Bulls

McGrady Could Alter Balance of Power in East

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McGrady Could Alter Balance of Power in East

Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010
5:19 PM
By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

So, you think Tracy McGrady isn't an important player in the NBA anymore? Turns out the decision on which team he'll be traded to could have a big impact on this summer's free agent bidding war. Right now, the Bulls and Knicks are the finalists to acquire the one-time superstar, who's struggling to come back from microfracture knee surgery. McGrady is only 30 years old, but he's already played 12 NBA seasons, and has battled a series of injuries in recent years. The Rockets took a look at him in December in limited minutes, and decided he didn't have the quickness or explosiveness necessary to be a productice NBA player anymore. So, by mutual decision, McGrady left the team to continue his rehab with noted personal trainer Tim Grover here in Chicago.

Grover insists McGrady is in excellent shape, and ready to contribute to an NBA team right now. Others around the league aren't so sure. He played heavy minutes during his time in Orlando and Houston, forced to carry the scoring load for average teams. McGrady been among the league's top scorers for the last decade and made multiple All-Star teams, but he was never an active player on a team that won a playoff series. Ironically, Houston finally advanced to the Western Conference Finals last season after McGrady ended his season to have the microfracture surgery. Now NBA scouts and front office types are wondering if he'll ever be an impact player again.

But the acquisition of McGrady still could alter the balance of power in the league for years to come, especially if Houston accepts a Knicks' proposal that includes Jared Jeffries. Why Jeffries you ask? Well, because if the Knicks are able to unload Jeffries' contract that has one more season to go, they should have enough salary cap room to offer TWO maximum contract offers to free agents this summer. That means they'll be able to tell LeBron James if he's willing to come to New York, he can bring any one of the other elite free agents with him. If you want D-Wade, bring D-Wade. If you want Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Joe Johnson, we can get the co-star of your choosing. LeBron has always loved New York. He wears a Yankees' baseball cap to Cleveland Indians' games! He has spoken on numerous occasions about his love for Madison Square Garden, and his respect for New York City as the Mecca of basketball. Sure, LeBron is from Akron, Ohio, but he fantasizes about showcasing his talents on the world's biggest stage. If Cleveland doesn't make a move at the deadline to acqure Amar'e Stoudemire or Antawn Jamison, or if they don't win the NBA championship this spring, don't be surprised if LeBron bolts for the Big Apple.

That's one of the reasons why John Paxson and Gar Forman are working so hard to swing their own McGrady deal. Their dream scenario involves signing either Wade or Joe Johnson as a free agent this summer, then working a sign and trade for an inside player like Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer or David Lee. But if the Knicks are successful in luring two free agents to New York, the Bulls plan falls apart completely. So don't be fooled by McGrady's diminishing skills. This is a player who figures very heavily in the off-season plans for the Bulls, Knicks and several other NBA teams. Wade is growing impatient with Pat Riley's inability to deliver on his promise to build another championship team in Miami, and might consider a return to Chicago if the Heat's off-season plans don't deliver another superstar to South Beach. And given LeBron's emergence as the clear-cut best player in the world, his game and ego may have outgrown Cleveland. So, none of the teams holding one of the elite free agents can be sure what will happen this summer. That's why this battle over acquring McGrady's expiring contract has suddenly become so important.

BULLS IN GOOD POSITION FOR RETURN TO PLAYOFFS

Back to the action on the court, the Bulls sure looked good in rolling up a lopsided win over the Knicks Tuesday night. Derrick Rose hit his first 9 shots from the floor and wound up making 14 of 18 for 29 points in just 27 minutes. He admitted his bruised hip is still sore, but doesn't seem too concerned about the injury. Rose said simply bruises heal, and he should be fine in the next few days. As long as their All-Star point guard is healthy, there's no reason why the Bulls can't make the playoffs for the 2nd year in a row. Their schedule is very favorable over the next few weeks, and they'll play a steady diet of home games in March. Unless Paxson and Forman gut the roster with deadline deals, the Bulls should be able to finish about .500 and make a run at the 6th or 7th seed in the East.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY M.J.

And before we sign off, I wanted to wish a happy birthday to the greatest basketball player in history of the game, Michael Jordan, who turns 47 today. Jordan is involved in serious negotiations right now to become the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. We wish him well in that pursuit, and thank him for those 6 championships. And, on a personal note, I'll always remember Jordan's birthday because my daughter, Brooke, was born on the same date in 1995. HAPPY BIRTHDAY BROOKE......you're running with some pretty elite company!

Don't forget, Bulls and Knicks on Comcast Sportsnet Wednesday at 6:30. Kendall Gill will join me for the post-game show and all the latest NBA trade news right after the final buzzer around 9 p.m. Enjoy the game, and we'll talk to you soon!

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Why the Bulls should bet on potential and draft Jaren Jackson Jr.

Previous making the case for: Deandre Ayton | Luka Doncic | Mo Bamba | Marvin Bagley | Michael Porter Jr.

