Bulls

Bulls Talk: 2015 NBA first round mock draft

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Bulls Talk: 2015 NBA first round mock draft

A handful of teams at the top of the NBA Draft are looking for franchise-changing prospects, while contenders from both conferences are hoping to find league-ready talent who can help them from Day 1.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky: The most complete player in this year's class, Towns has solidified himself as the top pick in the draft thanks to a versatile offensive game, aggressive defensive game and gobs of potential. Like all 2014-15 Wildcats he didn't get to show off his full arsenal on such a deep and talented team, but Towns showed flashes of greatness in his lone season in Lexington. He's an underrated passer, could add some range and may still be growing in addition to all he does well already. For the Timberwolves, there's an obvious need on the interior that Towns could fill from Day 1. Having Kevin Garnett in his ear every day wouldn't hurt his progress, either.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

Jahlil Okafor, C, Los Angeles: The Lakers would be thrilled to select either of the top two players, and getting the most polished offensive prospect in the class is a heck of a consolation prize. Okafor's embarrassment of riches in the post will make him arguably the game's best low-block rookie scorer since DeMarcus Cousins. His footwork, soft hands and touch around the basket will have him averaging in the teens from the start (Cousins averaged 14.1 points as a rookie), so long as he figures out how to play with and complement Kobe Bryant. For the Lakers to jump up in the lottery and snag Okafor to pair with Julius Randle creates a frontcourt oozing with potential.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

D'Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State: This pick makes too much sense. One would hope that the recent Joel Embiid news doesn't mean the Sixers want to stash another young project (Kristaps Porzingis) and tank another season. Of course they'll likely be an NBA bottom feeder next season regardless, but Russell 's addition alongside young talent in Nerlens Noel and Robert Covington would give Brett Brown a talented three-headed monster with good balance. Russell's court vision, decision making and ability to play both guard spots are exactly what teams are looking for in their franchise point guards. After dealing Michael Carter-Williams at last year's trade deadline for a future first-round pick, the Sixers go and get an upgrade at the position, both now and for the future. This should be a no-brainer, unless GM Sam Hinkie is thinking more obvious tanking.

4. New York Knicks

Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia: The 7-foot stretch forward has been on the rise ever since his personal workout in Las Vegas went viral. And he appears to be worth the hype. The Knicks can't worry about drafting for need at this point in their franchise; Phil Jackson has a few good years of Carmelo Anthony left and needs a building block to put alongside the veteran small forward. That could be Porzingis, whose athleticism and range make him a perfect fit in today's game. New York could opt for a point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay, but a swing-for-the-fences pick in Porzingis also makes sense for a team desperate to turn things around. This would hardly be a reach, too, making it a pick the Zen Master easily could defend.

5. Orlando Magic

Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky: True, the Magic a $48 million center in Nikola Vucevic, and they'll be paying free agent bust Channing Frye more than $22 million the next three seasons, but Cauley-Stein is too good a prospect to pass on here. The best defensive player in the class would immediately step into a starting role alongside Vucevic and help a defense that ranked 25th in efficiency last season. Further, opponents shot better than 61 percent from inside 5 feet against the Magic, the third highest percentage in the league. Orlando is blooming with young start potential with Vuceivc, Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo; adding Cauley-Stein to that mix could make them an intriguing team in the East in a few years. Justise Winslow may be more of a need, but a franchise that has won 68 games combined the last three years needs to go get the best player available and figure out the depth chart later.

6. Sacramento Kings

Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, China: The Kings may prefer Cauley-Stein here to pair up with his good friend DeMarcus Cousins, but Mudiay would fill just as big a hole. Darren Collison really struggled in his first year with the Kings and doesn't appear to be the answer long-term. With no true other young pieces past Cousins, Sacramento needs to find the best player available and pounce on him. In this scenario it's Mudiay, a bruising 6-foot-5 point guard who shows flashes of John Wall in transition. He's more raw than his counterpart Russell, as his defense and jump shot needs work. But if you're looking at potential, few players have more of it than Mudiay. A Mudiay-Cousins pick-and-roll could be a nightmare in the West for years.

7. Denver Nuggets

Justise Winslow, SF, Duke: The do-it-all small forward could go as early as No. 4 to the Knicks, and realistically he's a top-5 talent. So, if Winslow falls this far it'd be a huge coup for a Nuggets team looking to hit the reset button and find the best talent in the draft. Winslow has NBA First Team All-Defense potential with his solid frame and 6-foot-11 wingspan, and he's shown off a versatile, ever-improving offensive game that includes 3-pointers, running back-style drives to the rim and a raw yet efficient post-up game. What's exciting about Winslow is the overall versatility touts; the team that selects the national champion can mold him any which way they see fitting. He'll succeed in just about any system.

