Bulls

Despite youth, Cook brings experience to Bulls

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Despite youth, Cook brings experience to Bulls

DEERFIELD -- Newly acquired Bulls sharpshooter Daequan Cook is just 25 years old, but he brings to his new team a winning background.

In his lone year of college at Ohio State, the Dayton, Ohio, native played in the NCAA championship gamelosing to Joakim Noahs Florida teamand last season, as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he played in the NBA Finals alongside Bulls backup center Nazr Mohammed, albeit for spot minutes.

Still, the six-year NBA veteran is confident that his experience, as well as his renowned outside marksmanshiphe was the NBA All-Star weekend three-point shootout winner in 2009can help the Bulls.

I feel like its a good opportunity for me. Im looking forward to it and today was a great start, he said after Sunday afternoons practice at the Berto Center. The biggest part was playing on a team thats been to the Finals, having that experience as a young player. Coming into this team with a lot of guys that love to play hard and have the opportunity to play in the playoffs. I think thats one of the biggest roles I have right now.

The Bulls are a very exciting team, very young team and they play very well together. The most important thing for me is to play my role and do whatever Coach asks me to do, continued the shooting guard, who noted that a few teams contacted him after he cleared waivers Friday afternoon, following the Rockets waiving him last week.

Chicago was one of the first ones, but I went with what was the best for for me, give me the best opportunity and Chicago was the team.

The Bulls will be Cooks fourth NBA team after beginning in his career in Miami under Pat Riley, being a fringe member of the Thunders rotation, then getting traded to Houston in the early-season blockbuster James Harden trade. A 6.9 points-per-game career scorer, he averaged 3.4 points a contest in 16 games for the Rockets this season.

Were excited to have the opportunity to pick him up, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Cook, a career 36.5 percent three-point shooter. Hes another quality shooter, he can shoot the three, so hes got to come in, learn his teammates, learn the system and just get ready.

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Thibodeau was hesitant to say whether Cook, the 14th player on the Bulls roster, would get a chance to crack the rotation, making the situation seem reminiscent of their mid-season acquisition of veteran swingman Rasual Butler two seasons ago.

Were going to see. I thought early on, hes a pretty good team defender. I think he still can improve with his individual defense and well see where he is once he gets going a little bit, Thibodeau said. Right now, were pretty much set with our rotation. He has to learn, get ready and you never know. Over the course of the season, you need everybody. Hes been around a little bit, so we know what hes capable of. He can come in and knock down a couple three-point shots in a very short amount of time, so I think he complements the players that we have.

Cook said he harbored no animosity toward the Rockets for waiving him, indicating that it was a mutual decision.

The most important thing was there wasnt going to be an opportunity for me to play and that was the thing, and we parted ways. I have nothing bad to say about the team, which is good and thats about it. Now its time to get focused and get prepared to play with the Bulls now, he explained. Im going to work. The most important thing here is just working hard and being patient, and when I get the opportunity to play, just play my heart out.

He understands that if and when he does receive playing time, hes expected to help the shooting-deficient Bulls improve from long range.

I take a lot of pride in that. Being young in this league and known as one of the best shooters in this league right now is a good thing, but I just cant settle for that, knowing how important it is to know that its going to be more than my shooting that gets me out there on the floor, he said. Whatever my role is on this team, whether its shooting, rebounding or defending, Im going to play that role to the best of my ability and Im just looking forward to doing it.

Everybody goes into a slump from time to time. I wasnt pinpointing the Bulls because of that. I just came over here, just figuring out what team I could help best, regardless of what it was.

Besides Mohammed, Cook was also teammates with Nate Robinson during the diminutive scorers stint in Oklahoma City. While Cook acknowledged that hes aware of Robinsons verbal tendencies, hes also been picking the backup point guards brain to speed up his adjustment to the Bulls.

Weve been talking all day, especially with Nate more than anything because hes a guard, Im a guard, of course, and hes been in a lot of positions Im going to be in on the court, so talking to Nate more than anything about a lot of the things that have been going on out here, he said. Being around Nate, thats one of the things youve got to roll with. Hes a great guy.

Perhaps Robinsons advice included tips on playing for Thibodeau, but after Cooks experience with the Heat upon entering the league, hes confident that hell be able to fit in quickly.

Ive played for Pat Riley, one of the best in the league, so I dont think hell be much tougher than Pat. So, Im just looking forward to having the opportunity to play for Coach, Cook said. Coach Riley was a great coach and now I get the opportunity to play for Coach Thibs, whos an up-and-coming great coach, as well.

Even if Cook doesnt see the court much this seasonbarring injury to the shooting guards ahead of him in the rotation, though his signing could make starter Rip Hamilton more expendable as next months league-wide trade deadline loomswith his youth and ability to spread the floor, his half-season stint could be a somewhat of an extended tryout for the future.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Previous making the case for: Deandre Ayton | Luka Doncic | Mo Bamba | Marvin Bagley | Michael Porter Jr.

