Bulls

20 in 20: The NBA's top 10 men in the middle

20 in 20: The NBA's top 10 men in the middle

Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010
7:45 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.
12. Who are the top 10 centers in the league?

1. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (2009-10 season averages: 18.3 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 61.2 field-goal percentage in 82 games): The two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, last season's league leader in rebounds, blocked shots and field-goal percentage, a freak athlete, almost as durable as Cal Ripken and still not even 25 years old--scary.

2. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks (2009-10 season averages: 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 52.0 field-goal percentage in 69 games): Before a gruesome injury ended his season prior to the postseason, Bogut, perhaps motivated by an All-Star snub, was the biggest factor in Milwaukee's surprising surge, and with an upgraded supporting cast around him, the Aussie and former top overall draft pick's strong all-around game should no longer fly under the radar.

3. Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Clippers (2009-10 season averages: 18.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 49.0 field-goal percentage in 76 games): The next few players on this list could almost be placed in any particular order, but Kaman's underrated consistency gives him the nod, as he possesses terrific versatility on offense and is a big factor on the boards.

4. Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers (2009-10 season averages: 15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 57.0 field-goal percentage in 65 games): Bynum's injury concerns continue to be a persistent issue, but when the 22-year-old is healthy, his defensive presence, size and ever-improving offense make him one of the more effective true big men in the game, especially paired with teammate Pau Gasol.

5. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls (2009-10 season averages: 10.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 50.4 field-goal percentage in 64 games): His abilities have been covered in this space enough, but look for him to make a move up this list by the end of the season, assuming he can stay healthy and his offseason offensive work pays off as expected.

6. Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets (2009-10 season averages: 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 49.9 field-goal percentage in 82 games): One of the lone bright spots in the Nets' dismal campaign last season, Lopez is one of the best young bigs in the league, and with the additions of veteran Troy Murphy and rookie Derrick Favors, he should receive less defensive attention, freeing him up to better utilize his polished offensive game.

7. Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks (2009-10 season averages: 14.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 55.1 field-goal percentage in 81 games): It may seem strange to see Horford, coming off his first All-Star berth, so far down this list, but that's a credit to the much-improved recent play of NBA centers, as the undersized Hawks' high-energy game, consistent work on the glass and developing offense are key to Atlanta's success, even if he might be better suited to play power forward.

8. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets (2008-09 season averages: 19.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 54.8 field-goal percentage in 77 games; missed entire 2009-10 season with injury): Obviously Yao would be at or near the top of the heap if he wasn't coming off such a major injury, but even with the pre-imposed half-game minutes-limitation set by the Rockets before the season, expect to see flashes of his old abilities on occasion.

9. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (2009-10 season averages: 14.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 58.1 field-goal percentage in 69 games): If there were more touches available on the Grizzlies or he was in a situation where he wasn't paired with another low-post scorer (Zach Randolph), the "other" Gasol would be higher on this list, as his fundamentally-sound (albeit ground-bound) offensive game, surprising finesse and tough rebounding are weapons the majority of teams in the league would love to have.

10. Greg Oden, Portland Trailblazers (2009-10 season averages: 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 60.5 field-goal percentage in 21 games): Considered a bust by those who don't observe him closely, before he was hurt last season, Oden figured out a niche for himself--on a team that only requires that he play a limited role in the first place--as a dominant defensive presence, efficient in-close scorer and effective rebounder.

Next 10 (in alphabetical order):

Marcus Camby, Portland Trailblazers: Assuming Oden is healthy all season--a big if--the seemingly ageless Camby will be a backup, but regardless of his role, he continues to be one of the league's more effective defenders and rebounders year after year.

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: Cousins possesses the versatility to also play forward, but since his size will likely dictate center being his long-term position, it's easier to project him there, where his combination of power and finesse should make an immediate impact.
Samuel Dalembert, Sacramento Kings: Although the aforementioned Cousins will see minutes in the pivot, Dalembert was acquired to contribute his solid shot-blocking and rebounding abilities to the present, not future version of the young and talented Kings.

Brendan Haywood, Dallas Mavericks: Haywood, projected to begin the season as Dallas' starter after signing an offseason extension--the brittle nature of probable backup and FIBA World Championships gold medalist Tyson Chandler prevents him from making the cut--was regarded as an underachiever early in his career, but has settled into a niche as a big-bodied, solid rebounding presence, with more than adequate abilities on both ends.

Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers: The Georgetown product continues to make progress each season and while his team's misfortunes have kept him off the radar, he's quietly developing into a quite promising young big man.

JaVale McGee, Washington Wizards: A Chicago native, the still-raw and freaky-athletic McGee has as much potential as any center in the league.

Nene, Denver Nuggets: Vastly underrated by many, the Brazilian big man is tough in all facets of the game, but nagging injuries have kept him from taking the next step.

Emeka Okafor, New Orleans Hornets: The former Rookie of the Year, coming off the worst season of his career, may not be dominant, but when free from health concerns, is more than serviceable at his position, if undersized.
Mehmet Okur, Utah Jazz: Okur--who surely would have helped the Turkish national team this summer--will be sidelined for at least the early portion of the season, and while new Jazz acquisition Al Jefferson will cut into his minutes, his uncanny outside range makes him an offensive mismatch.

