Bulls

Is Deng the Bulls' most indispensable player?

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Is Deng the Bulls' most indispensable player?

PHILADELPHIAWhen Derrick Rose has been out of the lineup this season, the Bulls have lost one game, to Memphis on Martin Luther King Day. With Luol Deng sidelined, theyve fallen twice, to Indiana last week and Sunday at Miami.

No ones suggesting Deng is a better player than Rose though Rose, last seasons league MVP, referred to Deng as the teams MVP but as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau often says, the small forward is the glue of the squad.

Furthermore, while no one on the roster, or for that matter, the league, can duplicate what Rose brings to the table, backup point guard C.J. Watson (and even third-stringer John Lucas III) have shown the ability to thrive in Chicagos point-guard oriented offense, which is heavy on pick-and-roll play.

However, no disrespect to fill-in starter Ronnie Brewer, there is no way to emulate what Deng does. The versatile Brewer is actually as close as it gets, given that, like Deng, hes a capable slasher, moves well without the ball, takes pride in his defense and is a much-improved outside shooter.

But while Brewer has done an admirable job in a replacement role, Dengs size was missing when the Bulls took on the Heat. No individual player in the NBA completely shuts down LeBron James, but Deng makes him work for every bucket and team sources, while disappointed in the loss, are confident that with Deng in the lineup (not to mention Watson), they truly have the edge over Miami this season.

While the likes of Rip Hamilton and Carlos Boozer can certainly score the basketball, Deng is the teams clear-cut secondary scorer. Monday night in Washington, the small forward maintained his stance that hes still day-to-day with torn ligaments in his left wrist, though there have been multiple false alarms about his imminent return along the way.

With a day off Tuesday and no opportunity to take contact in practice something Thibodeau usually desires when a player returns from a layoff its unlikely that he plays in Wednesday nights contest in Philadelphia.

With a back-to-back Thursday in New York, the next time Deng takes the court could be either Saturdays tilt against the Bucks in Milwaukee (after a chance to check in with doctors in Chicago) or next Monday in his adopted home state of New Jersey, where he played high school basketball.

Regardless of when hes back in the lineup and by no means should he rush back, as Brewer has filled in capably and in this condensed season, the bigger picture is long-term health heading into the postseason, even if it hurts his chances for a debut All-Star Game appearance expect the Bulls to receive a boost from his all-around game.

A history of the Bulls moving up and down in the NBA Draft

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AP

A history of the Bulls moving up and down in the NBA Draft

There's been plenty of talk about what the Bulls might do with the No. 7 pick in next month's NBA Draft. They could attempt to put a package together in order to move up, they could acquire future assets while moving back or they could stay there and pick at No. 7 for a third straight season.

Moving up or down on draft night is risky business. As the Bulls have shown the last 20 years, it's a chance to win big but can also mean significant setbacks. Here's a look at the seven times since 2001 the Bulls have moved up or down on draft night. Some will make you smile. Others will make you cry.

2001: Bulls move up to get Tyson Chandler 2nd overall

The Bulls knew they had something special in Elton Brand when the Duke product won Rookie of the Year after averaging 20.1 points and 10.0 rebounds in his first season and followed it up with another 20-10 season as a sophomore. But there were two intriguing high-school options in the draft that summer, and Jerry Krause jumped at the opportunity to add both. They dealt Brand to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for the second overall pick, which they used on Tyson Chandler. They spent the fourth pick on Eddy Curry, the local product from Thornwood HS. To make matters worse, Pau Gasol went 3rd overall to the Vancouver Grizzlies.

We all know what happened. Curry was a bust from the moment he stepped on the floor, while Chandler never panned out in five seasons with the Bulls. He resurrected his career in a big way during stops in New Orleans, Dallas and New York, earning both an NBA title (with Dallas) and a Defensive Player of the Year award (in New York). But that wasn't much consolation for the Bulls, who entered some dark days with their young centers. Brand, meanwhile, went on make a pair of All-Star appearances while averaging 20.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in seven seasons with the Clippers.