8. Detroit Pistons

Mario Hezonja, SG, Croatia: There's plenty to love about the 6-foot-8 sharpshooter who already has the confidence of a seasoned NBA veteran. The Pistons would love to see Cauley-Stein or Porzingis fall here to pair with Andre Drummond (to replace Greg Monroe) and they could consider Frank Kaminsky as well. But if they opt for upside and select based on their draft board, Hezonja could be the guy. He's an excellent slasher who has already competed against some of the best non-NBA talent in the world, and while he's got to build on his 215-pound frame he can enter Day 1 as a sharpshooter who can also create off the dribble. Like all international prospects he's a wild card, but he's an intriguing prospect who will be off the board in the first 10 picks.

9. Charlotte Hornets

Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky: The Hornets were a historically bad 3-point shooting team, and while they invested a first-round pick in P.J. Hairston a year ago there's still a lot more work to be done. Booker is the youngest player in this year's class - he won't turn 19 until Oct. 30 - yet may be the best shooter, hitting better than 41 percent of his 3-point attempts for the Wildcats. A five-star recruit that got overshadowed a bit by the other-wordly frontcourt and Harrison twins in the backcourt, Booker has the talent, upside and length to be an elite two-way guard at the next level. Picking him at No. 9 may be a reach for the Hornets, but he fills a need and has room to grow around a creator in Kemba Walker.

10. Miami Heat

Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona: Few other picks make more sense in the draft than Johnson to Miami. Whether or not Luol Deng exercises his player option this offseason, the South Sudan native's best playing days are behind him and the Heat need to begin looking toward the future. And with no one of value behind Deng on the depth chart, Johnson would slide in nicely alongside Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. Johnson is a gifted scorer who possesses great length and is just starting to show off his potential. He'd be in an excellent spot playing with so many experienced veterans with championship experience, and he's also the best player left on the board at this point.

11. Indiana Pacers

Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky: The Pacers should compete in the Eastern Conference with a fully healthy Paul George. Still, they need to consider looking toward the future with this pick. David West will be a free agent in 2016, while Luis Scola, Lavoy Allen and Chris Copeland are free agents this offseason. There's work to do in the frontcourt, and Lyles fits the bill as a potential cornerstone to team up with George for the future. His inside-out game, combined with his 240-pound frame make him a perfect fit at the power forward spot, and he'll be able to show off more of his all-around game after being overshadowed by Cauley-Stein and Towns at Kentucky. 

12. Utah Jazz

Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas: While Oubre is a similar player to that of Rodney Hood, who the Jazz selected in the first round last year, the Jayhawks freshman fits a need for a Jazz team with two solid young point guards and one of the best young frontcourts in the league. Assuming Alec Burks returns healthy and Hood continues his progression, Oubre could be brought along slowly as a potential contributor down the line. Just 19 years old, Oubre still needs a fair amount of seasoning before he's ready to contribute. But if Utah can complement Gordon Hayward on the wing with more versatile scorers, it'll allow him to create more for others which, in turn, will open things up inside for Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. 

13. Phoenix Suns

Frank Kaminsky, PF, Wisconsin: College basketball's player of the year isn't going to jump off the page athletically, but the combination of his sheer size and outside shooting makes him a unique player in this class destined for the lottery. Phoenix has versatile forwards in the Morris twins, but with a pair of defensive-minded centers in Alex Len and Brandan Wright they could really use some offensive versatility to complement their scoring backcourt. Kaminsky will be an excellent pick-and-pop teammate for Brandon Knight (if he returns) and Eric Bledsoe, and the Wisconsin center's floor is higher than some of the younger players in the class.

14. Oklahoma City Thunder

Cameron Payne, PG, Murray State: D.J. Augustin filled in for Reggie Jackson after the Thunder traded Jackson at last year's deadline. And while Augustin is around for another season, the Thunder need to begin thinking about the future at the point-guard position. Augustin is likely gone after next season, meaning Billy Donovan will need a viable backup for Russell Westbrook down the line. What's more, Westbrook's future past his 2017 contract is unknown, meaning an investment in Payne could mean the point guard of the future. While that's looking a bit too far ahead, Payne would provide excellent defense on the second unit. He's a bit of an unknown thanks to his mid-major status, but Payne can play.

15. Atlanta Hawks

Bobby Portis, PF, Arkansas: The Hawks have some work to do this offseason, as both Paul Millsap (unrestricted) and DeMarre Carroll (restricted) are free agents. Carroll should be back, and even if Millsap decides to stay in Atlanta the team could use some versatility at the position on the second unit. Mike Scott fell out of the rotation late in the year and Mike Muscala doesn't add much range. Portis has excellent length, one of the best inside-out games in this year's class and, at 20 years old, should improve greatly under Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer. He's great value if he falls this far, even if his one glaring weakness (rebounding) also haunted the Hawks late in the year. He certainly could go earlier than  No. 15.