The modern NBA center is transforming. Last season 12 centers (as listed by Basketball Reference) made 50 or more 3-pointers, up from 10 players in 2016-17. The year before that, in 2015-16, five players accomplished that feat. Four players did it in 2014-15, three did it in 2013-14, and from 1990 to 2012 only Mehmet Okur (five times), Channing Frye (three times) and Byron Mullens (once) accomplished it.

Many of the names on that list, however, don’t exactly cut it on the other end. Sure, players like Joel Embiid, Al Horford and Marc Gasol are elite defenders. But repeat 50+ club members also include Karl-Anthony Towns, Marreese Speights, Kelly Olynyk, DeMarcus Cousins and Pero Antic. In other words, players Rudy Gobert won’t have to worry about contending with for Defensive Player of the Year.

But that former list – the Embiid, Horford, Gasol one – could add another member to it in the coming years. Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. was a rarity in college basketball this past season. He became the fifth player since 1992 to compile 35 or more 3-pointers and 100 or more blocks in a single season. Jackson had 38 and 106, respectively, and he accomplished those numbers in 764 minutes; the other four players on the list averaged 1,082 minutes, and the next fewest was Eddie Griffin’s 979 minutes in 2000-01.

Staying on those minutes, Jackson averaged 21.8 per game. That was decidedly fewer per game than Carter (26.9), Bamba (30.2), Ayton (33.5) and Bagley (33.9). We’ll get to why those minutes might be an issue, but for now it’s a reason to not be scared off by his lack of raw numbers (10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks).

Jackson’s block percentage (14.2%) ranked fourth in the country. That was higher than Bamba’s 12.9%, despite Bamba tallying 3.7 blocks per game. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Jackson was elite as a rim protector. He ranked in the 99th percentile in defensive possessions around the rim, allowing a mere 0.405 PPP. To put that number in context, freshmen Joel Embiid (0.844), Karl-Anthony Towns (0.8) and Myles Turner (0.667) weren’t even close. This past season Bamba allowed a whopping 1.088 PPP in that area, ranking in the 33rd percentile nationally.

Jackson plays bigger than the 236 pounds he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine. Here’s where we tell you he’ll need to add muscle like all 18-year-olds entering the NBA (oh, he’s also the youngest first-round prospect in the class). But defending the interior shouldn’t be a problem; his defensive rebounding rate wasn’t spectacular (19.8%), but the Spartans were a solid rebounding team as a whole – 76th nationally – so Jackson didn’t need to be great for the Spartans to succeed.

Jackson is going to defend at a high level, and in five years he’ll likely be known more for his defense than his offense. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have potential on that end of the floor. He ranked in the 91st percentile in points per possession (shooting 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep helps), doing his most damage in the post (1.22 PPP, 98th percentile) and on jumpers, which were almost exclusively 3-point attempts (1.09 PPP, 81st). He was even a plus on pick-and-rolls, averaging 1.11 on a limited 27-possession sample size.

But not all 3-pointers are created equally. Consider that Jackson did almost all of his damage beyond the arc from the top of the key. He went 21-for-42 from straightaway, according to Synergy Sports, an absurd percentage on that many attempts. From all other areas he went 17-for-54. But in the pick-and-roll era, Jackson’s ability to pop out to the top of the key after setting a screen, and his confidence to take and make those shots, is priceless.

He needs polish on both ends. That seems like the easy way out, and a generic statement that could be made for all these prospects. But so much of his game is still raw; again, there’s a reason he played just 54 percent of all available minutes, and tallied 15 minutes in the Spartan’s NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse.

He committed 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes (Bamba committed 4.3, for reference) and he shot just 48 percent on non-dunks inside 6 feet. His post numbers were good because he is nearly 7 feet tall and was always one of the most talented players on the floor. It’ll get tougher at the next level, and he’ll need to improve his feel around the rim as well as his post moves.

It doesn’t appear likely at this point, but there’s still a chance Jackson could fall to the Bulls at 7. We’ll safely assume Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic will be off the board. If Michael Porter’s medicals check out he should go in the top 5, and the other three selections could be Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba and Trae Young. Young is certainly the least likely of the bunch, but it only takes one team to fall in love with his potential. Orlando at No. 6 is a natural fit.

If he is there at No. 7, he needs to be the Bulls pick. Admittedly this would be less of a decision than some of the other picks we’ll get to in the coming weeks. Allowing Lauri Markkanen to roam the wings while Jackson set picks for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine would improve the offense drastically. And putting an elite rim protector next to Markkanen only covers up the latter’s weaknesses and, thus, makes him a better player.

