Bulls

Ask Aggrey: What is Jimmy Butler's potential?

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Ask Aggrey: What is Jimmy Butler's potential?

Boston, Chicago feels your pain. The news that Rajon Rondo's knee injury from the Celtics' double-overtime loss Friday to Atlanta, prompting him to miss Sunday afternoon's double-overtime win over Miami in Ray Allen's return to Boston was felt throughout the NBA. But the Bulls, perhaps more than any other team, have to be more sympathetic.

Despite the two teams' recent rivalry, stemming from their historic 2009 first-round playoff series, it's no fun seeing even a despised foe weakened due to a devastating injury, particularly when it's a young, elite-level player viewed as not only the face, but the future of the franchise and the biggest reason for the team's potential success. Seeing Paul Pierce, suddenly now the star now most expected to be dealt by the trade deadline, react so genuinely upon learning Rondo's status after Sunday's big victory and Celtics head coach Doc Rivers defiantly state that he believed his team is still a contender were poignant moments reminiscent of last spring in Chicago.

At least the Bulls had an entire offseason to plan for the current campaign and with a younger roster, no reason to push the panic button due a closing championship window. The Celtics, already on the fringe of the playoff picture, don't even have another point guard, let alone the horses to ensure that they remain in postseason contention.

Boston top executive Danny Ainge was reportedly in the market to make a deal before Rondo got hurt, so observers now believe Pierce, who is only guaranteed 4 million next season, and All-Star Kevin Garnett are trade bait to either start the rebuilding process or, after a summer that saw them lose Allen, but replenish their bench, stay in win-now mode by adding more expensive star power. Either way, as crushing as Derrick's injury was, Bulls fans should be grateful that the organization wasn't faced with a similar dilemma.

On to the mailbag. As usual, I've included a few questions from Twitter.

1. What is Jimmy Butler's ceiling (potential)?

Ryan, I can't come up with a player comparison off the top of my head -- in all honesty, Jimmy reminds me of a player from the '80s or early '90s, in a good way -- but I think he has the upside to be a starting-caliber NBA wing. In fact, on a developing team with less aspirations, I think he could be a starter right now. I believe Jimmy is a 10-year pro, a player who can be a defensive stopper of sorts with eventually enough offense to become a low double-digit scorer. Whether or not that happens in Chicago remains to be seen if he's stuck behind a heavy-minutes All-Star like Lu or doesn't develop the handle and consistent jumper to play shooting guard, but an athletic, high-energy, hard-working, defensive-minded young player always has a chance.

2. With Rose bulking up (upper-body) during his rehabilitation, will this help improve his post-up game or improving while finishing at the basket?

Tirso, without a doubt. I'm not so sure about Derrick's post-up game, simply because we haven't seen much of it yet--both he and Thibs have insisted to me that it's decent--but it's feasible that he could utilize that as he regains his explosiveness. Perhaps if and when he's off the ball and still has a smaller defender on him, Thibs could run some of the stuff the Bulls use when Rip has a mismatch. But finishing around the rim is where the added bulk will really help Derrick, already one of the best in that department.

3. Is there any chance Jimmy Butler starts at shooting guard when Luol Deng returns (or, if Deng returns before Monday), "at any point in the season?"

Mark, I highly doubt it. Thibs seems to view Jimmy as more of a pure small forward, which might be a nod to having at least one designated outside shooter in the lineup. Barring injury, it's extremely unlikely that Thibs pulls Rip from the starting lineup (anybody remember Keith Bogans?), regardless of his minutes. Also, after Marco's performance as a starter when Rip was out in December, he's definitely the next man up, as Thibs likes to say. Now, I do think Thibs will be more comfortable pairing Lu and Jimmy on the wing for size and defensive purposes when the time comes, if only to steal some minutes from Jimmy when Lu gets back to his 40 or so minutes a night.

4. Do you foresee the Bulls playing an international game anytime soon?

Johnny, I wouldn't be shocked if the Bulls played in Paris or even visited London again, due to the respective presences of Jo and Lu, and with Derrick's popularity, they'd be a draw just about anywhere, especially if they make a playoff run this postseason. But you never know and sometimes the NBA's choice of teams to play overseas--for instance, low-profile Detroit, which recently played appropriately chosen New York in London--can be a head-scratcher. However, the Bulls have as good, if not better of a chance as any team, unless the league thinks their 2009 game wasn't long enough ago.