Kendrick Perkins, Boston Celtics: Another player who will miss time to begin the season--the veteran O'Neals, Jermaine and Shaquille, will attempt to hold down the fort in his absence--Perkins isn't flashy or incredibly gifted offensively, but his physicality, rebounding presence and defensive acumen are a big part of why the aging Celtics have maintained their level of excellence.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Ryan Hollins says Golden State Warriors would "run laps" around the '96 Bulls

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Ryan Hollins says Golden State Warriors would "run laps" around the '96 Bulls

Former NBA journeyman Ryan Hollins made waves on Tuesday, stating that Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan couldn’t “fill LeBron’s shoes”. Hollins argues that LeBron James cemented himself as the greatest player of all-time with his impact on multiple franchises and his knocking off of the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. 

Hollins doubled down on his argument, saying that the Golden State Warriors would “run laps around that Bulls team”. Shaquille O’Neal brings up the valuable point that whichever team has the upper hand would depend a lot on what rules they played on, the more physical 1990s rules or the more finesses-based and offensive-oriented current rule set. Hollins believes that the Warriors would defeat the 90s Bulls regardless of what rules they played under, and O’Neal simply could not believe it.

“Whoever’s paying him to say all this stuff, I will pay you double to stop it,” said a bewildered Shaq. He knows a thing or two about playing against the 90s Bulls, as he was a key member of the Orlando Magic team that knocked off MJ’s Bulls in six games in the 1994-95 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With All-NBA level talent Anthony Davis now headed to LeBron’s team, we could be seeing James back in the NBA title picture sooner than later. A return to the NBA Finals stage would add even more layers to the already complex, never-ending back-and-forth over who the true GOAT is in NBA history.

NBA Buzz: Expect a lot of movement at the start of Thursday's NBA Draft

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

NBA Buzz: Expect a lot of movement at the start of Thursday's NBA Draft

As we get closer to the New Orleans Pelicans going on the clock with the 1st pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, rumors are flying all over the basketball universe. All of a sudden, it seems like a handful of teams are trying to trade up to draft Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, even though he only played five games as a freshman before season-ending meniscus injury. Remember, Kyrie Irving only played 11 games at Duke because of injury and still wound up being the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland back in 2011.

The Knicks are planning to work out Garland on Wednesday, but it’s not believed they would take him over high-scoring Duke swingman R.J. Barrett with the 3rd overall pick. Apparently, the Knicks are just doing their due diligence in case they get an overwhelming offer to trade down. With that said, don’t be surprised if we see at least a couple trades involving the top 10 picks on draft night.

Here’s my final mock draft looking at what could happen in the lottery on Thursday.

  1. PELICANS-Zion Williamson, F, Duke.  No surprises here. New Orleans gets its franchise player to start a new era under Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin. Griffin is an extremely bright executive who made an excellent trade with the Lakers over the weekend, getting maximum value for unhappy star Anthony Davis.

  2. GRIZZLIES-Ja Morant, PG, Murray St.  Memphis also in rebuild mode after dealing Marc Gasol to Toronto at the deadline, with Mike Conley also likely to be traded this summer. Morant is the perfect player to build around with his play-making ability and charisma.

  3. KNICKS-R.J. Barrett, SG-SF, Duke.   The Knicks are holding a last-minute workout with Darius Garland, but that could just be to try to drive up better trade offers. Barrett’s scoring ability is a perfect fit for a team that desperately needs more scoring at the wing spots.

  4. HAWKS (trade w/New Orleans) -Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech. Armed with 3 first round picks, the Hawks cash in No. 8 and No. 10 to acquire a perfect backcourt complement for last season’s rookie sensation Trae Young. If New Orleans decides to keep the pick, I still think Culver goes here.

  5. BULLS   (from Cavs)-Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt.  Bulls trade the 7th pick and a top 5 protected 2020 1st rounder to Cavs to acquire their point guard of the future. According to multiple reports, the Bulls have traveled to Los Angeles to watch Garland in a private workout, and they’ve been high on his potential since early in the college season. John Paxson is looking to make the team playoff relevant again, and acquiring Garland gives the Bulls a dynamic, young starting line-up with the chance to add a couple of quality veterans to strengthen the bench and the locker room in free agency.

  6. SUNS-Coby White, PG, North Carolina.  Phoenix also in desperate need of a point guard to run their young team. White’s speed and scoring ability should open things up for shooting star Devin Booker, and also set up screen and roll opportunities with last year’s No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.

  7. CAVS-Cam Reddish, F, Duke.   Since the Cavs just drafted point guard Collin Sexton last season, moving down 2 spots to get the player they want anyway is a perfect trade scenario. Some scouts believe Reddish has the most star potential outside of the top 3, and he can step right into the starting small forward spot once held by Northeast Ohio’s favorite son LeBron James.

