Bulls

Howard trade impacts entire NBA

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Howard trade impacts entire NBA

One does not have to be the most astute observer of the NBA to understand that after trading for Dwight Howard, the Lakers are once again expected to compete for a championship. Even with a weak bench -- though free-agent acquisition Antawn Jamison helps its cause -- and having to find a way to keep Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash happy, apparently within the Princeton offense, one of the league's perennial glamour teams is once again in the spotlight.
While some have already penciled them into the NBA Finals, the Lakers still have to unseat the Thunder as the best in the West. They'll also have to get past the other rugged teams in the conference such as their Staples Center co-tenant Clippers, the new-look Mavericks, physical Grizzlies, run-and-gun Nuggets and the Spurs, who tied the Bulls for the most regular-season wins last season.
But as much as the new-look Lakers brings memories of the failed Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal-Karl Malone-Gary Payton quartet of the past, with Howard playing with arguably the game's best passer and no longer miscast as his team's primary scoring option --along with Bryant benefiting from playing with an elite playmaker for the first time in his career, as well as Gasol's pick-and-roll strengths likely being highlighted -- the Lakers' formidable starting lineup is impressive.
When it comes to evaluating the trade from Orlando's perspective, it's obvious that they wanted to be done with Howard prior to the start of training camp, especially with a general manager and head coach both in their first year. However, it's hard not to criticize the Magic for not getting more in the deal, particularly when reported offers from the Nets and Rockets seemed so much more beneficial to the organization.
In any event, it appears that the franchise will start from the bottom to rebuild -- shooting guard Arron Afflalo is a legitimate starting-caliber shooting guard, big man Nikola Vucevic had serviceable stretches as a rookie last season, swingman Maurice Harkless is regarded as having one of the higher ceilings in the incoming rookie class and veteran Al Harrington, whose contract is only partially guaranteed in its remaining years, is a trade asset.
On the other hand, the draft choices Orlando acquired are protected picks and don't have as much value as what they would have received from either Brooklyn or Houston, a process that will take time. That strategy worked in both Oklahoma City and San Antonio, where general manager Rob Hennigan and head coach Jacque Vaughn have roots, but in a city weary of the "Dwightmare," with arguably the most impressive arena in the NBA, Magic fans can't be blamed if they're not patient.
For the two other teams involved in the deal, the blockbuster swap should pay major dividends instantly. Philadelphia and Denver were nice young playoff teams last season, but lacked the star power that All-Stars Andrew Bynum and Andre Iguodala, respectively, bring to their new workplaces.
The 76ers had good luck in beating the Bulls in the first round and showed a lot of spunk against the Celtics in the conference semifinals, but they looked to be a team that was a go-to scorer and dominant low-post player away from being taken seriously, weaknesses the organization only addressed in terms of depth in free agency. Although Bynum, a native of nearby New Jersey, isn't guaranteed to sign a long-term contract extension in Philadelphia, the Sixers didn't have to mortgage their future to acquire him.
Iguodala was seemingly on the trading block forever and it was whispered that Chicago native Evan Turner's game wouldn't have a chance to blossom with the All-Star swingman also in the lineup. And with their legion of long, athletic wings (Turner, trade acquisition Dorell Wright, free-agent gunner Nick Young), additional inside help (holdover Thaddeus Young, free agent Kwame Brown, draft pick Arnett Moultrie and re-signed big men Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes) and emerging point guard Jrue Holiday, having the second-best center in the league and an impact player on both ends of the floor makes the young squad a force to be reckoned with.
And that's not even taking into account the expected boost in perimeter shooting that veteran Jason Richardson, also acquired in the deal, should provide.
Iguodala is the perfect fit for Denver's run-and-gun style, and while the Nuggets still don't have a true primary scorer, at the very least the USA Basketball defensive stopper is a player familiar with having the ball in his hands in clutch situations (as evidenced by his coast-to-coast drive that ousted the Bulls from the postseason in the spring).
Joining the likes of sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari, former DePaul standout Wilson Chandler and defensive-oriented Corey Brewer on the wing, along with the superb point-guard tandem of speedster Ty Lawson and crafty Andre Miller, the Nuggets' back court has plenty of options. And re-signed center JaVale McGee, rebounding monster Kenneth Faried and backup Timofey Mozgov make the Nuggets once again a scary potential opponent for one of the West's supposed contenders.
More transactions can certainly occur between now and the NBA's opening night, let alone the February trade deadline, but assuming the Howard deal is the last major trade of any significant impact, why not hazard a guess at how the playoffs could shake out?
In order, the Eastern Conference's postseason qualifiers should be the Heat, Celtics, Knicks, Sixers, Pacers, Nets, Bulls and in eighth, either the Bucks, Hawks or Wizards.
The Western Conference playoffs should feature the Thunder, Lakers, Clippers, Spurs, Mavericks, Nuggets, Grizzlies and in a battle for the final spot, either the Timberwolves, Warriors or Jazz.