5. Can the Bulls survive as a team without much outside shooting, or will it catch up to them?

Alex, if by "survive," you mean make the playoffs, at least contend for home-court advantage in the first round and depending on matchups, potentially advance, then yes, I think the Bulls can survive, despite not having much outside shooting. But I do think they fall short of being a true title contender -- I can't project how much Derrick's eventual return helps them until he's back on the court -- for a few reasons. One of those is outside shooting, though the Bulls do have a knack for making timely perimeter shots in the clutch. More significant to me on offense, is their lack of ability, besides Nate, to create off the dribble, which is something Derrick could address. But before I'm accused of expecting him to be the savior, the Bulls suffered from periodic offensive droughts, even when he was in MVP form. In case you're curious, my other concern is additional depth at center.

6. If the Bulls could select one role player (non superstar) to add to their roster to improve the team, who would you choose?

Zach, there's a giant gulf between role players and non-superstars, in my opinion -- and what about superstar role players, like Nicolas Batum, not to mention players who aren't quite stars, but can't be called role players, such as Danny Granger? -- but I get your drift. It would depend on what one prioritizes and while familiar names like O.J. Mayo and Tyreke Evans could be tossed around, I might go with a guy like J.J. Redick, who obviously is one of the league's best shooters, but also an underrated playmaker and solid team defender, as well as having a seemingly perfect game to mesh with a healthy Derrick's drive-and-kick ability.

7. Who is the biggest bargain in the NBA right now?

Anthony, besides the aforementioned Pierce because of the circumstances discussed above, I'd say Kyle Lowry. Toronto's major offseason acquisition has struggled with injuries, lost his short-lived starting point-guard role -- to incumbent floor general Jose Calderon, who at the outset of this campaign, many observers believed would be traded this season -- and is apparently being blamed for the Raptors' early-season chemistry woes. Regardless of whether he's eventually packaged with currently-sidelined big man Andrea Bargnani or not, Toronto has been consistently rumored to be in the market for a trade and with Raptors top executive Bryan Colangelo in a contract year, it's logical that the hard-playing Lowry, equipped with a palatable deal and on a underperforming team with the luxury of two starting-caliber point guards, finishes the season in the States.

8. Where does Kirk fit when Rose comes back? Rose, Nate, Marco, Butler and Deng should manage the 1-3 spots. What will the Bulls rotation be when D Rose is at full strength?

I figured I'd combine both of these questions, via Twitter from @RAndresLucas and @kdog0126, respectively. Starting with the first question, let's not forget the current starters at guard: Rip and Kirk. If I had to predict an odd man out when Derrick returns, I'd expect it to be Nate. If everyone is healthy, I wouldn't be surprised if he logs a DNP or two. Although Derrick won't be his old self right away, he is, like Nate, a scoring point guard, only bigger, a superior playmaker and a better defender.

I see Nate being used more situationally, with Kirk as Derrick's primary backup, as well as occasionally playing alongside him, likely stealing minutes from Marco and relegating Jimmy to strictly backing up Lu or playing next to him in the odd small-ball set. Besides Lu and obviously the bigs, I think Rip's playing time will be the least impacted by Derrick's return, while Kirk will benefit by getting some much-deserved rest, defending more shooting guards and going against second-unit players instead of the gauntlet of starters at arguably the league's most talented position.

9. I know given his play you might disagree, but I think NOW may be the perfect time to move Carlos. Think I'm crazy?

@BearDownPete22, in theory, you're correct, in that Carlos' value is higher due to his recent stretch and though other teams are still wary of his contract, I can't call you crazy. But I'd disagree that this is the time to trade him, just because of how the Bulls are playing. There's no substitute for chemistry and when Derrick returns, having the handful of guys he's used to playing with will be key for his adjustment and maintaining playoff positioning for this postseason, as well as a potential run next year. Carlos is clearly a primary scorer and facilitator, things that won't change for the foreseeable future, but even if the Bulls were determined to move him, it's unlikely that they'd receive anything close to equal value, at least not without taking back a similar contract.

10. @Ewalz32: How does Stephen Curry not make the All-Star Game roster?

Disregarding his rough outing Friday night in Chicago, Curry is certainly having a season worthy of an All-Star appearance, but timing is everything. Golden State is one of the league's surprise team, but the Warriors are in the West, not the underachieving East, so it's tough to say they deserve two All-Stars. Maybe David Lee is a borderline pick, but Curry's not having a better season than James Harden, Russell Westbrook plays for the conference-leading Thunder, who warrant multiple selections, and the final reserve guard named ahead of him, Tony Parker, is the best player on a better team. Curry can be considered a snub, but not on the historic level many are making it out to be.

Scottie Pippen's injury history sheds light on what could be ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

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USA TODAY

Scottie Pippen's injury history sheds light on what could be ahead for Michael Porter Jr.

