Bulls

Arizona's Stanley Johnson pitching versatility to NBA teams

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Arizona's Stanley Johnson pitching versatility to NBA teams

Versatility.

It's a trait that was pitched by many at the NBA Draft Combine, as all players want to show they can do whatever it takes to land a spot on an NBA roster.

But for Stanley Johnson, it's a point he really wanted to hammer home.

“I can start a game at the 3, 2 or the 4. I can be a primary ballhandler, as well. I think that’s one of my traits: I can move all over the court, I’m comfortable at four positions on the court, I’m comfortable at a lot of positions on the court," Johnson said. "So for me, that’s ideal.

“I can switch on to four different positions, and that would be fairly simple for me. I’m a big, strong kid that can move his feet.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: NBA Draft Profile: Arizona F Stanley Johnson]

It might sound a little boastful, but Johnson has plenty to boast about. The one-and-done from Arizona made quite the name for himself playing high school ball in Southern California. He arrived in Tucson looking every bit the athletic specimen he was projected to be and checks into the NBA Draft at 6-foot-7 and 242 pounds. And his play spoke for itself, as he was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year after a spectacular season with the Pac-12 champs, a team that reached the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.

And though he was surrounded by plenty of other talent on one of the country's best teams, he's trying to prove to future employers that he can do it all.

“I offer versatility," he said at the NBA Draft Combine. "I can score from all three levels pretty well. I can be a primary ballhandler in the pick and roll or any two-man game situation. And on defense I’m going to play hard, I’m going to play smart and I’m a nasty competitor. I don’t think there’s many guys out there that want to win and want to compete as much as I do, and I’ll definitely bring that to a locker room in the NBA.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Terps' Dez Wells looking to do 'something special' in NBA]

Johnson is just 19 years old, though he's expected by many to be a top-10 pick in this month's draft. Plenty of one-and-dones have traveled a similar path, and Johnson — who clearly had little trouble with the transition from high school to college — doesn't expect any trouble with the jump to the next step, even though he'll be going from high school to college to professional basketball in just more than a year.

“High school to college was learning how to play, learning the mental game, learning the game of college basketball and letting your talent take over after that," Johnson said. "I would imagine it’d be the same thing in the NBA: learning how to play in the NBA first, the right ways to do stuff and letting your talent take over after that.”

While it might seem like a quick jump from high school to the NBA, not enough time in college for anything to really sink in, Johnson asserts that's not the case. Though he was only on campus for a few months, he said that he learned a lot from Sean Miller.

“I think we had a lot of guys. We had a mix of everything. We had older guys, younger guys, really talented guys and not-as-talented guys. We had guys that had more on the line than other people, and we had leaders on the team, as well. So that’s the main thing that happened at Arizona," Johnson said. "Arizona was probably the best year of my life. I learned a lot from Arizona, from coach Miller and his staff, the players. And the teammates are truly my brothers now. I think it taught me everything about myself, and now I can police myself, which I couldn’t say before I got to Arizona. I can really police myself. Without coach Miller being hard on me and doing what he’s supposed to do, I wouldn’t be able to do what I can today.”

Shaquille Harrison could improve the efficiency of Bulls bottom five defense

Shaquille Harrison could improve the efficiency of Bulls bottom five defense

The Phoenix Suns released guard Shaquille Harrison last week, and although it is not a move that will send shockwaves through the league, the Bulls picking up Harrison could be the exact type of move to help solve what ails them.

At 6-foot, 4-inches and with a long wingspan, Harrison would step in and likely be at least the second-best perimeter defender on the team behind Kris Dunn. And he is the type of player, when combined with a talent like Wendell Carter Jr. and/or Dunn, could help form the type of lineup that could have a transformative effect on the overall team defense.

Last season Harrison had a defensive rating of 109, this despite the fact that the Sun—as a team—had a defensive rating of 113.51, over four points worse than when Harrison was on the floor.

His best skill is his ability to “get skinny” around a screener, meaning that on defense, Harrison is adept at angling his body to get around players trying to screen him off his man:


The Bulls need more players who show Harrison’s effort level when navigating screens on defense, not just because it will make life easier on their rim protectors, but because they also need to make sure they continue adding players who lead by example on that end of the floor. A team as young as the Bulls needs to collect young talent who pride themselves on defense, and Harrison fits the part.

When it comes to offense, Harrison doesn’t have the most impressive profile, but his play on that end of the floor is similar to former Bull David Nwaba. Harrison is not even an average 3-point shooter  (23.1 percent from 3-point range), but he makes up for it in other ways.

His rebounding is an area of strength, and fitting in with his preference to bring physicality to his matchup, he is adept at getting to the free throw line.

Last year Harrison’s 30.6 percent free throw attempt rate would’ve been a top-five mark on the Bulls. But his low usage rate (18 percent) will likely be lower in Chicago, so the free throw numbers may fall. But with so many score-first players on the roster, Harrison will still be able to crash the glass against the many guards who forget to box out their man.

Offensive rebounding will be less of a focus for a Bulls team that wants to preach getting back on transition defense, but Harrison gives Fred Hoiberg a special player that can do both. Harrison will run back on defense to help create the “shell” that the best teams create to cut off easy forays to the rim, and then when his team gets the ball back and is on the fastbreak, he brings value as the “trailer” (trailing man on a fastbreak) even without shooting ability:

This signing could end up being a big one for the Bulls, however small it may seem now.

Around the league, more and more teams are starting to invest resources in multiple ball-handler offenses that negate the differences between point guard and shooting guard, making versatile back court defenders a must.

This will be evident when the Bulls take on the Dallas Mavericks in game No. 3 of the regular season, as Rick Carlisle's Mavericks feature Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic in an explosive offense that doesn't have a defined "lead" guard.

The Bulls will continue to attempt to curtail offense with a high-scoring back court duo when they take on the Charlotte Hornets in a back-to-back on October 26 and 27. If Harrison is worked into the rotation by then, expect to see Harrison and Dunn on the floor together to match up with Doncic and Smith respectively, but have the flexibility to switch defensive assignments on the fly. If Chicago's perimeter defense starts to offer significantly more resistance, it will allow quicker improvement from Carter and the rest of the Bulls bigs on the interior.

With Zach LaVine currently in the top-five in the NBA in points per game, Dunn returning and Lauri Markkanen getting healthy, the Bulls front office is slowly approaching the point where their team has enough players who are considered possible focal points of an offense.

To become a championship contender, you need to have that one player who is unequivocally a superstar capable of a heavy workload, and only time will tell if the Bulls already have that player or need to acquire him. But the other important factor in building a championship roster is having the elite-level role players who do the little things that make life easier for their teammates in all phases of the game, and Shaq Harrison is excellent prospect who fits that exact mold.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.