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

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USA TODAY

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

Lauri Markkanen doesn't often feel short.

The Bulls forward is 7-feet tall, which even in the land of NBA giants makes him one of the tallest players on the court at all times. So when Markkanen stands next to Yao Ming, it changes perspective quite a bit.

Markkanen posted a photo with him and the 7-foot-6 Chinese Hall of Famer. Markkanen looks like a child.

Makes you wonder if Markkanen pulled some "What's the weather like up there?" jokes just because he otherwise never can.

 

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

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USA TODAY

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

Former Miami Heat two-way player Derrick Walton Jr. is reported to be nearing a deal with the Bulls. In an interview with The Athletic, it was stated: "Walton, 23, says he knows where he’ll play next season. An agreement is in place, but his agent, Mark Bartelstein, is requiring him to sit on the news until next week. All Walton can put out publicly is this: 'Long story short, I’m good. I’m going to a great situation. All I can say.' "

And while it is not yet known if the potential contract will be a two-way deal or not, Walton would provide an intriguing lottery ticket for the Bulls. 

The team mostly ignored looking for a backup point guard on the market. There is obviously a belief in the organization that Cameron Payne will have some internal growth, making him the best option. And the trade of Jerian Grant for essentially nothing, shows even more that Payne is there guy. Retaining Ryan Arcidiacono is a nice move considering the hustle that he showed last season at both the G League and NBA level, but it still leaves the Bulls thin in terms of established backup PGs behind Kris Dunn. And that is where Walton comes into play. 

Walton was a four-year player at the University of Michigan, where he played in some big-time games and showed immense leadership potential. But in terms of strictly on the court skills, there is one thing that he does extremely well: space the floor. 

In his four years at Michigan, Walton took a total of 581 3-point attempts, and knocked them down at a 40.1 percent rate. His elite shooting is enough to make him a legitimate rotation player for Fred Hoiberg. And while Payne still may develop into a better player, his outside shooting is his calling card despite never being elite at that skill at the NBA level. And in fact, when you compare he and Walton’s stats from college, the G League and the NBA, it becomes apparent who is the better shooter right now.

3-point percentage at NCAA level: Payne- 35.9 percent, Walton- 40.1 percent
3-point percentage at G League level: Payne- 33.8 percent, Walton- 37.7 percent
3-point percentage at NBA level: Payne- 34 percent, Walton- 41.2 percent

Now obviously, there is a “small sample size alert” for the NBA level, as Walton has only taken 17 3-pointers at the NBA level in his limited time with the Miami Heat. But these numbers show that even dating back to their freshman years of college, Walton has been the more efficient shooter from 3-point range.

Cameron Payne has the edge when it comes to playmaking, and this is based off of the fact that Payne has maintained an assist rate above 30 percent through all of his G League stints, while also having a low turnover rate (9.9 percent). Walton didn’t come close to Payne in terms of G League assist rate, and his 17.9 percent turnover rate at the G League level shows that his decision-making has yet to catch up to his shooting. 

Ultimately, Walton is going to be most effective as an off-ball guard who can make quick decisions, and knockdown the 3-point shot at a high level. Though if Summer League was any indication, his passing out of the pick-and-roll is getting better. And while Payne certainly is a good shooter, his game is much more predicated on having the ball in his hands, and playing in the pick-and-roll. With so many players on the Bulls who can create their own shot, Walton could end up being the cleanest fit with this constantly evolving Bulls roster.