By now you probably know the story of Michael Porter Jr.'s back. Right as his college basketball career was starting—two minutes in to be exact—he had to sit out with back pain, which eventually developed into Porter undergoing a microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs. The general consensus has been simple: if Porter's medicals are clean then he is a potential top-five pick, but if there is a lack of medical information or any indication that lingering issues persist, he will be available at picks six through the late lottery. Regardless of how his medical records look, what we do know is that Porter was the top-ranked player in his high school class before the eventual re-classification of Marvin Bagley. With this in mind, any team in need of serious star power—hello Bulls!—should have no problems spending a high pick on Porter, and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen is a big reason why.

In July of 1988, Pippen has disc surgery following a rookie season that was plagued by constant back pain. During that rookie season Pippen played just over 20 minutes a night and played in a total of 79 games.

While the late 80's didn't have the help of NBA Twitter to breathe doubt into fans, there was still a running sentiment that Pippen may not be effective as he was during his initial NBA season. But in his sophomore NBA year, he almost doubled his scoring total while raising his free throw percentage from 57.6 percent to 66.8 percent. On top of this, Pippen also increased his workload by playing 33.1 minutes per game. Altogether he increased his field goal and free throw percentage each of his first four seasons in the league, all following his rookie year back surgery.

This however, should not come as a shock. In an interview with SB Nation, Dr. Charla Fischer, a spine surgeon at NYU Langone Health, stated: "Most patients tell me they feel at least 50 to 80 percent better immediately after the surgery." 

Players typically take two seasons to return to form following herniated disc surgery, and that is right in line with Pippen's first All-Star appearance in 1990, about one and a half seasons following his procedure. When you relate this back to Porter, a clearer picture of what to expect forms. Because Porter has already missed an entire season of basketball (at Missouri), it figures to take about a year for him to totally regain the explosivness that he showcased at the high school level. 

Pippen averaged 14.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.1 apg, along with a combined 1.9 stl/blks per game in the season following his back procedure. Now it would be unreasonable to expect Porter to come into the NBA performing at that level, but more so because of his lack of all-around polish more than anything else. And that is what makes Porter such a conundrum. He is a player whose game—as of now—is totally based on scoring, and his scoring is directly tied to how close he is to 100 percent. So again, developing the rest of his game in terms of passing and defense will take on everlasting importance, regardless of if he ends up with Chicago or another team. 

And while it is true that Pippen's injury history eventually caught up with him, leading to another back surgery in 1998, this was six NBA championships later. Pip went on to play six more seasons following his 1998 procedure. This included four seasons with Portland where the team routinely won around 50 games, and had a legendary battle with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals.

So no matter what, Porter's first year should be looked at as one very, very long training camp. He will be in the best position to succeed if he is selected by a team willing to look at him as a long-term piece, rather than a 6-foot, 11-inch savior.

 

NBA Buzz: Draft night is almost here

NBA Buzz: Draft night is almost here

With a number of national writers and broadcasters forecasting an active trade market in the hours leading up to Thursday's NBA Draft, the whole idea of a mock draft might just be an exercise in futility at this point. Still, we have learned quite a bit about which players are coveted by teams drafting in the top five after sorting through the smokescreens of the individual workouts.

So, with that in mind, here's my final stab at how Thursday's lottery  picks could play out.

1. Suns: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona.  An absolute no-brainer here. Ayton combines the size and power of an old school center with the athleticism and shooting touch of a new-age "stretch five".

2. Kings: Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke.  Vlade Divac shouldn't risk his good fortune at moving up to the No. 2 slot by taking a risk on Michael Porter Jr.'s health. Remember the Kings already have a rehabbing teenager in one of their first round picks from last season, Duke F Harry Giles. Bagley should be a 20-10 guy in the NBA for the next decade.

3. Hawks: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF-C, Michigan St.  This will be the first spot to look for a possible trade. The Hawks reportedly like Trae Young and might consider offers to move down and draft him later in the top 10. If they stay at No. 3, Jackson offers the rim protection and 3-point shooting ability Atlanta desperately needs.

4. Grizzlies: Luka Doncic, G-SF, Slovenia.  The Grizzlies should run to the podium if Doncic is still on the board at No. 4. The 19-year old wunderkind gives Memphis a secondary shot creator to go along with Mike Conley.

5. Mavericks: Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri.  Mark Cuban is looking for his next big star with Dirk Nowitzki entering what is most likely his final season. The Mavs reportedly are also high on Mo Bamba, but Porter's potential as a 20 ppg scorer will probably win the discussion in the war room.

6. Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma.  Good chance of another trade at this spot involving a team that really likes Bamba. Orlando could move down a few spots and still get one of the three top-rated PG's, Young, Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If the Magic stay at No. 6, Young's quick-strike scoring and box office potential are likely to win the day.