16. Boston Celtics

Justin Anderson, SF, Virginia: The Celtics want to keep restricted free agent Jae Crowder, though there's still help needed on the wing. With a surplus of guards (Thomas, Bradley, Smart, Turner) and versatile big men (Olynyk, Sullinger, Zeller) Boston can use the first of its two first-round picks by reaching for a need. That's Anderson, one of the best perimeter defenders and outside shooters in this year's class. His physical frame will allow him to compete for playing time from Day 1, and while his offensive game needs some rounding into form he fits the mold for what Brad Stevens and Boston are trying to do defensively. He'd be a great piece to put next to Crowder, and combined with Marcus Smart give the Celtics some serious defensive upside.

17. Milwaukee Bucks

Myles Turner, PF, Texas: The Bucks reportedly will go after one of Brook Lopez or Tyson Chandler in free agency, and there's not really a true center worth drafting at this spot in the draft. That leaves the Bucks looking for both need and upside, and Turner fits the bill. What he lacks for in fluidity and quickness he makes up for in sheer size, athleticism and range that extends to the 3-point line offensively. He's a high-risk, high-reward selection, which is why he may fall on Thursday (on the flip side, he could go as early as No. 11 to Indiana). With the Bucks trading away Ersan Ilyasova earlier this month, there's minutes to be had at power forward. Turner could work his way into that rotation, and potentially an even bigger role depending on how free agency unfolds.

18. Houston Rockets

Jerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame: The Rockets have been linked to a point guard at this spot for quite some time. With Patrick Beverley a free agent and Jason Terry nearing retirement, Houston must address the position. In this scenario they opt for Grant. He didn't shoot the ball as well in his final season with the Irish because of how much was heaped on him, but at 6-foot-5 he's an athlete who can play off the ball while James Harden has the rock, and he'll help improve a defense that struggled mightily after Beverley went down. At 23 years old, he's ready to contribute from Day 1 as the Rockets look to get back to the Western Conference Finals. 

19. Washington Wizards

Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville: Kevin Seraphin and Drew Gooden are free agents, while Nene will hit the open market in 2016. That could leave a major void alongside Marcin Gortat that Harrell would be a perfect fit for. He's undersized and doesn't have a consistent jumper, but Harrell is the kind of player that will fit in and succeed anywhere because of his energy, strength and willingness to work. He went to two Final Fours in three seasons with the Cardinals, winning the National Championship in 2014, and improved every year under Rick Pitino. He may never play in an All-Star Game, but he's the type of player who could be a 10-year role player on his active style of play and attitude alone.

20. Toronto Raptors

Kevon Looney, PF, UCLA: The Raptors may have to replace Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams this offseason, though a weak shooting guard class doesn't leave many options for them here. They'll have to find that depth behind DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross elsewhere. A need they could fill at No. 20 is power forward, where Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough are set to hit free agency. Enter Kevon Looney, who led all freshmen in double-doubles this past year and has the makeup of a potential superstar defender. His offensive game leaves a lot to be desired - he feasted on the offensive glass - but his rebounding alone would instantly help a Raptors team that ranked 19th in total rebound percentage a year ago.

21. Dallas Mavericks

Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin: The Mavericks could lose Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler in free agency this offseason. And while they won't find a quick fix for Chandler in this year's draft, if they're looking to add scoring and outside shooting Dekker could be their man. An underrated creator who exploded in the NCAA Tournament, Dekker would be a great complement opposite Chandler Parsons on the wing. Dallas has the most to gain or lose in free agency, and what they do with this pick could offer some insight to how they'll approach it.

22. Chicago Bulls

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona: While this seems more like a pick for a Tom Thibodeau-led team, the Bulls need help defensively past Jimmy Butler. They spent first-round picks the last two seasons on offensive-minded wings in Tony Snell and Doug McDermott. And even if Gar Forman and John Paxson retain Mike Dunleavy (unrestricted free agent) there's still a void on the other side of the ball. If the Bulls want to get the most out of Butler's offensive skills he can't be expected to defend the opposition's best player 35+ minutes per game. That's where Hollis-Jefferson, a stout defender and tremendous rebounder could come in handy. Giving Butler even a few possessions off could go a long way, especially in the postseason.

