Bulls

Butler shining in Deng's absence

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Butler shining in Deng's absence

The Bulls knew coming into this season that they were going to need to count on everyone.

With superstar Derrick Rose out for a majority of the season, the other players had to step up their production even more so.

Jimmy Butler started his third game in place of the injured Luol Deng and finished the Bulls 85-82 win over Detroit with 18 points and a career-high nine rebounds in 46 minutes of action.

His corner three-pointer with 1:51 remaining gave the Bulls an 82-80 lead and was all the more impressive considering he had gone 1-for-8 from the field in the first half, including missing three of his outside attempts.

Jimmy struggled early and he just kept working the game, coach Tom Thibodeau said. He probably settled early on -- Tayshun Prince is a tough cover -- but he never gets down. He just keeps battling and in the end, he figured it out. He got some good shots -- high percentage shots -- his defense improved as the game went on and he made some big-time plays for us.

Butler converted on five of his six field goal attempts in the second half and has shown true resiliency during his time in the starting lineup, overcoming some rough starts.

Hes just like that, said Joakim Noah. Hes a resilient guy and I love playing with Jimmy. He just has that toughness about him, that it just fits the Bulls perfect. Im so proud of him because its tough sometimes to play behind Luol. But hes someone whos always in the gym, working hard. Even though he might not be getting the time in the game he wants, hes somebody whos always been a team-first guy. For him to be shining like this and helping us in this way, it means a lot. Im really proud of him.

Im not surprised at all, he continued. We knew coming into this year that we were going to count on him to do a lot of things. Even last year he showed signs. He had some games where he played some really solid defense for us. He hit a huge three today, a huge shot against the Lakers hes really playing solid basketball for us.

Admittedly tired after the game, Butler deflected praise away from himself and attributed not getting down on himself early to having watched Deng do it so often.

He does so much for this team, Butler said. Im not trying to be a mini-Lu. He scores, guards, rebounds, passes, the energy. He does it all for this team.

I did start off kind of slow. I was frustrated, went over to the bench and my teammates were like keep shooting, theyre going to fall. When that shot in the fourth came, all I can hear in my head was shoot the open one. I knew Nate Robinson was going to throw it to me and Im so glad it went in.

When Deng returns, Butler has proven hes more than deserving of more minutes, but that decision is up to Thibodeau.

He plans to bring the same effort and energy he has during his short stint in the starting rotation and has impressed his teammates and coaches.

Obviously there are a lot of things that he has to improve upon, but hes not afraid of the big moments, Thibodeau said. He has a lot of courage and toughness. Those characteristics go a long way in this league and he competes on every play. We want him to keep improving and studying.

In this league, usually at the two and three, you have primary scorers your tough matchups. Hes taken the challenge and I like the way he is approaching things. Hes never satisfied, comes in the next day, and he wants to improve and thats important.

High-flying Brandon Clarke looking to jump into top-10 of 2019 NBA Draft

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USA TODAY

High-flying Brandon Clarke looking to jump into top-10 of 2019 NBA Draft

We see this type of story every year. A player who received little attention during the college basketball season parlays a strong finish and impressive athletic testing results into a rapid climb up NBA draft boards.

Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke is one of the players making that kind of jump this year. The 6-foot-8 Clarke was projected as a second round pick at the start of the season, playing in the shadow of his more acclaimed frontcourt mate Rui Hachimura as the Zags won another West Coast Conference title and advanced to the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament.

Clarke started receiving some first round buzz late in the season and really caught the attention of NBA scouts with a 36 point, eight rebound, five block performance against Baylor in a second round NCAA tournament game. His numbers for the season are impressive: 16.9 points per game on 68.7 percent shooting from the field, 8.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks. And, he followed that up by testing out No. 1 at his position at the NBA Draft Combine with a 34 inch standing vertical, a 40.5 inch max vertical, and a 3.15 second three-quarter court sprint.

Still, in today's three point centric NBA, some teams are concerned about Clarke's limited shooting range, with most of his points coming within 10 feet of the basket. Clarke says that won't be an issue when he gets a chance to work out for teams over the next four weeks.

"Honestly, it's really just about getting a lot of reps," Clarke said. "I've been getting up so many reps with the NBA ball, from the NBA three, and I've been shooting it really, really well. I'm really hoping that teams get to see that, and know that I've been working on it, and taking pride in getting better every day. If I can just keep on getting better, and teams can see that, I think it will help me out a lot."

Clarke is now considered a possible top-10 pick, with several mock drafts having him going to the forward needy Washington Wizards at No. 9, ahead of Hachimura, who may have received a promise from the Timberwolves at No. 11. There's no question Clarke is an explosive leaper who should have an impact at the defensive end from Day 1.

"Blocking shots is something that pretty obviously I'm good at. I was top 3 in the country last year for college basketball," he said. "So, with that being said, I think I'm only going to get better at it. Just something I can bring to any team I get drafted to pretty quickly."

