to much-needed win

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USA TODAY

Bulls observations: Coby White, Zach LaVine, Thad Young lead way to much-needed win

The Bulls snapped a drawn-out eight-game losing streak in beating the Wizards 126-117 on Sunday. The offense fired on all cylinders, Coby White continued his torrid stretch and Bradley Beal dropped a 50-burger, but overall, it was a next man up type of night. Some observations:

Coby White is developing before our very eyes

Have to tip the cap to Jim Boylen on insisting to continue to bring Coby White off the bench, even amid widespread injuries. White has flourished in that role out of the All-Star break.

Against Phoenix on Saturday, White posted a career-high 33 points with seven 3-pointers. Tonight, he wasted no time continuing that momentum with 16 points in seven first-quarter minutes (26 points in the first half). White matched that this evening, finishing with 33 points on 11-for-18 (5-for-9 from 3), and a game-high +16.

 

The flashes embedded in that impressive statline were all the more tantalizing. There was a sequence in the first quarter where White flew by but recovered to contest a missed Bradley Beal 3-pointer, then nabbed the rebound and flashed coast-to-coast, finishing through contact on the other end (his burst off live rebounds and steals is eye-popping).

A turnaround, fading and-one jumper. That buzzer beater to end the first. A one-handed, crosscourt dime that resulted in a Ryan Arcidiacono 3. On multiple occasions, White attacked mismatches and got to the rim with gumption. His defensive rotations have (mostly) been their crispest of late, and he’s shooting and moving decisively on-ball on the offensive end. 

This should excite Bulls fans tremendously. White’s rookie season has meandered to this point, but if this is the start of a tear down the stretch, we could exit this season with at least one marked positive.

Thad Young continues to be a bright spot

Thad Young isn’t a 20-year-old potential cornerstone of the franchise, but his improvements over the season are certainly worth appreciating, specifically shooting the ball.

After beginning the season ice-cold from long range, Young has brought his 3-point shooting percentage up to around the league average — entering play, his season-long mark was 35.1% and since Jan. 1, he was shooting 39% from deep on 3.3 attempts per game. Those figures will continue to rise after Sunday; Young notched a season-high 25 points with six rebounds and three steals on 9-for-15 shooting (5-for-7 from deep) in 30 minutes against the Wiz.

Overall, Young is now averaging 14 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals (the defense has always been steady) since moving to the starting lineup in place of the injured Lauri Markkanen — shooting 53.5% from the floor — and has scored in double figures in 13 straight games. Asked what’s behind his improved play the other night, Young’s response was simple: “More minutes.” He’s averaging 31.3 of those since sliding into the starting lineup.

Zach LaVine doesn’t back down from a challenge

When Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal — two of the preeminent scoring guards in the Eastern Conference — square off, there’s bound to be sparks. They delivered tonight, trading buckets early and often, and jawing at each other (good-naturedly) throughout.

LaVine finished the night 32 points on 11-for-20 shooting, scoring 10 with a timely steal in the fourth; Beal topped that with 53 points of his own, but LaVine owned the stretch run. They’re fun and good.

Oh, and LaVine went record shopping. With his third (of six) 3-pointers Sunday, he broke Ben Gordon’s franchise record for 3s made in a season of 173. LaVine’s at 177 and counting.

 

A prideful performance

Hey, the Bulls got back in the win column! And they did it on the second night of a back-to-back following a really tough loss — even by their standards — to Phoenix the night before. 

The Bulls shot well (55.6% from the field), re-found their defensive identity (forcing 24 turnovers and scoring 23 points off them) and stymied multiple second half swoons to eventually emerge victorious. White, LaVine and Young combined for 90 points, with Satoransky chipping in 15 points and 13 assists — another strong performance against his old team. Even the rotational weirdness was fun; on multiple occasions, Boylen turned to five-guard lineups with Gafford and Cristiano Felicio perpetual foul trouble threats. 

Above all: The eight-game losing streak mercifully ceases.

