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.

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

Chicago, IL (October 15, 2018) – NBC Sports Chicago – THE Home of the #AuthenticFan – has announced it will launch Bulls Outsiders, a brand new, live, multi-platform, fan-interactive Bulls program that will provide a fresh take on that evening’s game and much more from three non-conventional sports show hosts.  Bulls Outsiders will make its network debut after the Bulls 2018-19 road/season opener this Thursday, October 18 (approx. 10:00 PM CT) immediately following Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois on NBC Sports Chicago+, via live stream to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive, and -- on Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago). NOTE: Bulls Outsiders will also re-air on the main NBC Sports Chicago channel on this night at 11:00 PM; the majority of airings will also air live on the main channel location.

Hosted by three, die-hard Bulls enthusiasts – Matt Peck (@Bulls_Peck), David Watson (@bawlsports), and John Sabine (@jsabine214) – Bulls Outsiders will provide viewers with the hottest takes, insightful analysis, and spirited commentary from the fans' perspective. This new half-hour program will immediately follow the network’s dedicated, season-long presentation of Bulls Postgame Live for all 82 Bulls games this season.  

In addition to the lively post-game discussion with the show’s hosts, Bulls Outsiders will also emphasize heavy viewer interaction via fan engagement on a number of the network’s social media platforms including Twitter (@NBCSBulls; fans urged to utilize the Twitter hashtag #BullsOutsiders in their posts) and Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago), which will enable Bulls fans to directly interact with the show’s hosts via comments and questions pertaining to that particular evening’s game, the key topics presented to them that night, or anything else they want to discuss from a league-wide NBA perspective. 

“Our primary goal at NBC Sports Chicago is to super serve our fans and with the introduction of Bulls Outsiders to our multi-platform programming line-up, we are able to continue that mission with a fresh and fun new program that not only speaks to Bulls fans, but one that directly involves them in the dialogue,” said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. 

In preparation for the hiring of the program’s three primary hosts, NBC Sports Chicago reached out to a number of notable local (and vocal) die-hard Bulls fans who stood out among the vast Bulls social media community. Candidates who responded back with interest were simply asked to shoot a one-minute video on their phone and offer up their take on Chicago native/Simeon Career Academy H.S. grad Jabari Parker joining the Bulls via free agency.  From there, the initial two dozen candidates were narrowed down to eight, who were then all brought in for in-studio auditions. Following the lengthy on-camera process, Cross, along with Bulls content producer Kevin Anderson, finalized their decision and welcomed Peck, Watson, and Sabine to the NBC Sports Chicago family.  

“It was an intricate process in choosing our hosts, but there’s no doubt Matt, David, and John have a great chemistry and solid individual strengths,” added Cross. “I’m also excited about how Bulls Outsiders will take fan interactivity to a brand new level and I couldn’t be more pleased that we will be able to deliver this show to the passionate and undeniably-dedicated Bulls fan base.”

Please note the following Bulls Outsiders host bios:

Matt Peck - Podcast host/writer for ‘Locked On Bulls’

Age: 31

Hometown: Glen Ellyn, IL

Favorite Bull of all time: “MJ, obviously…but Rodman is a very close second.” 

Favorite Current Bull: Lauri Markkanen 

Favorite Bulls moments: 

1st place – “1997 NBA Finals Game 1. MJ hits the game-winner at the buzzer after Karl Malone misses 2 FTs...Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays."

2nd place – “2011 Eastern Conference Finals Game 1…Bulls blow out the ‘Heatles.’ Taj destroys Dwyane Wade's soul. And has a FILTHY put back dunk late with the route on. The Madhouse goes insane. We all leave that night thinking we were about to win the title.” 

David Watson - Bulls writer/podcast host for BawlSports.com

Age: 39

Hometown: Chicago, IL                            

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: Michael Jordan

Favorite current Bulls player: Lauri Markkanen

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan Flu Game in ‘97…Noah dunk on Paul Pierce in ’09 first round Game 6 Triple OT…oh, and that Pippen dunk on Ewing in the ’94 playoffs.”