  8. PELICANS-Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas.  After trading Davis to Lakers, New Orleans has a major need to solidify the post position. Hayes is only 19 with excellent potential as a rim runner and shot blocker, ala Houston’s Clint Capela. The Pelicans will have to be patient with Hayes’ development, but he could eventually be a good fit playing alongside Zion and Brandon Ingram.

  9. WIZARDS-De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia.  Washington will be thrilled to see Hunter fall this far. The Wizards are likely to lose both Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker in free agency, so they’ll need some reinforcements on the frontline. Hunter shot 52 percent from the field and 44 percent from the college 3-point line in leading Virginia to the national championship this past season. He should start immediately on a Washington team that will likely be without star guard John Wall for most of the 2019-20 season while he rehabs from an Achilles injury.

  10. ROCKETS (from Pelicans) -Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga. Griffin probably doesn’t want to make three top 10 picks in a shallow draft, so he’ll send this selection to Houston for a future first-round selection. Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey is desperate to re-tool his roster after coming up short against the Warriors for the second straight season. Hachimura is a highly skilled power forward who will give Houston some needed scoring punch on the frontline.

  11. TIMBERWOLVES-Sekou Doumbouya, F, France.  Minnesota needs some frontline help with the likelihood of losing former Bull Taj Gibson in free agency. Doumbouya came on strong late in his European season and scouts like his potential as a 6-foot-9  athlete with a smooth stroke from 3-point range.

  12. HORNETS-Kevin Porter, Jr., SG, USC.   With the possibility of high-scoring Kemba Walker and shooting guard Jeremy Lamb leaving in free agency, the Hornets need some help in the backcourt. Porter is a dynamic athlete who could develop into a go-to scorer at the NBA level.

  13. HEAT-Keldon Johnson, SG-SF, Kentucky.  Johnson is moving up draft boards with strong showings in individual team workouts. Miami will be looking to replace the wing scoring they lost with Dwyane Wade’s retirement, and they’re also looking to trade oft-injured shooting guard Dion Waiters.

  14. CELTICS (from Sacramento)-Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana.  With the likely departure of All-Star guard Kyrie Irving in free agency, Boston will need to add some backcourt scoring to go along with young wing players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Langford shot poorly in his one season at Indiana, but he played most of the year with a torn ligament in his right thumb. He began the college season as a likely top 10 pick.

Purdue Carsen Edwards hoping to crack the first round 

The Bulls also currently hold the No. 38 overall pick, which they acquired from Memphis in the Justin Holiday trade. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls trade the pick or use it on a European prospect who might not come to the league for a couple of years like forwards Luka Samanic or Deividas Sirvydis. They also could take a chance on Missouri big man Jontay Porter (Michael Porter’s brother), who might not play next season after suffering a second ACL tear. Another possibility is a first round talent falling into the second round like Purdue’s high-scoring guard Carsen Edwards.

Edwards led the Boilermakers to the NCAA’s Elite 8, putting up a pair of 42-point games against Villanova and eventual national champion Virginia. "Every game we won I enjoyed it, you know, moving on. I was just happy to be able to play the next game. Kind of enjoying it, staying in the moment, but then also getting ready for the next game. I enjoyed it with my teammates because it wasn't just me who won all those games and got us on the run that we had. I feel that we enjoyed it and for the most part we did it as a collective team."

For the season, the 6-foot-1 guard averaged 24.3 points per game, reminding some scouts of former Bull Ben Gordon with his quick-strike scoring ability. His size would suggest playing point guard in the NBA, but like Gordon, Edwards is really an undersized shooting guard. Still, he’s willing to shift to a facilitator role if needed. "I just want to do whatever a team needs from me. They want me to prove that, which I'm working hard just to be able to be ready for that. But at the same time, Coach (Matt) Painter didn't tell me that's the role I need to play, so it's hard for me to prove that when I need to score the ball for my team to win. At the end of the day, I was trying to do what's best for my team. If they want me to be a point guard and run the offense, then that's what I'm prepared to do."

Until his scoring explosion in the NCAA tournament, Edwards was projected to be a second-round pick in this draft, but given the success of smaller scoring guards in the league like Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, and Damian Lillard, he could hear his name called somewhere in the 20s on Thursday. Still, Edwards isn’t wasting any time focusing on mock drafts.

"We'll see. There's a strategy we have for it, but for the most part, I'm trying not to focus on that. Honestly, I truly try not to look at those things. I just try to stay motivated by myself and do what I need to do. My agency has a strategy for me, and I just kind of work and follow after that."

Would the Bulls consider Edwards if he falls to 38? A lot depends on who they select in the first round and which players they plan to target when the free agent market opens at 5 p.m. on June 30. But the NBA has become a perimeter-based league--with 3-point shooting at a premium--so a player like Edwards figures to have a lot of value. Matter of fact, don’t be surprised if the Golden State Warriors pick him at 28 after losing Klay Thompson for most or all of next season due to an ACL injury.

The Big Ten won’t be getting a lot of attention in this year’s draft with only Romeo Langford and possibly Edwards expected to go in Round 1, but the Purdue star isn’t lacking confidence. After leading the Boilermakers within an overtime loss of reaching the Final 4, he plans of earning rotation minutes as a rookie for whichever team drafts him Thursday night.