If teams fall in love with Bamba’s length, Young’s shooting and Porter’s health, Jackson could be waiting when the Bulls pick at No. 7. He isn’t the wing the front office covets, but he is a two-way player with immense upside.

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

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USA TODAY

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

The Bulls are in need of talent. That much is clear after a 27-win campaign in which they finished ranked 28th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ll add a pair of prospects next month, with two selections in the first round, and presumably take the next step in their rebuild. Talent is important, that can’t be overstated. The Bulls should stick to their board and take the best player available nine out of 10 times.

But as much as the Bulls need an influx of talent, versatility in the backcourt might be a close second. And while there isn’t really any player at No. 7 that would fit that bill – they could reach for Collin Sexton – there are a number of versatile guards, in a class dominated at the top by bigs, who could be there when the Bulls are on the clock at No. 22.

Meet Wichita State guard Landry Shamet. That classic NBA buzzword “versatile” is thrown around more often than ever before. The idea that a player can play multiple positions, can defend 1-3 or has the potential to learn two spots at the next level. Then there’s Shamet. He’s actually done it.

He arrived in Wichita as a shooting guard, the Shockers’ highest-rated recruit in nine years. A broken foot cost him all but three games of his freshman season, but he returned in 2016 and made an immediate impact, including a shift to point guard midway through the season; the move went seamlessly, as he led the Shockers in assists (3.3) and was 14th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.00). He matched Kentucky freshman point guard DeAaron Fox in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 20 points on 7 of 14 shooting in a loss.

He remained at point guard in his sophomore season and dominated, earning an honorable mention All-American nod while leading the team in points (14.9) assists (5.2), and 3-pointers (2.6) per game for a Shockers team ranked in the top 25 all year, and as high as No. 3 in December.

He had the ball in his hands plenty at Wichita State, but his shooting hardly suffered. A point guard in name, his shooting may be his best attribute. In his final two seasons Shamet shot 44.1 percent from deep on 354 attempts. He was the nation’s best spot-up shooter when Greg Marshall used him off the ball, and made multiple 3-pointers in 23 of 32 games.

His versatility can best be explained as such: He was the only player in the country – and just the 13th since 1992 – to average at least five assists, 2.5 3-pointers per game and shoot 44 percent from deep. The 6-foot-5 guard brings shooting, facilitating and length defensively to the table. It’s no cliché.

“I feel like I can step in and do whatever a coach needs me to do, whether it’s playing on the ball being a facilitator/playmaker/initiating offense, or a guy you’ve got to honor off the ball (as) a spot-up shooter,” Shamet said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine.

He struggled shooting in the 5-on-5 scrimmages over the two-day span, but also noted that he accomplished his main goal of defending well. His 6-foot-7 wingspan will be looked down upon in an era where measurements mean more than ever, but he also had a 39-inch max vertical (12th best) and a 3.11 three-quarters court sprint (10th best).

He admitted he’s more athletic than some give him credit for – as his vertical would suggest – but that his game is more “cerebral” and making the right decisions.

“I feel like I have a high IQ, a cerebral player,” he said. “I’m not going to wow you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. I feel like I’m a solid player, pretty steady across the board.”

It’s a skill set the Bulls could use. His numbers and measurements look similar to Denzel Valentine, who has drawn mixed reviews in two NBA seasons and is really the closest thing the Bulls have to a “versatile” guard; Valentine was one of 21 players with 140+ 3-pointers and 240+ assists, 12 of whom were All-Stars.

Shamet also has seven inches of vertical leap and a quicker sprint as far as Combine times are concerned, and he’s a more natural fit as a point guard than Valentine. Shamet said two players whose games he studies include Malcolm Brogdon, a less-than-flashy guard who won 2017 Rookie of the Year making just about every correct play. Brogdon possesses the same sneaky athleticism – ask LeBron James – has shot 40 percent from deep in two NBA seasons and has a 2.62 A/TO ratio.

“You don’t want to step out of your comfort zone and be somebody you’re not, so out here I’m trying to be me, be solid, (and) make the right play all the time,” he said. “I don’t rely on my athleticism, I like to think the game. So I try to just be myself.”

Kris Dunn is cemented as a point guard for the Bulls’ future, and the front office sang Cameron Payne’s praises at season’s end, though he’ll be a free agent after next season. But Dunn, Payne and Jerian Grant combined to shoot 33.6 percent from deep, and even Payne’s 38.5 percent shooting came in a limited, 25-game span.

Shamet wouldn’t be a home-run pick, and certainly not a sexy one. Those picks have burned the Bulls in the past with players like Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and even Valentine. Shamet is 21 years old and has had two major foot surgeries. But the skill set is one the Bulls have needed for some time. And in a draft where the Bulls will be searching for talent, adding a player who fits the bill as a team need as well makes sense.