Of course, these are the Wizards (the lowest-rated defense in the NBA) — though refreshing, this victory doesn’t change much about the long-term fate of this season. But a blowout victory is a nice change of pace nevertheless.

Back at the UC to cap the homestand versus the Thunder on Tuesday.

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A defiant Jim Boylen doubles down on his usage of late-game timeouts

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USA Today

A defiant Jim Boylen doubles down on his usage of late-game timeouts

Jim Boylen’s late-game timeouts while facing seemingly insurmountable deficits are here to stay.

“We were down eight (points) with 40 seconds to go in Charlotte and won. So it does happen,” Boylen said. “But I can see where people would think it's unnecessary. That’s OK.”

That Boylen allowed for some questioning of his late-game tactics is the only change in this lingering story. They’ve become a larger story because, for the second time this season, cameras showed Zach LaVine expressing frustration or bewilderment over the move.

Following Boylen’s latest example of the practice — with the Bulls down 10 and 40 seconds to go in Saturday’s loss to the Suns — the coach disputed the assertion that his players are frustrated by his unconventional tactics. Nevertheless, he met with LaVine before LaVine addressed reporters late Saturday.

“[LaVine]'s frustrated. I think our team is frustrated. Nobody likes to lose games. We’re competitive people. I coach to the end of games. You guys know that. Could some people judge look at that timeout as unnecessary? Of course they can. You can judge it any way you want,” Boylen said before Sunday’s game versus the Wizards. “He’s a fighter. We’re going to fight to the end. I’m going to coach our guys to the end. I think there’s a misconception that Zach and I only talk when there’s something good to talk about or something bad to talk about. We talk all the time. I think it’s a healthy, productive relationship.”

Boylen said LaVine told him that he’s the coach and can call timeout whenever he wants, which squares with what LaVine told reporters. But LaVine also admitted to it being hard to stay locked in for developmental timeouts in the face of such large deficits, not to mention the constant losing.

Nevertheless, Boylen downplayed LaVine’s public reactions.

“You can video me on a 2-on-1 when we turn it over and I make an expression. You can video me on a wide-open 3-pointer we miss and then on the other end they make a contested three and I make an expression. You can do that on every clip and every situation,” Boylen said. “[Setting the tone is] all I’ve been trying to do. I did it last year. I did it this year. We’re trying to establish that we’re going to play until the end and we’re going to compete. We’ve had some tremendous comeback wins this year where we’ve kept playing so I think the guys get that. But I think what we can’t do is not expect people to be frustrated with a losing streak or a home loss. That’s a healthy thing that there’s frustration. It’s a healthy thing that you’ve got competitive people that are upset that we’re hurt and we’re fighting to win games.”

Boylen said the front office supports his practice of coaching to the end.

“I talked to (executive vice president) John (Paxson) this morning. We talk every day,” Boylen said. “I told him, 'I'm gonna coach these guys hard. John (said), ‘Keep doing what you're doing.' It's what we have to do.

“Is there a chance where maybe I'm more competitive in those situations? I think I have to own that.”

Asked if it’s almost defiance, Boylen agreed.

“That I don't want to lose? Yeah. I don't like losing,” he said. “We had a 17-point lead. I thought we played our hearts out — shorthanded — and we battled, got the game back under control. We're up 1 with 7 minutes to go and we didn't play very well the last seven minutes, but yeah I'm hanging onto that.”

Boylen also called a timeout in Toronto in the waning moments on Super Bowl Sunday with the Bulls down over 20 points. A Raptors broadcaster rebuked Boylen for the move.

But Boylen on Sunday reiterated what he said that day, that the timeout was for developmental purposes.

“The thing in Toronto is a different situation. How many ATOs you think Adam Mokoka has had drawn up for him? So that’s a totally different situation — coaching a guy that’s part of our development program, is in a situation he’s never been in and to have something run for him, I think that’s important,” Boylen said. “I don’t worry about if (criticism) is fair or not. I’ve got a job to do. I don’t listen to the cheers and I don’t listen to the boos and I don’t listen to the negativity. I don’t do it. I’ve got a job to do, and I’m going to keep doing it.”

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