23. Portland Trail Blazers

Christian Wood, F, UNLV: The Trail Blazers could lose LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Arron Afflalo to free agency this offseason, making this an important pick for the franchise. They gave themselves some insurance for Matthews last year when they selected C.J. McCollum in the first round, and they can do the same for Aldridge by selecting the extremely raw yet talented Wood late in the first round. The 6-foot-10 sophomore has all the makings of a versatile scorer at the next level, and he blocked 2.6 shots per game thanks to his 7-foot-2 wingspan. At just 215 pounds he's a project who may need a year or two in the weight room before he shows full returns, but the upside is there for him to be a potential steal in this year's draft.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers

Rashad Vaughn, SG, UNLV: The Cavs' makeup will look different by the end of next year's playoffs than it did this year, but the fact remains that David Blatt's group needs more creators on the second unit. Vaughn was arguably the most impressive scoring freshman this past season, averaging 17.8 points per game on better than 38 percent from beyond the arc. He's got the measurables to be a stout defender, but on Cleveland he'll be asked to score in a variety of ways off the bench. Depending on what they do with Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson this offseason, the Cavaliers will need cheap contributors. Vaughn fits the bill, with some upside (19 years old) to boot.

25. Memphis Grizzlies

Anthony Brown, SF, Stanford: Jeff Green exercised his player option earlier in the week, so small forward is less of a need for Memphis this offseason. Still, Brown's lethal 3-point shooting (2.1 makes per game, 44.1 percent shooting as a senior) will help a Grizzlies team that ranked middle of the pack offensively and 22nd in 3-point field goal percentage and 29th in 3-point field goals per game last year. He'll have ample time to learn the game defensively, too, playing behind Green and Tony Allen, while adding some offensive spark from beyond the arc.

26. San Antonio Spurs

R.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State: Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Marco Belinelli are all free agents this offseason, meaning the aging Spurs will need to get younger on the wing. That's where a player like Hunter could come in handy. Known for his 3-pointer to beat Baylor in last year's NCAA Tournament, Hunter has prototypical size (6-foot-6, 185 pounds) and numbers (253 3-pointers in three seasons) to be a spot-up shooter on the perimeter. His passing would need some work playing in a system like Gregg Popovich's, but even if he never becomes more than a player like Belinelli was on the Spurs' championship team he'll be worth this selection. Having played for his father at the collegiate level, he should have no problem fitting in under Pop.

27. Los Angeles Lakers

Tyus Jones, PG, Duke: It seems all too fitting that Jones would link back up with Okafor - the two were a package deal to Durham last season - but the 6-foot-1 point guard also makes sense for the Lakers. They may have something in last year's second-round pick Jordan Clarkson, but Jeremy Lin and Ronnie Price are both free agents this offseason. In Jones the Lakers would get a player not afraid of the big moment, a lethal transition point guard and, for the time being, a solid second-unit floor general. With L.A.'s current prospects, selecting the best player available makes sense. And if Jones slips this far due to his height and defensive concerns, he'd best the best on the board here.

28. Boston Celtics

Robert Upshaw, C, Washington: The Celtics stay the defensive course with their second pick in the first round, taking a flier on this year's biggest wild card. Upshaw twice was kicked off college programs (Fresno State and Washington) but his talent is undeniable. A young Celtics team may not be the best environment for a player in Upshaw who will need a veteran mentor in his corner, but Brad Stevens should be up for the task. Boston selected Marcus Smart with the No. 6 pick last season, and while his situation was far different from Upshaw's, Stevens still held the combative point guard in check. With the Celtics needing help inside, Upshaw and the 4.5 blocks per game he averaged last year are worth the risk.

29. Brooklyn Nets

Delon Wright, PG, Utah: The Nets would much rather be selected at No. 15 then here, though they had to swap picks with the Hawks as part of the Joe Johnson deal. Still, they're lucky to nab a player who, if two years younger, likely would be getting consideration at the late end of the lottery. The 6-foot-6 Wright is excellent on the offensive end who controlled the Utes offense to the Sweet 16 this past season. His outside shot needs some work, especially if he's going to play some off the ball, but he'd have two excellent mentors in Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack if Brooklyn pulls the trigger on the 23-year-old senior.

30. Golden State Warriors

Chris McCollough, PF, Syracuse: The NBA champs are set to bring back Draymond Green, meaning their core will be intact for another season. That means Steve Kerr's group can take a project with high upside and move him along slowly. McCollough suffered a torn ACL during his freshman season, but the upside he possesses (and ability to play up-tempo) give the Warriors a low-risk pick as they gun for a second straight title. He needs a lot of work (and must get healthy first) but the Warriors are looking to get younger on the interior and could have a hidden gem in McCollough.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

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AP

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Moral victory for the Bears?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Moral victory for the Bears?

David Schuster, Adam Jahns and Patrick Finley join Kap on the panel.

0:00- Dave Wannstedt joins the panel to discuss the Bears 38-31 loss to the Patriots? Was it a moral victory? Is Matt Nagy crazy to say Mitch Trubisky didn’t play that bad?

13:00- Joe Girardi pulls his name out of the Reds managerial search and Jon Heyman reports that industry sources believe he might wait to see if there’s an opening in Chicago. What are the chances that he replaces Joe Maddon?

14:30- Adam Amin joins Kap to preview the Bulls/Mavericks game and discuss the lack of defense in the NBA.