Just about every college player has to adjust to facing bigger and stronger players once they get to the NBA. It’s one thing to dominate against the likes of Pacific and Pepperdine, but can Clarke succeed against some of the elite power forwards in the NBA? He understands the importance of hitting the weight room this summer.

"That’s something that I would love to do. Obviously, the guys are bigger in the league, so I’m going to have to be bigger too," he said. "There are so many players who have changed their bodies once they got there, so I’m not really nervous about that. I'm just looking forward to playing against bigger guys and better competition."

Would the Bulls consider Clarke at No. 7? There is a need for an athletic power forward to play behind Lauri Markkanen, but Clarke's skillset is eerily similar to all-time Bulls draft bust Tyrus Thomas, and that in itself will probably drop him on the team's draft board. Unless the Bulls trade down, their pick will likely come from a group that includes Coby White, Jarrett Culver, Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter.

Like so many other players in the 2019 draft, Clarke falls into the risk/reward category, with his ability to develop a consistent outside shot critical to his long term success. Still, it's been a remarkable climb for a player who was lightly regarded by most NBA teams just a few short months ago.

Around the association

You couldn't help but feel a little bit sorry for Golden State All-Star guard Klay Thompson, who was informed after practice on Thursday that he failed to make one of the three All-NBA teams, potentially costing him $30 million on a max contract this summer.

With so many talented guards in the league right now, it's hardly a slight that Thompson failed to finish among the top-6 in media voting. Who would you leave out among the guards that made it? Steph Curry and James Harden were the first team choices, with Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving on the second team and Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker third team selections.

An obviously agitated Thompson didn't appreciate receiving the news from the media, and openly questioned how Golden State's run of five-straight Finals appearances didn't carry more weight with the voters. Thompson said it wasn't a big deal, and he would rather win a championship than make an All-NBA team. But knowing how much money he just lost had to be a painful pill to swallow, especially considering a guard from a non-playoff team like Walker was voted to the third team, making him eligible for the super max contract Thompson just lost.

Speaking of Walker, will that All-NBA honor wind up being his ticket out of Charlotte? Hornets' general manager Mitch Kupchak said the team will do everything possible to keep the three-time All-Star, but the price tag for a max extension is now a lot higher, and the small market Hornets may decide they're better off not committing huge dollars to their 29-year-old point guard.

Charlotte has been unable to build a consistent winner despite a number of high draft picks and the ill-fated five-year contract given to Nicolas Batum. Bringing Walker back on a super max deal would lock them into the current roster for the foreseeable future, and given the fact Charlotte has missed the playoffs in four of the last five years, is that really the best strategy? If the Hornets decide to move on from Kemba, teams like Indiana, Dallas and the Clippers will be waiting with ample cap space to offer Walker a four-year max contract.

As we've seen with the explosion of quarterback salaries in the NFL, it seems like every offseason brings a new record contract. How about this factoid from ESPN'S NBA Insider Bobby Marks, who tweeted; earning All-NBA for a second consecutive season now has Giannis Antetokounmpo eligible in the summer of 2020 to sign the largest contract in NBA history. The five-year extension starting in 2021-22 would be worth $247.3 million and carry a $42.6, $46.0, $49.5, $52.9 and $56.3 million cap hit.

There's no question the Bucks will gladly offer that super max extension to a 24-year-old superstar who still has room to grow as player. Giannis is expected to win his first MVP award this season, even though the current playoff series against Toronto is showing how badly he needs to add a consistent jumper and improved free throw shooting to his game. Antetokounmpo's freakish skills and Mike Budenholzer's offensive system have made small market Milwaukee a legitimate championship contender, which is no small feat in a star-driven NBA where players routinely make decisions about their futures based on factors that have very little to do with basketball. Right now, Giannis is happy in Milwaukee and the Bucks are lucky to have the best young player in the game.

Of course, NBA teams wouldn't be paying those kind of salaries if the league wasn't making record profits. Business is good, especially after the new TV deals that went into effect a few years ago. And, with the advent of legalized gambling potentially opening up even more revenue streams, NBA owners will see the value of their franchises continue to soar.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Previewing the 2019 NBA Draft with Jordan Cornette

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Previewing the 2019 NBA Draft with Jordan Cornette

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski is joined by ESPN college basketball analyst Jordan Cornette to discuss the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft and what options the Bulls will have when they go on the clock at No. 7.

0:45        What’s coming up for Jordan
2:20        Impact of Bulls dropping to seven in the draft
3:45        On Cam Reddish and his pro potential, should Bulls take him?
5:50        Should Bulls take a risk at 7 and go with highest potential? Jarrett Culver discussion
7:55        On Kevin Porter Jr and Nassir Little, too risky to take at 7? Jordan explains why Luguentz Dort is his sleeper
10:35     On mid first round and potential for risk among teams
13:20     Bulls 2nd round pick options, why PG probably won’t be an option at 7
15:00     Jordan’s pick for the Bulls at 7
16:50     On free agency, Bulls need at PG
19:08     Jordan on a potential Derrick Rose return
21:14     Do either the Bucks or Raptors have a chance vs Golden State?