Bulls

Bulls will have plenty of options in 2017 NBA Draft

Bulls will have plenty of options in 2017 NBA Draft

Owning homecourt advantage at this week's NBA Draft Combine, the Bulls have one of the league's largest contingents for the testing and games at Quest Multisport, including their analytics experts and head of international scouting Ivica Dukan.

Picking in the middle of the first round (16th overall), you can expect the Bulls to go with the "best athlete available" formula, with extra emphasis on finding a young wing player to develop behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

So, assuming the Bulls stay at No. 16, which players might still be on the board when they're on the clock? Let's start with a pair of athletic wings' OG Anunoby (Indiana) and Terrance Ferguson (currently playing professionally in France).

Anunoby would have probably been a lottery pick if he had not suffered a knee injury that ended his sophomore season with the Hoosiers. At 6-foot-8, with a 7'2 1/4" inch wingspan, Anunoby should be a plus defender immediately. With the Bulls, he could provide valuable rest for Butler and also spare the three-time All-Star the responsibility of guarding the opposing team's best scorer for long stretches.

Anunoby only averaged 11.1 points during his shortened sophomore year at Indiana, but he has the athleticism to run the floor for easy baskets, and since he still hasn't turned 20, he has plenty of time to develop his offensive game.

Similar story with Ferguson, who grew up in Tulsa but decided to play overseas rather than spend a year in college. He's only averaging 4.6 points for French team Adelaide, but scouts are intrigued by his physical skills and potential as a 6-foot-7 shooting guard.

Some other players to watch in the middle of the first round include power forwards' Ivan Rabb (California) and John Collins (Wake Forest). Rabb was projected as a likely lottery pick last season, but decided to return to Cal for his sophomore year.

Facing double teams most of the season, Rabb didn't show the improvement in his numbers (14 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game) that a lot of NBA scouts expected. Still, the 6-foot-10 lefty continues to draw comparisons to long-time Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat star Chris Bosh, and is a polished low post scorer.

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Rabb can hit consistently from mid-range, but if the Bosh comparisons are going to hold up, he'll need to stretch his shooting skills out to the 3-point line.

I asked Rabb about the possibility of being drafted by the Bulls.

"One of my friends, Bobby Portis, he's a real good player," Rabb said. "He played pretty well in the playoffs and throughout the season. I know they traded Taj Gibson, they have (Nikola) Mirotic, so I'm not really sure what they plan on doing. I feel that's a great destination from me, too."

The Bulls needs at power forward depend heavily on whether they re-sign Mirotic, who will be a restricted free agent on July 1. Rabb could be a good fit as an athletic, rangy 4 who can replace some of the skills the Bulls lost with the Gibson trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Similar story with Collins, who averaged 19.2 points at Wake Forest last season. The 6-foot-10 Collins is known for his athleticism and ability to finish at the rim, but he understands how important it is to show scouts he can be a threat from the 3-point line.

"I think I can shoot it a lot better than I've shown, or had the ability to show," Collins said. "Definitely going to be working on that, and keep on expanding on that, so when the time is necessary for me to shoot it, I'm going to look good doing it."

When it comes to self-confidence, it will be tough for any of the prospects to top Creighton center Justin Patton. The 7-foot Patton averaged 12.9 points per game last season, playing for Doug McDermott's dad Greg McDermott at Creighton. Patton shot over 68 percent on 2-point attempts and is a powerful finisher on alley-oop passes.

When asked about his ability to be a "stretch 5" in the league like Al Horford or Karl-Anthony Towns, Patton said, "If they're looking for a stretch-5, they come to me, and find the right person. My skills translate perfectly. I can put the ball on the floor, I can shoot the ball with range, and I'm a willing passer, and a great passer too, and I have a high IQ."

Okay, then. Patton says he's already met with the Bulls and will be ready to play immediately with any team that drafts him. At this point, it seems unlikely the Bulls would draft a center at No. 16, but anything is possible considering Cristiano Felicio and Joffrey Lauvergne are both restricted free agents.

Other names to watch during the middle part of round one include power forwards' T.J. Leaf (UCLA) and Kyle Kuzma, Duke shooting guard Luke Kennard, Syracuse small forward Tyler Lydon and point guard Jawun Evans.

And, there's always the possibility the Bulls could be involved in a trade to move up into the Top 10. That would bring a whole different level of prospects into play. But for now, the front office is looking for athletes and shooters to add quality depth to a roster that figures to be very similar to the one we watched last season.

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is fed up with being underestimated and he’s going to do something about it. The Bulls guard has been having a strong pre-season so far but is looking to improve his skills as a two-way player.

“I’m just tired of people talking shit about my defense,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that on the defensive end.”

“I’m taking more pride in it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll show. I’ll make sure of that.”

If you think LaVine sounds confident, he has good reason to be. Last season LaVine was one of only ten players to average at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, making him stand out as an elite player in the company of MVPs and All-Stars. LaVine’s personal triumphs, however, were overshadowed by the Bulls abysmal 22-60 record last season.

So far, this preseason LaVine has been looking better on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game through three preseason games. Any improvements on defense will greatly help LaVine’s All-Star case.

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3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.