2004: Bulls move up to get Luol Deng 7th overall

The next time the Bulls decided to add another top-10 pick turned out much better than the previous one. The Bulls had already selected Ben Gordon with the 3rd overall pick when they swung a deal with the Phoenix Suns to acquire the seventh overall pick for a future first-round pick and the rights to Jackson Vroman. The seventh pick? Some kid from Duke named Luol Deng. All Deng would do in Chicago was average 16.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 10 seasons, make two All-Star teams and become the face of the franchise during the ugly Derrick Rose injury days.

The trade actually made sense for the Suns at the time. The Bulls were the league's worst team and weren't showing any real signs of improving, even with Gordon and Deng in the fold. The first-round pick the Bulls gave up was top-3 protected in 2005, top-1 protected in 2006 and unprotected in 2007. As it turns out, the Bulls made a huge jump, qualified for the postseason and wound up giving the Suns the 21st overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. As for Vroman? He played 10 games for the Suns, averaging 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in 5.7 minutes. Yeah. Bulls win.

2006: Bulls move down to get Tyrus Thomas 4th overall, move up to get Thabo Sefolosha

We wouldn't blame you for skipping over this one entirely. The Bulls drafted Texas power forward LaMarcus Aldridge with the second overall pick. Nicely done, Bulls! Move on and look to the future. Nope. The Bulls shipped Aldridge's rights to the Portland Trail Blazers for...fourth overall pick Tyrus Thomas and Victor Khryapa, the 22nd overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft who had averaged 5.8 points in 21.6 minutes the previous season in Portland.

You know the rest. Aldridge put together a remarkable run with the Blazers, averaging 19.4 points and 8.4 rebounds over nine seasons, four of which included All-Star appearances. He's a borderline Hall of Famer, now posting eye-popping numbers in San Antonio with Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. Thomas? Well, he was fun to watch but maddening at the same time. He averaged 8.0 points and 5.2 rebounds over four-plus seasons in Chicago and was out of the NBA by age 28. Khryapa? He appeared in 42 games for the Bulls over two seasons, averaging 2.5 points on 38.6% shooting. The Bulls bought out his contract early in Year 2 and he returned to Russia to play professionally.

The other trade wasn't so bad. They moved up from No. 16 to No. 13 to draft Sefolosha, who became a talented wing defender in two-plus seasons with the Bulls. But he truly blossomed in Oklahoma City, where the Bulls traded him in 2009. He just finished up his 13th NBA season by averaging 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds for the Utah Jazz.

2010: Bulls move out of draft to acquire additional cap space

The Bulls were trying to clear up as much cap space as possible in the summer of 2010 to make a run at LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in free agency. Before those early July meetings happened, the Bulls made a draft night trade to do just that. They attached the 17th overall pick to Kirk Hinrich's salary and sent it to the Washington Wizards. The deal saved the Bulls about $10 million in salary cap space (Hinrich's contract + what they would have paid the first-round pick) and gave them more than $30 million in available money to offer free agents that summer.

Of course, James and Wade (and Chris Bosh) chose to join the Miami Heat, where they won two championships and made four NBA Finals appearances in a four-year span. The Bulls used that salary cap space to sign Carlos Boozer and add some pieces that would become the Bench Mob. As for that 17th pick? Kevin Seraphin, a 6-foot-9 power forward, averaged 6.4 points in five uneventful seasons with the Wizards. He was out of basketball by the time he was 27 years old.

