Bulls

Hornets hit jackpot in NBA Draft lottery

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Hornets hit jackpot in NBA Draft lottery

One way to look at Wednesday night's NBA Draft lottery is that the fix was in. Another viewpoint is that the idea of being rewarded for alleged "tanking" died, or at least it should have.

After setting an NBA record for the lowest winning percentage in a season, albeit a lockout-shortened campaign, the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Bobcats suffered a mild upset, as the New Orleans Hornets won the luck of the draw, receiving the No. 1 pick in next month's draft. It has to be noted that although the Hornets will soon be owned by Tom Benson, who owns the NFL's New Orleans Saints, that purchase hasn't officially gone through yet, meaning the Hornets are still currently owned by the NBA.

But regardless of whether the Hornets getting the top pick in the draft is a mea culpa by the league for blocking the proposed Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers blockbuster deal prior to the regular season or not, it certainly affects a number of issues. This year's draft, while viewed as a solid group of prospects overall, is considered to possess only one franchise-changing player: Chicago native Anthony Davis.

The mediocrity of Jordan's Bobcats was hard to stomach this season, but with a 25-percent chance to acquire Davis, they had a shot to instantly improve and build a foundation for the future. Now, though they're still far under the cap, allowing them to at least throw a heap of money at the feet at the top free agents in a middling group, as well as the No. 2 pick--while the spot is up for grabs, especially with Charlotte having so many needs throughout the roster, no other prospect is seen as a no-brainer choice--the Bobcats' future isn't quite as bright as before Hornets head coach Monty Williams' face lit up with delight Wednesday evening.

New Orleans, on the other hand, still has a lot of improvement to make, but Williams is regarded as one of the league's top young coaches and despite not having an impressive record, the Hornets were mostly competitive in a lot of their losses this season. Now, the organization still needs to figure out if Eric Gordon, who missed most of the campaign with knee issues, is even interested in returning--the young shooting guard is a restricted free agent, so they can match other teams' offers for him--or if they should attempt to facilitate a trade, as the likes of his hometown Pacers are interested, with Indiana leading scorer Danny Granger, coincidentally a New Orleans native, and his potential departure conveniently clearing room for budding star Paul George to move to his natural small-forward position.

While Davis will have to adjust his mindset to one of patience after coming off a national-championship season at Kentucky, it's not as if he hasn't been on a losing team before. By now, almost everyone knows his story of sprouting from an unknown 6-foot-2 guard to a 6-foot-10 phenom and the nation's top prep prospect before his senior year, but few remember that his Perspectives Charter high-school team wasn't even in the Chicago Public League's top division and still had a losing record.

Obviously the shot-blocking phenom--in addition to winning national Player of the Year and top-freshman awards, Davis was also the top defensive player in college basketball--has improved since then and there are aspects of his game he didn't always get to display on a loaded Kentucky team. But while his overall skills, perimeter ability and underrated scoring will surprise people, it will take a while before Davis, who also needs to add strength to his spindly frame, will experience even close to the success in his future residence as the last time he was in New Orleans, where his University of Kentucky team won the national title last month.

Still, conspiracies and growing pains aside, both the Hornets, who seemingly have got the short end of the stick since their 2008, Paul-propelled playoff run, is finally having a run of good luck, as the All-Star Game will return to the city for the first time since that year, they have local ownership and now, the low-key Davis, whose personality fits the laid-back Crescent City. In the mold of the Bulls' Derrick Rose, a fellow South Sider, Davis is a genuinely nice young man and currently a better person than player, though with a game somewhat reminiscent of a young Kevin Garnett, who ironically played his final season of high school hoops in the Windy City, there's a chance that gap is evened in the future.

Other teams also had enjoyable evenings--Portland made out like bandits in the lottery, getting the sixth pick from the Nets as a result of the mid-season Gerald Wallace trade (if it was in the top three, Brooklyn, which was hoping for Davis, but ended up empty-handed, would have kept the pick); Golden State can breathe a sigh of relief, as they keep the seventh pick (instead of having it go to Utah, which would have occurred if it was eighth or lower); while New Orleans also received the 10th pick via the Paul trade--but although Davis is unlikely to make New Orleans a playoff team immediately by himself, it gives the franchise hope. Just maybe not enough to keep the local Times-Picayune a daily newspaper instead of just three print editions a week.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.


Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.


But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 


Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.

 

For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 


Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

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USA TODAY

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.


Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 


LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.


LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.


Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.