Bulls

Is Buckeyes' D'Angelo Russell the best player in the NBA Draft?

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Is Buckeyes' D'Angelo Russell the best player in the NBA Draft?

At last month’s NBA Draft Combine, someone asked D’Angelo Russell why an NBA team should draft him.

“I’m the best player in the draft.”

Pretty good reasoning.

Russell is expected to go within the first few picks in Thursday night’s draft not long after wrapping his lone season of college ball at Ohio State. He might not be the No. 1 overall pick, but that doesn’t mean his expectations won’t be high wherever he lands.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: NBA Draft Profile: Ohio State G D'Angelo Russell]

There’s plenty of debate to be had over whether or not Russell is right, if he is the best player in this year’s NBA Draft. Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl Anthony Towns surely have some supporters in that argument. But those who watched Russell all season know he can back that statement up.

There were the 20-point nights, the 30-point nights, the 3-point barrages, the stuffed stat sheets and the highlight-reel passes that threaded the smallest of needles. Russell, perhaps more than anyone — even the two guys mentioned above — looked like an NBA player playing against college kids.

And it’s not like that competition was soft, either. We’re talking about the Big Ten, and most notably a pair of guys who will hear their names called not long after Russell’s on Thursday night in Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. That loaded Wisconsin team was the national runner up. Another frequent Russell foe, Michigan State, shared the Final Four stage with Wisconsin.

The Big Ten always has a reputation as a heavy-hitting conference, and Russell acknowledged as much, saying that physicality helped prepare him for the pro level, even if he spent just one year in the league.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Spartans' Branden Dawson switching positions in quest for NBA future]

“It prepared me physically, the most. Physically and mentally, but physically the most because it’s a tough league,” Russell said. “If you’re a guy that’s not prepared to get banged up every night, it’s not good for you.

“It’s not the NBA, but it’s almost there. The skill, you never know what you’re going to get every night. The coaches, they’re trained to prepare the players, like myself, every night. You have to adjust, it’s an adjustment at the age of 18, 19 years old.”

Yes, Russell was a youngster, running away with the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year award and landing a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team as well as numerous national All-American teams.

But now just a little more than a calendar year removed from his high school graduation, no one is doubting that Russell is ready for the NBA. That hype traveled with him all season long. And whenever he landed in the highlight shows for his latest feat or spotted Knicks president Phil Jackson in Columbus watching him play, it was sometimes hard to remember he was just a freshman.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Excitement builds over Sam Dekker's NBA potential]

The way he speaks and carries himself makes you forget that, too. He oozes confidence, and his goals are lofty. When asked his best attribute, he answered: “my IQ.”

“I try to be the smartest player, and I feel that’ll definitely upgrade with experience,” he said. “But being the smartest player, point guard, vision, get the best out of each guy around you and try to be a leader of any team I’m on.”

Russell is fortunate to have some mentors who have been through this before, too. Ohio State head coach Thad Matta is no stranger to shepherding top picks through college and into the NBA. Former Buckeyes Greg Oden and Mike Conley were the Nos. 1 and 4 picks in the 2007 draft, and Evan Turner went No. 2 overall in the 2010 draft.

“Coach Matta’s probably one of the best guys for a process like this,” Russell said. “For me individually, I can’t speak for everybody else, but he was all in with my decision. He never forced me to leave, he never tried to force me to stay. He kind of made me make the decision. He let me know I had a scholarship on the table, though, if I stayed.

“Mike, Evan Turner, all those guys are great role models, guys to look up to. They took me under their wing and told me what to do and what not to do when it came to being college athlete and have the potential to be a pro and still be in a college atmosphere. They did a great job of that.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Will Frank Kaminsky turn college success into NBA greatness?]

It’s no sure thing where Russell will be selected on Thursday, and it shouldn’t be completely written off that he could go No. 1. But without a doubt, he’s a top-five pick. Maybe that’s why he’s OK with not being the first-overall selection.

“It would be a blessing to be No. 1, but I want to go somewhere where I know I’m going to stick and I can make a legacy and help build a franchise,” Russell said. “If that’s me going eighth pick, I prefer that, honestly. … I’d rather be a guy that’s a superstar on one team in three, four years than a guy who’s bouncing around and was the No. 1 pick in the draft.”

Plus, it doesn’t seem like Russell needs the Minnesota Timberwolves to validate his greatness with the night’s first selection.

“I know I’m the best player.”

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.