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Jerian Grant could be the Bulls' next 'veteran' gem

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Jerian Grant could be the Bulls' next 'veteran' gem

Since Gar Forman was named general manager following the 2008-09 season, the Bulls' front office has pillaged the NBA Draft. While perennial bottom feeders searched for their next super star in the lottery, Forman, John Paxson and the Bulls simply waited their turn to scoop up prospects with collegiate production, NBA-ready frames and the mental make-up to deal with playing under perfectionist Tom Thibodeau.

The numbers tell the story. Since 2009, 110 of the 180 first-round draft picks have been underclassmen (or the international equivalent), including 23 of the first 30 picks last June. But Forman and the Bulls haven't contributed much to that 61 percent figure.

In the current regime's tenure (six drafts), they've selected and kept seven first-rounders. Four of those draft picks were upperclassmen - Taj Gibson (24-year-old junior, 2009), Jimmy Butler (2011), Tony Snell (junior, 2013) and Doug McDermott (senior, 2014) - while just three were underclassmen - James Johnson (sophomore, 2009), Nikola Mirotic (20 years old, 2011) and Marquis Teague (freshman, 2012). One could even consider Mirotic an "upperclassman" considering the Bulls knew he wouldn't arrive in Chicago until he had years of professional experience in Spain under his belt.

It's no secret, either, that of those seven picks the Bulls' two biggest draft busts were the underclassmen, with Johnson lasting less than two years in Chicago before bouncing around the NBA, finding balance in Memphis and Toronto, and Teague out of the NBA just three years after leading Kentucky to a 40-1 national championship season.

[MORE: NBA Draft Profile: Notre Dame G Jerian Grant]

With the verdict still out on McDermott - the rookie missed six weeks after knee surgery in mid-November and never found a spot in the rotation - Forman and the Bulls have gone 3-for-3 on their "veteran" selections. Gibson has carved out a role as one of the top sixth men in the league, Butler improved each year and earned his first All-Star nod in February, and Snell showed significant improvement in his outside shot in Year 2 (32.0% as a rookie to 37.1% as a sophomore on 19 more attempts) and could see an expanded role next season if Mike Dunleavy (UFA) doesn't return.

The Bulls will again be afforded that same luxury of selecting outside the lottery this year, after teams have selected the fresh, young talent - 11 of the first 12 picks in Ed Issacson's mock draft are freshmen - they hope will turn around their franchise's fortunes. And as has been the case in years' past, there's plenty of "veteran" talent to be had around pick No. 22, where the Bulls will select in June.

One of those names that figures to come up in pre-draft discussions is Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant. The fifth-year senior saw his draft stock rise this past season when he was named a consensus All-American, leading the Irish to an ACC Tournament championship and an Elite Eight berth, with his buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Kentucky almost sending the Irish into the history books and onto the Final Four.

Grant averaged 16.5 points and 6.7 assists in his final season in South Bend, taking the reins of a Notre Dame team that began the year outside the top 25 and finished ranked No. 5.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Will Frank Kaminsky turn college success into NBA greatness?]

He'll be 23 years old by the time the NBA season begins, ancient by draft standards compared to the likes of fellow 19-year-old point guards D'Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Tyus Jones, all of whom are projected to be selected before Grant hears his name called.

Grant admits his age may be a "concern" for some teams. He also admits there's upside in a player like him.

"Me being this old means that I’m more ready right now," he said at the NBA Draft Combine. "At the same time I can get a lot better. The way I work I know I’m going to get a lot better, but at 22 I think I’ll be able to come in and help a team when they need me right now."

That certainly fits the bill in Chicago. The Bulls' ongoing carousel behind Derrick Rose - C.J. Watson, Nate Robinson, D.J. Augustin, Aaron Brooks - has provided temporary stopgaps but nothing of real substance or foundation. Kirk Hinrich will be 35 next season and is coming off the worst statistical season of his career (1.0 Win Shares in 66 games) and, after the Teague failure, the Bulls are still looking for a permanent solution behind Rose.

Grant continued his onslaught at the rim, connecting on better than 57 percent of his two-pointers last season. He saw a significant regression from beyond the 3-point line (40.8% to 31.6% this season) but chalked that up having the ball in his hands more and teams keying in on him defensively following the graduation of senior Eric Atkins in 2013-14. He's confident his shot will come around to form when he's no longer the main option in an offense at the next level.

"I know I’m probably not going to be a guy who has the ball in his hands as much as I did this year at Notre Dame, but just being able to play off the ball a little bit more and be able to knock down shots is going to be big," he said.

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He'll make his contributions in the NBA as a versatile scorer and playmaker - he watches film of James Harden and Damian Lillard - and will be able to do it from Day 1. Whereas his younger counterparts may need time to acclimate, Grant has 120 collegiate games to his resume and step into a secondary role right away.

The Bulls will have competition to obtain Grant's services, as Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Houston, Washington and Dallas all need point-guard help. But if he's on the board at No. 22, Grant could provide help to the Bulls immediately while also watching him grow like the upperclassmen they've already succeeded in drafting.

"I work harder that anyone in this draft so I know I’m going to continue to get better," he said, "and me being old, I think I’m ready to go right now. I’m ready to help a team right now, but a few years down the road I think I’ll be even better to help a team."

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.