Bulls

Why the Bulls should consider drafting the Young Bull, Alabama's Collin Sexton

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AP

Why the Bulls should consider drafting the Young Bull, Alabama's Collin Sexton

Take the best talent available.

It's a tired cliche used far too often in any major sport's draft. But it's also true, and especially true in a sport where only five players are on the court at one time. Position-less basketball (look, another cliche!) is at its peak, and NBA teams are trying to get their best talent together.

And when the Bulls go on the clock at No. 7 in two days' time, there's going to be a special talent waiting for them.

Collin Sexton became a national darling in March, like so many collegiate stars do on the biggest stage. First he hit a buzzer beater floater against Texas A&M that essentially put his Alabama Crimson Tide into the NCAA Tournament. Then he knocked off SEC regular season champ Auburn and went toe-to-toe with Kentucky in an SEC Tournament loss. He disposed of a Virginia Tech team in the NCAA Tournament with a 25-point effort before running into the buzz saw that was Villanova in Round 2, though his 17 points were a valiant effort.

All told Sexton averaged 24.2 points on 53 percent shooting in six postseason games. He made 48 percent of his 3-pointers, averaged 4.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists, and played better than 33 minutes per game.

The lightning-quick point guard was tough, physical, competitive and a bully as he fought to bring the Crimson Tide not only to the NCAA Tournament, but within a game of the second weekend.

Sexton's best attribute, without question, is his pick-and-roll action. Thanks to head coach Avery Johnson, who spent years in the NBA, Alabama deployed an offense more similar to the NBA game than most other programs. Consider that Sexton used 28.8 percent of his scoring possessions in pick-and-roll settings. He scored 180 points on 180 possessions, either blowing by a taller defender or shooting over teams that went under screens. His 0.957 PPP ranked in the 87th percentile, and the 180 possessions were more than Derrick Rose (42), Russell Westbrook (37) and John Wall (66) all had in their respective freshman seasons combined; only Rose's 0.929 PPP came close to Sexton's, but again that was on less than a quarter of the possessions Sexton had.

Sexton also got to the free throw line in bunches. His 252 attempts ranked seventh in the country, just below Trae Young's 274 attempts. Then again, Young's usage rate (38.4%, tops in the country) was higher than Sexton's 32.5% usage. Of the 54 players with a usage rate at or above 30%, Sexton's 57.5% free throw rate was fifth highest, and first among Power 6 schools. His elite quickness and speed allowed him paths to the basket where he drew contact more ofen than not, which will only make him an even better pick-and-roll player at the next level.

But he may have seeked out contact too often. For the attempts he did have, Sexton still was a below-average finisher at the rim. His 0.976 PPP on those attempts ranked in the 27th percentile. He's undersized at 6-foot-1.5 and 183 pounds, though his toughness can't be denied. Whether or not he can withstand an 82-game schedule is another story, and he'll need to be more in control at the rim. He won't get the same foul calls in the NBA that he got in Tuscaloosa.

Sexton shot 36.8 percent from deep in his first 16 games. Then he went through a serious lull, making just 23.5 percent of his 3-point attempts to finish out conference play. The postseason run allowed him to find his stroke again, as he made 48 percent of his 23 attempts. On the year he made 33.6 percent of his attempts, but he's a better shooter than those numbers suggest. His 0.942 PPP on jumpers ranked in just the 54th percentile, but he projects as someone who will have to be respected from deep, even if it isn't his best attribute (think Kemba Walker, a career 36% 3-point shooter).

Sexton's defensive numbers are essentially average across the board. His toughness and intensity can't be taught and will help him at the next level. So, too, will his 6-foot-7.5 wingspan (buzzword alert!). It does say a lot that Alabama's defense was ranked 20th in the country, per Ken Pom. Sexton certainly had a hand in that, and he should benefit from coaching at the next level on how to properly use his quick footwork and frame.

Yes, the Bulls have Kris Dunn. Yes, Dunn showed signs of life last season after getting away from rookie killer Tom Thibodeau. But the Bulls are at a time in their franchise's rebuild where they can't pass up talent to fill a need. Talent is their need. And Sexton, a five-star recruit who has already been under the tutelage of a former NBA coach for a year, has that talent. He'll inject some nastiness into the lineup - his nickname is Young Bull for the way he bullies opponents - he immediately improves the Bulls' lackluster transition game and he solidifies the Bulls' backcourt.

Dunn and Sexton can play off one another, even if it relegates the former to a Marcus Smart-type role: important, useful, just not in the spotlight. Sexton running pick-and-roll/pop with Markkanen only makes both players better, and it allows the Bulls freedom to look at a wing or a big with the 22nd pick. If the Bulls feel Sexton will be there at 10, 11 or 12, perhaps they trade with a team looking to move up for a Michael Porter Jr. or Trae Young. But Sexton's talent supersedes any positional needs for the Bulls. They can fill holes later on needs. When a talent is waiting for them to draft, they've got to take it and run.

Five observations from Bulls-Sixers: Well, at least the first quarter was good

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USA TODAY

Five observations from Bulls-Sixers: Well, at least the first quarter was good

Here are five observations from the Bulls' season-opener loss to the Sixers on Thursday night.

1. How about that first quarter?

In what could wind up being the most exciting quarter all year, the Bulls began the year with a 41-point explosion. The Bulls shot 63 percent in the quarter, at one point scoring on an absurd 11 consecutive possessions. Bobby Portis scored 13 points and hit all five shots, while Zach LaVine added 15 of his own. The ball was moving, they played quickly and caught Philadelphia out of position at times and took care of the ball. The fun times didn't last, but it wound up being the highest scoring first quarter in a Bulls season opener. It was fun. The other three quarters? Well, the first quarter was fun.

2. The defense is as bad as we thought it was

Granted, Kris Dunn is far and away the Bulls' best defender and was out while attending the birth of his baby boy. But this was still about as bad a defensive performance as the Bulls could have had, even against an offensive juggernaut like the Sixers. Communication was off almost from the start, and they always looked two steps behind. The Sixers got just about anything they wanted in transition, meaning it was a moot point that they struggled from beyond the arc. From Jabari Parker to Zach LaVine, it wasn't pretty. They're going to struggle all year long. Dunn isn't going to make enough of a difference. Shoutout to Wendell Carter's block on Ben Simmons, the lone defensive highlight of the night

3. Bobby Portis' bet is off to a good start

Portis was guilty of an ugly defensive performance, as Dario Saric posted a monster line by out-hustling his counterpart much of the night. But offensively Portis continues to shine after a great preseason. Portis, now officially in a contract year, went for 20 points and 10 rebounds and added a steal, a block and three 3-pointers in 29 minutes. Without Lauri Markkanen he's the Bulls' No. 2 scorer behind LaVine. We'll add her, too, that LaVine continued to look smooth on offense. He had 29 points on 19 shots and had seven of the Bulls' 12 free throw attempts.

4. The backup point guard job is up for grabs

Cam Payne's leash is incredibly long. He's the best option for now once Kris Dunn eventually returns, but it's probably time for Ryan Arcidiacono and Tyler Ulis to get a look. Payne finished 0-for-4 with five assists and a turnover in 22 minutes. No one was expecting Payne to match Ben Simmons stat for stat (Simmons went for his third career-triple double in four games against the Bulls). But the ball routinely stopped when it got into Payne's hands, and he didn't seem to know where to go once he pushed in transition. His speed is a positive, but once he gets to his spot he struggled to make the right play. And he's a clear negative defensively. Arcidiacono and Ulis aren't exactly Gary Payton, but they deserve looks at some point in the near future. Arcidiacono had 8 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists in 28 minutes. That came against Philly's second unit, but he was decidely better.

5. Jabari Parker will want a do-over

Friday feels like forever ago. For all Portis did well to close the preseason, it was gone on Thursday. Parker's final line is a bit misleading because of the points he scored when the game was well out of reach. The truth was Parker's shot selection early was awful, and his defense was a real liability. It was the "cons" side of his scouting report played out on the court. There's still hope he can improve, of course, and Hoiberg will need to find the right combinations to make him successful. But we can probably rule out him at small forward if he's having trouble staying in front of power forwards.

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

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USA TODAY

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.

Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.”

The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.

“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”

Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne.

He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.

“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”

After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.

The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.

“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”