Four players the Bulls should target in the NBA Draft


Four players the Bulls should target in the NBA Draft

With the draft two days away, Scott Phillips and Mark Strotman took a look at four players the Bulls could realistically target at No. 22.

For a team that won 50 games and leading their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Cavaliers 2-1, Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls front office has work to do on patching up a couple of holes within the Bulls roster. Depth at the center and point guard position, potentially some additional defensive help for Jimmy Butler on the wing or a replacement for Joakim Noah and/or Pau Gasol in the next few years.

Here's a look at who could help shore up some of the Bulls' current deficiencies. For further analysis see what Mark and Scott had to say in the video above.

Justin Anderson, SF, Virginia: The 6-foot-6 junior was on pace to be named the ACC Player of the Year before a wrist injury in February sidelined him for more than a month. But in the 26 games Anderson competed in he proved why he's worthy of a first round selection on Thursday. Playing for the slow-tempo Cavaliers he averaged 12.2 points on 46.6 percent shooting, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists in nearly 28 minutes per game.

The most important numbers that jump out for NBA teams will be that he shot better than 45 percent from beyond the arc - best in the ACC - and was arguably the best defender on the country's second most efficient defense. He's the perfect "3 and D" wing player who can stretch the floor and also give Jimmy Butler help on defense, an area where Tony Snell hasn't consistently contributed through two seasons. The wrist injury and "old" age (21) may allow Anderson to drop to the Bulls, and they'd be wise to consider him if he's there.

[BULLS: Mark Schanowski's NBA mock draft]

Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville: Pick any NBA system and you've got the perfect fit for Harrell. All the knocks on the Louisville bulldozer - he's undersized, doesn't have a consistent jumper - are washed away the second he steps on the court. It's easy to see why his Cardinals won the national championship in 2014 and advanced to the Final Four this past season. A classic high-energy player who has the frame of a linebacker, Harrell was never outworked and combined that with his athleticism to become one of the best forwards in college basketball.

He'll need to become more versatile on the offensive end, but a team drafting Harrell knows it's getting a multiple-effort defender, excellent rebounder and great locker room personality. He's drawn comparisons to Kenneth Faried, and they're not far off. Assuming Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic are the Bulls' future inside, adding a defensive-minded Harrell would give Hoiberg plenty of balance on the interior. He doesn't fill a need per se, but all 30 teams can use a player like him.

Robert Upshaw, C, Washington: During his tenure at Iowa State, Freg Hoiberg became synonymous with bringing in transfers who had failed for one reason or another at their previous school. Fresh starts were the norm in Ames, and it's exactly what Upshaw is looking for at the next level. Kicked off two different programs (Fresno State and Washington) for reported failed drug tests, Upshaw has the talent of a lottery pick and the stock of a borderline first-rounder.

Before he left the Huskies this past season he was leading the nation in blocks per game, proving he's one of the most talented defensive centers in the class. From an on-court perspective he's exactly what the Bulls need. Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah put up solid block numbers but weren't all that great defending the rim, and there's no center behind them to log second unit minutes. The void left by Omer Asik is still glaring on the bench, and Upshaw could fill it. The question is whether or not Hoiberg wants to take on such a big risk in his first season in the NBA. For what it's worth, having veteran presences in Gasol, Noah and Derrick Rose to guide him could go a long way.

[NBA DRAFT: Get ready with more than 60 player profiles]

Tyus Jones, PG, DukeGone are Tom Thibodeau's methodical offensive sets, and they've been replaced with a Fred Hoiberg offense system that thrives on pushing the tempo and finding shots early in the shot clock. That could make Duke freshman point guard Tyus Jones a fit at No. 22. The 2015 NCAA Tournament's MOP thrived in transition all year, showed the ability to knock down 3-pointers and led the Duke offense to a national title while learning to play with lottery selections Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow.

The Bulls went through a carousel of backup point guards under Tom Thibodeau - C.J. Watson, Nate Robinson, Marquis Teague, D.J. Augustin, Aaron Brooks - and it would be nice if they could finally find a foundation for that second unit. Jones has a knack for for running offenses - different from the aforementioned shot-happy Bulls point guards of the past - which should help the group as a whole. Learning under Rose has its perks, and Jones simply finds a way to win everywhere he goes. He'd be tough to pass up in the first round.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season


New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction


Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”