7. BULLS: Mo Bamba, C, Texas.  Yes, John Paxson said the Bulls’ biggest need is a defensive-minded wing, but Bamba's ability to dominate at that end of the court is too great to pass up. Bamba is incredibly raw offensively, but he's been working on his low post skills and shooting form since the college season ended. The Bulls were not a good defensive team last season, and adding a shot-blocking threat like Bamba should improve them immediately.

8. Cavs: Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky.  Knox is one of the big risers after the individual workout season, impressing teams with his combination of athleticism and shooting ability. Knox can play both forward spots and could develop into a big-time scorer, replacing you-know-who as the Cavs start to build for an uncertain future.

9. Knicks: Wendell Carter Jr., PF-C, Duke.  The Knicks will be thrilled to add a versatile big like Carter, especially considering Kristaps Porzingis could miss most or all of next season rehabbing an ACL tear. Eventually, Porzingis and Carter could form a nice inside-outside tandem as the Knicks try to build toward playoff contention.

10. 76ers: Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova.  Another perfect fit for a team on the rise. Bridges' defense-first mentality and improving offensive game should blend in well on a Sixers team that's looking to take the next step after losing to Boston in the conference semi-finals. And, his mom already works for the franchise in the human relations department!

11. Hornets: Miles Bridges, F, Michigan St.  Charlotte whiffed on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the 2nd overall pick a few years ago, and Nic Batum has battled injuries since coming over from Portland. Miles Bridges is another combo forward who should thrive in the pro game with his ability to run the court and finish with authority at the rim.

12. Clippers: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama.  The Clippers will be thrilled if Sexton falls this far, giving them a dynamic young option at point guard to go along with veterans Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic. Sexton could go as high as No. 6 to Orlando or No. 8 to the Cavs. He'll be one of the interesting names to watch on draft night.

13. Clippers: Robert Williams, PF-C, Texas A&M.  The Clippers are still waiting to see if DeAndre Jordan exercises his player option for next season, but if he decides to test the free agent market, Williams would be a perfect replacement. The athletic 6-foot 10-inch big man is a classic rim runner who should be able to finish off alley-oop passes just like Jordan.

14. Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, Kentucky.  Don't be surprised if Gilgeous-Alexander goes even higher than this after a strong finish to his freshman season. Scouts love his 6-foot 6-inch frame and ability to get to the basket. In Denver, he could come off the bench initially behind young guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.

22. BULLS: Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise St.  So, the Bulls may or may not have made a "promise" to select Hutchison with the No. 22 pick they acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade with New Orleans. Either way, if the Bulls get Bamba at No. 7, Hutchison would be a great addition as the "3-and-D" small forward Paxson talked about in his end of the season news conference. The 6-foot 7-inch swingman improved his 3-point shooting during his senior season at Boise St., and is considered to be an excellent wing defender. Personally, I'd love to see to Bulls draft NCAA tournament hero Donte DiVincenzo of Villanova if he's still on the board at No. 22. 

Around the Association:

While we wait for the draft drama to unfold, NBA Twitter has already been taken over by speculation over where the next super team will be formed. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have been plotting for over a year on how to restore the Lakers' franchise to its past glory, and it looks like they'll be swinging for the fences this summer.

If the Lakers are able to find a taker for Luol Deng's contract or renounce the rights to restricted free agent Julius Randle, they should be able to create two max contract slots once the free agent market opens for business on July 1st. The obvious targets are LeBron James and Paul George, but Magic doesn't plan on stopping there. He's hoping to find a way to convince the Spurs to trade unhappy All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard to the Lakers as well, giving L.A. a super-team that will rival what James put together in Miami.

The Lakers have the assets to get a Leonard trade done with draft picks and young players on rookie contracts (Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart), but would Gregg Popovich actually make a deal with one of his long-time rivals? 

You can bet Pop will do everything he can to convince Leonard to accept a five-year, $219 million super max contract extension this summer and spend his prime years in San Antonio. But if that face-to-face meeting goes sour, Pop will make the deal that's best for the Spurs, preferably to an Eastern conference team he'll only have to face twice a season.

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Initial reports out of Houston indicate that free agent point guard Chris Paul plans to re-sign with the Rockets and will do everything in his power to recruit good friend LeBron James. Problem is, Houston has no cap space, so they would have to get the Cavaliers to agree to a trade. And in order to make the money work, the Rockets would want to include high-salaried players like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, neither of which would hold much interest for Cleveland with the team in rebuild mode.

Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey is one of the league's most creative executives, but trying to find a way to fit James into his bloated payroll will be the biggest challenge he's ever faced. Morey also has to deal with the restricted free agency of breakout center Clint Capela, who could draw a big offer sheet from another team.

Chris Paul and LeBron might be good friends, but the logistics could make it next to impossible to join forces in Houston.