Excitement builds over Sam Dekker's NBA potential


Excitement builds over Sam Dekker's NBA potential

He's picked up all-conference honors, he's been to each of the past two Final Fours, he's wowed on a national stage, and he's even guarded LeBron James.

There are plenty of reasons why people are so excited to see what Sam Dekker can do in the NBA.

Dekker comes pretty close to being able to do everything expected of a 6-foot-9 small forward. He can shoot, he can defend, he can score at the basket — they don't call him Slam Dekker for nothing, you know — and he's proven himself on college basketball's biggest stages.

But he was a little nervous when it came time for his vertical jump to be measured at last month's NBA Draft Combine.

“You did have a little nerves," he said. "My first vertical jump I was overthinking just a bit because this is your first time doing this stuff, everyone’s new to it, a rookie. And I think a lot of guys would be lying if they said they didn’t have any nerves in here. You shouldn’t because you’ve done so much work to get to this point, but it’s human nature, it’s going to happen.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: NBA Draft Profile: Wisconsin F Sam Dekker]

With Dekker, nerves during a vertical-jump measurement comes as a little surprising. After all, this is the same guy who showed America he had ice water in his veins during Wisconsin's march to a second straight Final Four appearance this spring. He scored 20 second-half points on perfect 6-for-6 shooting (5-for-5 from 3-point range) in the Badgers' Elite Eight victory over Arizona, one of three 20-plus-point performances during the Big Dance. And it was Dekker who hit a tie-breaking 3 with fewer than two minutes to play in Wisconsin's Final Four win over Kentucky, the shot that gave the Badgers the lead for good in a win that not only punched a ticket to the national title game but a win that ended the Wildcats' perfect season.

Dekker showed everyone he was Mr. Clutch back in the spring. The summer's been about convincing NBA teams that he can be a valuable addition at the pro level.

“I think I bring a lot of things," Dekker said. "I bring versatility, a competitive drive. The pro game is a style of game I like. I’ve learned a lot of things in regard to discipline and being able to play in systems. So I think when you mix those together, it creates a pretty good combination for someone who can be with many different organizations and fit them well. I think offensively and defensively, I’ll be able to be a good addition to any team, and I’m looking forward to what’s in store here.”

But if the Badgers' NCAA tournament run made Dekker the national star that fans in the Big Ten already knew he was capable of being, it might have also shown what he considers to be one of his biggest weaknesses.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Cameron Payne wants to be NBA's next Stephen Curry]

Two nights after he hit the Final Four's biggest basket, Dekker was cold against Duke, part of the reason Wisconsin couldn't complete its mission to win a national championship. Dekker had 12 points on 6-for-15 shooting, including missing all six 3-point shots he took. He criticized himself after the game, and though he was hardly the only reason the Badgers lost, he put that defeat on himself.

In his post-college career, he's saying he needs to work on being more consistent, specifically when it comes to that 3-point shot, likely because he doesn't want what happened in the national title game to happen again.

“I think I’ve got to be a more consistent outside shooter," Dekker said. "I think I’ve taken great strides doing that, but that’s one thing that was spotty throughout the year, me being able to be a consistent, knock-down outside shooter. I consider myself a pretty good shooter, but I want to become a great shooter. I think I’ll be able to do that.

“Consistency is always going to be a question with everybody, but with me, there’s times I go weeks and play very high-level basketball and then I have a few games where I just wouldn’t be as aggressive. I was passive once in a while. That’s just me maturing and just letting things go and having that confidence that I can be a difference maker every night. That comes with growing up, that comes with maturation, and I think I’ve taken a big step and a big leap in that direction and have gotten much better.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Montrezl Harrell brings talent, high energy to the NBA]

There are many reasons people think Dekker is ready for stardom at the next level, and a lot of those things have to do with his body, his athleticism and his game. He's 6-foot-9, and he touted his versatility at the Combine. He's got a 6-foot-11.5 wingspan. He's got a 34-inch vertical leap. He's long enough to defend just about anyone, like when he went up against LeBron James during the NBA superstar's camp last summer. He can score in just about any way you can think of.

But Dekker's also been through it all over the past two seasons with Bo Ryan's Badgers. In addition to playing in 11 NCAA tournament games in two years, he's gone through the nightly rigors of the Big Ten, a league many say prepares its stars for the NBA more than any other.

“The Big Ten is one of those conferences that you see a lot of different styles. Michigan State’s a physical team that likes to get it out of the rim and go. We have teams like us that kind of like to slow it up once in a while. We don’t mind pushing it. And then teams like Indiana that will run it down your throat and put up 3s. So we’ve seen all different sorts of teams, and we played a tough non-conference schedule. So we had every type of style that you want to play thrown at us this year, and I think we handled them all well, myself included," Dekker said. "I like the style of play that the NBA level has. I’m an open-court type of guy and just like to get moving, so I don’t think I’m going to have any kind of trouble transitioning with that.”

Now it just comes down to where Dekker will be playing his professional basketball. Some mock drafts have him just outside the top 10, others have him going in the mid-20s. We obviously won't know for sure until draft night.

But regardless of which team selects one of Sheboygan's favorite sons, they'll likely be giddy over the potential that Dekker brings with him.

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.