2011: Bulls move up to get Nikola Mirotic

The Bulls held the Nos. 28 and 30 picks in the 2011 NBA Draft. We all know they used the No. 30 pick to draft Jimmy Butler, but it was their decision to send that 28th pick plus cash to the Miami Heat for the 23rd pick that went under the radar. The Bulls used that 23rd pick to take international power forward Nikola Mirotic, who wound up coming to Chicago three years later in 2014. Mirotic was an instant hit, finishing runner-up for Rookie of the Year in his first season at 23 years old. He was inconsistent at times but proved to be an excellent pick for the Bulls, averaging 11.4 points and 1.8 3-pointers in four seasons. He also netted the Bulls a first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft when they dealt him to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Miami came out winners in the trade, too, as Norris Cole - the 28th pick - was a key (and cheap) piece for the Heat during their championship runs with James, Wade and Bosh.

2014: Bulls move up to get Doug McDermott

This was supposed to be a double win for the Bulls. Given their ties to Ames, Iowa, it was no secret that the front office was enamored with the thought of drafting Creighton's Doug McDermott, the Naismith National Player of the Year as a senior. But it was difficult to see a way that the sharpshooter fell to Nos. 14 or 16, where the Bulls were picking in the 2014 NBA Draft. The good news, at the time, was that the Bulls were also looking to clear as much cap space as possible for a run at Carmelo Anthony the following month.

So they found a trade partner in Denver at No. 11, dealing the 14th and 16th picks in exchange for McDermott. It gave the Bulls the player they originally wanted and saved them some cap space in not having to pay two rookies.

The bad news? McDermott did next to nothing in Chicago and the Nuggets' two picks have proven to be real talents. McDermott averaged 8.2 points in 161 career games for the Bulls before being added as part of the infamous Cam Payne Trade in 2017. He's played for five NBA teams in six seasons, most recently signing a three-year deal with Indiana in 2018.

The Nuggets took Gary Harris at No. 14 and Jusuf Nurkic at No. 16. Harris is one of the better wing defenders in the NBA despite an injury-riddled 2018 campaign. Nurkic was a solid piece in Denver but really blossomed after they traded him to the Blazers in 2017. It's not a sure bet that the Bulls would have taken Harris and Nurkic, but they could have done much better than McDermott (and Anthony wound up signing with the Knicks in free agency, so the saved cap space didn't do anything).

2017: Bulls move up to get Lauri Markkanen

At the time, the Jimmy Butler trade was much more about the NBA player pieces involved, but the Bulls technically moved up in the draft. The Bulls and Timberwolves swapped first-round picks in 2017, and that proved to be a significant part of the deal. The Bulls had Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis on their roster but there was a clear consensus as to who the best player available was when they went on the clock. They wound up drafting Arizona's Lauri Markkanen and it's turned out to be one of the most promising picks in franchise history.

In two seasons, Markkanen has averaged 16.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 3-pointers per game. He's a foundation piece of the Bulls' rebuild and is on an All-Star trajectory. The Timberwolves drafted Creighton center Justin Patton (who was injured at the time) with the 16th pick and he appeared in just one game. He was again attached to a Jimmy Butler trade when Minnesota dealt their disgruntled All-Star to the Philadelphia 76ers last November. Patton was part of that deal, and played in three games for the Sixers. Advantage: Bulls. 

Why the Bulls should take Dedric Lawson with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Dedric Lawson with the No. 38 pick

Lawson is a player who has the production and pedigree of a high-value draft pick. But his weaknesses have scared off some who struggle to see what his role would be in an NBA rotation. Time and time again we have seen prospects who dominated the NCAA game, but didn’t have the ability to stick in the league. This is what precisely what has made some overlook Lawson’s stellar numbers over 101 career games.

Strengths:

Lawson is a very effective scorer and when you look at the per 100 possessions numbers, his statistics pop off the page. Over three seasons playing NCAA basketball, Lawson scored 30.8 points per 100 possessions.

He scored his baskets on a variety nice shots from the low post and midrange area, with the ability to stretch his jump shot out to 3-point range should he more repetitions.

Lawson’s go to move at this stage of his development is a jump hook over his left shoulder. But he can finish well from the post with either hand, just preferring to finish with his right. In 2018-19 he converted his FGAs at the rim at a 65.4 percent rate (per Hoop Math), leading to the best offensive rating of his career (117.4 points per 100 possessions).