John Sabine - Actor, copywriter, and improviser…he has performed with The Second City IO and The Improvised Shakespeare Company.

Age: 34

Hometown: Originally from Dallas, TX…has lived in Chicago for the last 11 years

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: “Pippen or Rodman, it's probably Rodman. Is it weird it's Rodman?”

Favorite current Bulls player: “Lauri Markkanen, but really Bobby Portis. I want to be friends with Bobby Portis.” 

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan's return from baseball. As a kid I couldn't understand, I said "wait ...he just decided to not play and now he decided to play, but like he has a new number and he's still awesome...what?!’ or…either 2013 Round 1 Game 4 against the Nets 3OT, Nate Robinson. It was a Marvel Movie.” 

REMINDER: NBC Sports Chicago will carry the 2018-19 Bulls HOME OPENER on Saturday, October 20 (Bulls Pregame Live presented by Coors Light at 6:00 PM; Bulls vs. Pistons tip-off at 7:00 PM; Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois at approx. 9:30 PM, which will immediately be followed by Bulls Outsiders at approx. 10:00 PM).


Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Healthy in October for the first time in three seasons, Zach LaVine entered training camp as the $78 million man looking to justify one of the summer’s largest deals that many criticized.

And just a few days into camp, the spotlight homed in on him further when the Bulls lost Lauri Markkanen to an elbow injury.

LaVine responded to both challenges, putting together a preseason performance that not even the most optimistic expectations could have included.

In just 22.3 minutes he averaged 17.8 points on 52 percent shooting, made 44 percent of his triples and got to the free throw line a team best 4.8 times per game. In short, he looked much more like the potential franchise-building piece the Bulls believed they were acquiring 19 months ago.

“I’m my hardest critic, so there’s nothing on the outside that I haven’t told myself of where I want to be at. You want to tell the doubters on the outside I told you so, but it’s mostly coming from a place where I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for.’’

The fifth-year shooting guard was fluid, attacked in a variety of ways and looked like part of the offense, something that at times was non-existent during last year’s injury-riddled comeback season. Taking shots in rhythm, attacking the rim instead of settling for contested jumpers, running the floor. LaVine looked a lot like the player who shot 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from deep before the ACL injury in 2017.

“I think I found a good rhythm and then just keep that going into the regular season. I think last year still, I was trying to catch my rhythm with the games I played,” LaVine said Monday at the Advocate Center. “I’d play two good games and two bad games. I felt like that up and down was a little bit with the consistency of not playing. Now that I’m back fully I think that’s where I should be.”

The offensive uptick is a sight for sore eyes, especially with Markkanen on the mend. But where LaVine can quiet his harshest critics – including himself – is on the defensive end.

It’s just a five-game sample size, but LaVine’s individual defensive rating of 97.3 was better than the team’s overall 100.2 rating. A year ago, LaVine’s defensive rating was 113.9, the worst on the team, and worse than the team’s overall 110.4 mark. They’re baby steps, but steps nonetheless for a player who knows what the book says about him on that end of the floor.

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” he said. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

The preseason is one hurdle cleared, but they get much taller and difficult to get over when Thursday and the Philadelphia 76ers come around. No matter who starts in the frontcourt – Fred Hoiberg isn’t ready to announce Bobby Portis and Wendell Carter Jr. yet – or if the Bulls get good Jabari Parker instead of preseason Jabari Parker, all eyes will be on LaVine.

It’s the contract. It’s being the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butle trade. It’s how well he played before the injury and how dominant he looked in the preseason. He’s off to a good start and knows now is this time to build on it.

“There are a lot of things you want to reach and get better at every year, and I put a lot of work into this offseason,” he said. “I have a lot of things to prove and want to get better at, and yeah, I feel like it’s just motivation for yourself when you want to accomplish things.’’