Can Hawkeyes' Aaron White translate his game to the next level?


Can Hawkeyes' Aaron White translate his game to the next level?

Being a good college basketball player doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good professional basketball player.

But it sure can’t hurt.

Aaron White’s NBA future might be a bit of a question mark — many mock drafts have him going late in the second round — but there’s no doubting that decision-makers have to be impressed with what he did during his senior year at Iowa.

Coming off a junior year that saw his Hawkeyes stumble mightily down the stretch and make a rapid exit from the NCAA tournament, White entered this past season as the team’s leader, with head coach Fran McCaffery calling it “Aaron’s team” even before the season began. And White showed it, putting Iowa on his back throughout the season.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: NBA Draft Profile: Iowa F Aaron White]

White averaged better than 16 points and seven rebounds a game, scoring from everywhere on the floor and showing off a terrific ability to get to the free-throw line. Under his leadership, the Hawkeyes reversed the trend and finished the season strong, winning six straight and eight of 10 to close the regular season, then surprising many with a 31-point rout of Davidson in the Round of 64 of the NCAA tournament. And through it all, White was sensational. He averaged 22.5 points per game over the team’s last eight contests (including a Big Ten Tournament game and two NCAA tournament games), scoring 21 points or more in six of those. He grabbed double-digit rebounds four times over Iowa’s final 10 games. He earned First Team All-Big Ten honors.

White finished his college career with a bang, and he did it in a conference that he called the next best thing to playing in the NBA.

“I think it’s one of the best conferences,” White said at the NBA Draft Combine. “The competition level that we played against, the scouting reports and coaches that you go up against, obviously it’s not the NBA, but it might be the next best thing in terms of how to prep yourself for the next level. So I think a lot of stuff that I learned in my four years at Iowa will help me going forward.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Jerian Grant could be the Bulls' next 'veteran' gem]

There’s a lot to like about White’s game. As mentioned, he can score in a variety of ways and is great at getting to the basket and the charity stripe. The question becomes whether he can do that at the next level. Even in the Big Ten, a conference known for its bruising battles, opposing defenses are a lot smaller than in the NBA. It’s easier to get through the Illinois Fighting Illini — who White scorched for 29 points on Feb. 25 — than it is to get through the Chicago Bulls.

But White feels he can bring plenty to an NBA team, be it versatility, scoring ability or something purely intangible.

“Playing the 3 and the 4. Just being able to play hard, play with a good motor, bring energy and do all the little things to help a team win. That’s what I’m kind of prepping myself to do,” White said. “Whatever a team asks me, I’m going to try to do to the best of my ability. If a team selects me, I’ll represent that organization in a great manner.”

Regardless of where he ends up getting picked, White is enjoying the process. He raved about being at the NBA Draft Combine, an event he said he’s watched on TV since he was a little kid. He was stunned by some of the faces in the crowd watching him play.

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

“I’ve been watching the Combine since I was a little kid,” White said. “Obviously I watched it really intently last year when (former teammate Roy Devyn Marble) was here, and I’ve always followed the coverage on NBA TV or ESPN or whoever’s covering it. This is a great honor to be here. You see Larry Bird sitting courtside, you see big-name guys sitting courtside. This whole process is a blessing, it’s something I’m very fortunate to be in a position in.”

One of those faces sitting courtside, though, was a very familiar one. McCaffery was at the Combine, too, and White said he’s been thrilled to have his now former coach be a big part of his NBA Draft process.

“He’s given me great confidence in myself not only in my four years at college but throughout this process just telling me to be myself and let my character show through and my work ethic show through,” White said. “I couldn’t ask for a better coach to play for, and I appreciate him coming out and supporting me.”

He might not hear his name early on draft night, and there might be questions to be answered about his game and how it translates to the next level — though NBA teams likely won’t be shying away from 6-foot-9 220-pounder. But one certain thing is that White will appreciate the opportunity immensely. And if his play in college showed anything, it’s that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make something happen for his team.

“I’m just looking forward to not only these next two months before the draft, the next month and a half, but my career going forward,” White said. “This is my dream, to play basketball for a living, and I’m just so lucky and fortunate to be in this position. It’s been great so far, and the future looks good, as well.”

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago


Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.

Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.

But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 

Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.


For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 

Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker


Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.

Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 

LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.

LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.

Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.