He keeps defenses off balance by attacking with his faceup game from the mid-post area, where he succeeded in hitting a solid 40.8 percent of his “short midrange FGA” per The Stepien’s shot chart data. The Stepien’s data also had Lawson hitting an impressive 39.1 percent of his 3-point shots that are from NBA 3-point range.

His jump shot form is fine, but he will need to work on quickening up his release at the next level. Fortunately, film from as recent as the NBA Combine suggest that he is making strides when it comes to becoming a legit NBA stretch-4.

The great thing about Lawson’s game--specifically when you are projecting him on to the Bulls--is that while he did maintain a high usage rate and high FGA per game numbers throughout his career, his amazing activity as an offensive rebounder makes him a threat even when plays aren’t run for him.

Lawson snatched down 307 offensive rebounds over his three years in college, translating to 3.0 offensive rebounds per game for his career. Just as important as snagging those boards is converting them into quick baskets and Lawson does just that. He converts rebound putback FGAs at an absurdly efficient rate of 81.8 percent per Hoop-Math.com. Boylen likes his bigs to exude toughness and hit the glass, and while Lawson may not have the strength of some NBA 4s, but he is always willing to mix it up in the paint going for contested rebounds.

He brings that same tough mentality when he is attacking the basket, whether it be off the dribble, in the post or in transition, where his length makes him devastating. Lawson shot 65.4 percent on FGAs at the rim and was the driving force behind a Kansas Jayhawks offense that scored 113.9 points per 100 possessions, good for 27th in the nation (via Ken Pom).

Despite lacking a clear-cut position in the NBA, Lawson figures to be a solid defender with the potential to develop into a great defender. It will just take the right coach to get him to play high-intensity defense on a consistent basis.

With a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan, the second longest hands at the NBA Combine and a near 9-foot standing reach, Lawson has all the tools needed to be a very mobile rim protector. He averaged 1.6 blocks per game for his career and should be able to bring that shot-blocking prowess with him to the league.

In lineups with Lauri Markkanen, Lawson could focus on the tougher matchup, theoretically freeing up more energy for Markkanen to use on offense. In lineups with Wendell Carter or Otto Porter as the other big on the floor, Lawson would be able to get his scoring going while likely helping Boylen form some of his best defensive lineups.

Weaknesses:

Lawson has the potential to be a player who can fit into a variety of offensive systems, but his reluctance to pass from the post could be his undoing. He has been the No. 1 offensive option throughout his career, and the 2018-19 season represented his highest usage rate for a single season at 29.1 percent. But despite 2018-19 being his highest usage rate season, it also represented his worse in terms of total assists.

In only one of his three seasons did he finish with more assists than turnovers and in watching game tape, it appears he will struggle mightily when it comes to making high-level reads in the NBA. It doesn’t take long sifting through games to see Lawson take a heavily contested shot against a throng of opponents. The Big 12 conference provided Lawson with much more competition than he received when playing at Memphis at the start of his career, and he occasionally forced shots while trying to prove he belonged.

He was still an effective scorer despite all this, posting a 57.8 true shooting percentage despite going into “chucker mode” at certain points during games, but being a one-trick pony won’t cut it in the NBA. His impressive finishing in traffic will be much tougher when dealing with NBA length. If his inside scoring game takes a step back, it will put even more pressure on Lawson to develop into a big that can confidently knock down a decently high-volume of 3-pointers.

He doesn’t have top-end speed or burst off the floor, and will likely struggle every night with his matchup until he learns the nuances of NBA defense.

Long-term outlook:

Ultimately, Lawson has a great chance to be the best second round pick in a particularly shallow draft. Rather than being a slight, this means that he is likely to outplay his draft position by a decent amount.

As long as the team drafting him understands the limitations of his game, Dedric Lawson is poised to be a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft.