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


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.

Early crossroads for Jim Boylen as an NBA head coach


Early crossroads for Jim Boylen as an NBA head coach

Jim Boylen has been an NBA head coach for less than a week, but already he finds himself dealing with an unhappy locker room. Boylen says he’s willing to sacrifice short-term harmony for long term success, but it’s pretty clear a number of players are unhappy with his methods.

After holding three practices last week that lasted over two hours and then back-to-back games against Oklahoma City and Boston, Boylen decided to hold a noon practice on Sunday after the worst loss in franchise history, 133-77 to the Celtics. Boylen told reporters Saturday night he benched the starters for the final 21 minutes of that game so they would be fresh for practice on Sunday.

But things didn’t exactly go according to plan at the Advocate Center. The players decided to hold a team meeting without the coaches, and eventually invited the coaches in to let them now how they were feeling.

Rookie Wendell Carter Jr. gave the most expansive comments about what happened during the meeting.

“The big main topic for that whole meeting was being truthfully honest and direct. I feel like everyone was very direct with one another, very honest," Carter Jr. said. "Everybody told each other how we really, really felt about what happened last night, how we feel about each in terms of the team, how we feel about everybody as a whole.”

The meetings went on for almost two hours, with Boylen eventually deciding to call off the scheduled practice. Carter indicated the players asked the coaches if they could meet instead of practice, but Boylen offered a different explanation.

“I think it was just a communication, a little bit of both”, Boylen said to reporters. “This is what I think is necessary today. And they felt they needed a voice to talk, too. And that’s cool. That’s good. This is a family thing. This is open lines of communication.”

Okay. A pair of meetings makes perfect sense after such a devastating loss at the end of a tumultuous week. But the Chicago Tribune’s Bulls’ beat reporter K.C. Johnson added another layer to the story when he reported that according to his sources, the players were communicating via group text on whether they would even show up at the Advocate Center for the scheduled practice.

According to Johnson’s sources, the decision was eventually made to hold a team meeting, then meet with the coaching staff.

Zach LaVine was clearly upset in the locker room following the Celtics’ disaster about being benched for the final 21 minutes, but he told reporters Sunday the team meeting allowed the Bulls to clear the air and hopefully re-group for Monday night’s home game against Sacramento.

“I think we needed to get on the same page," LaVine said. "We needed to get a lot of stuff off our chests and be real, be transparent. And I think moving forward that will help us.”

Still, it’s clear there’s a disconnect between the demanding style of the new head coach and what the players had experienced previously under Fred Hoiberg. Asking players to endure training-camp style practices is one thing, but pushing them to the point of considering a boycott can’t possibly be what the front office hoped for in making the coaching change last Monday.

Boylen has made it clear he will do things his way in his first NBA head coaching opportunity, but he’ll probably need to make some adjustments based on the events of the weekend. You can expect Boylen will be meeting with the front office to map out some dos and don’ts in the very near future.

The Bulls should get an emotional lift from the return of Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis in the near future. Portis is planning on playing Monday against Sacramento and Dunn could make his return in that game as well.

The best thing that could happen for everyone right now is a week’s worth of solid play. But with a trip to Mexico City scheduled for mid-week, followed by road games in San Antonio and Oklahoma City, the NBA schedule makers aren’t really doing a struggling team any favors.

The first crisis in the Jim Boylen coaching era has been managed, at least temporarily. But with more losses sure to come, the players and the head coach have to put more effort into building a stronger alliance. It’s the only way this arranged marriage will be able to survive the season.

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Report: Some Bulls players debated attending Sunday practice; meeting held to vent frustrations

Report: Some Bulls players debated attending Sunday practice; meeting held to vent frustrations

The Bulls suffered their worst loss in franchise history on Saturday, falling to the Celtics by 56 points at the United Center. Head coach Jim Boylen pulled all five of his starters at once on two separate occassions, ultimately sitting them for the final 21 minutes of the game.

Boylen's move did not sit well with some players, with Zach LaVine expressing his frustration after the game. Boylen said holding a practice Sunday would be more valuable than playing his starters in a game that the team would ultimately lose anyhow.

According to a report, some players debated attending practice at all.

Ultimately, the players did show up to the Advocate Center, but two meetings were in place of a practice. While the plan was to practice, Wendell Carter Jr. said the players approached the coaching staff about holding a meeting instead.

"We both agreed upon something, the players and coaches," Carter Jr. said. "We came to them as men, we talked to them and told them how we felt, and they responded very well."

Carter Jr. said a players-only meeting was held first, with the players and coaching staff meeting together afterwards. LaVine and Justin Holiday led the meeting with the coaching staff, though Carter Jr. said every player and coach chimed in.

"I’m glad what we did today and I feel like it was very productive even though we weren’t on the court," he said. "We did some productive things in terms of having a meeting as a team."

"I think it was something that we needed to do and I’m happy with the results of it," LaVine said. "I think we just all needed to get on the same page. We needed to get a lot of stuff off our chest and be real, be transparent."

"This is what I think is necessary today and they felt they needed a voice and talk too," Boylen said. "And that’s cool, that’s good. This is a family thing, this is open lines of communication."

Carter Jr. would not reveal exactly what was said in the two meetings, only revealing that they were productive. He reiterated that the main topic of the meeting centered on the players and coaches being honest with one another about how they felt following Saturday night.

"I feel like everybody was very direct with one another," he explained, "Very honest and everybody told each other how we really, really felt about what happened last night, how we feel about each other in terms of team, how we feel about everybody as a whole."

LaVine said that the players and coaching staff are "100 percent" on the same page following the meeting, while Boylen mentioned there is an adjustment period going on since he was promoted to head coach.

"We’re still learning about each other. I’ve moved over the 18 inches and they’re still learning how I want it," he said. "There’s been a little shock and awe here in the last seven days. And there’s an adjustment to that, and that’s okay."

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