The modern NBA center is transforming. Last season 12 centers (as listed by Basketball Reference) made 50 or more 3-pointers, up from 10 players in 2016-17. The year before that, in 2015-16, five players accomplished that feat. Four players did it in 2014-15, three did it in 2013-14, and from 1990 to 2012 only Mehmet Okur (five times), Channing Frye (three times) and Byron Mullens (once) accomplished it.

Many of the names on that list, however, don’t exactly cut it on the other end. Sure, players like Joel Embiid, Al Horford and Marc Gasol are elite defenders. But repeat 50+ club members also include Karl-Anthony Towns, Marreese Speights, Kelly Olynyk, DeMarcus Cousins and Pero Antic. In other words, players Rudy Gobert won’t have to worry about contending with for Defensive Player of the Year.

But that former list – the Embiid, Horford, Gasol one – could add another member to it in the coming years. Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. was a rarity in college basketball this past season. He became the fifth player since 1992 to compile 35 or more 3-pointers and 100 or more blocks in a single season. Jackson had 38 and 106, respectively, and he accomplished those numbers in 764 minutes; the other four players on the list averaged 1,082 minutes, and the next fewest was Eddie Griffin’s 979 minutes in 2000-01.

Staying on those minutes, Jackson averaged 21.8 per game. That was decidedly fewer per game than Carter (26.9), Bamba (30.2), Ayton (33.5) and Bagley (33.9). We’ll get to why those minutes might be an issue, but for now it’s a reason to not be scared off by his lack of raw numbers (10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks).

Jackson’s block percentage (14.2%) ranked fourth in the country. That was higher than Bamba’s 12.9%, despite Bamba tallying 3.7 blocks per game. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Jackson was elite as a rim protector. He ranked in the 99th percentile in defensive possessions around the rim, allowing a mere 0.405 PPP. To put that number in context, freshmen Joel Embiid (0.844), Karl-Anthony Towns (0.8) and Myles Turner (0.667) weren’t even close. This past season Bamba allowed a whopping 1.088 PPP in that area, ranking in the 33rd percentile nationally.

Jackson plays bigger than the 236 pounds he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine. Here’s where we tell you he’ll need to add muscle like all 18-year-olds entering the NBA (oh, he’s also the youngest first-round prospect in the class). But defending the interior shouldn’t be a problem; his defensive rebounding rate wasn’t spectacular (19.8%), but the Spartans were a solid rebounding team as a whole – 76th nationally – so Jackson didn’t need to be great for the Spartans to succeed.

Jackson is going to defend at a high level, and in five years he’ll likely be known more for his defense than his offense. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have potential on that end of the floor. He ranked in the 91st percentile in points per possession (shooting 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep helps), doing his most damage in the post (1.22 PPP, 98th percentile) and on jumpers, which were almost exclusively 3-point attempts (1.09 PPP, 81st). He was even a plus on pick-and-rolls, averaging 1.11 on a limited 27-possession sample size.

But not all 3-pointers are created equally. Consider that Jackson did almost all of his damage beyond the arc from the top of the key. He went 21-for-42 from straightaway, according to Synergy Sports, an absurd percentage on that many attempts. From all other areas he went 17-for-54. But in the pick-and-roll era, Jackson’s ability to pop out to the top of the key after setting a screen, and his confidence to take and make those shots, is priceless.

He needs polish on both ends. That seems like the easy way out, and a generic statement that could be made for all these prospects. But so much of his game is still raw; again, there’s a reason he played just 54 percent of all available minutes, and tallied 15 minutes in the Spartan’s NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse.

He committed 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes (Bamba committed 4.3, for reference) and he shot just 48 percent on non-dunks inside 6 feet. His post numbers were good because he is nearly 7 feet tall and was always one of the most talented players on the floor. It’ll get tougher at the next level, and he’ll need to improve his feel around the rim as well as his post moves.

It doesn’t appear likely at this point, but there’s still a chance Jackson could fall to the Bulls at 7. We’ll safely assume Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic will be off the board. If Michael Porter’s medicals check out he should go in the top 5, and the other three selections could be Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba and Trae Young. Young is certainly the least likely of the bunch, but it only takes one team to fall in love with his potential. Orlando at No. 6 is a natural fit.

If he is there at No. 7, he needs to be the Bulls pick. Admittedly this would be less of a decision than some of the other picks we’ll get to in the coming weeks. Allowing Lauri Markkanen to roam the wings while Jackson set picks for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine would improve the offense drastically. And putting an elite rim protector next to Markkanen only covers up the latter’s weaknesses and, thus, makes him a better player.

If teams fall in love with Bamba’s length, Young’s shooting and Porter’s health, Jackson could be waiting when the Bulls pick at No. 7. He isn’t the wing the front office covets, but he is a two-way player with immense upside.

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

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USA TODAY

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

The Bulls are in need of talent. That much is clear after a 27-win campaign in which they finished ranked 28th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ll add a pair of prospects next month, with two selections in the first round, and presumably take the next step in their rebuild. Talent is important, that can’t be overstated. The Bulls should stick to their board and take the best player available nine out of 10 times.

But as much as the Bulls need an influx of talent, versatility in the backcourt might be a close second. And while there isn’t really any player at No. 7 that would fit that bill – they could reach for Collin Sexton – there are a number of versatile guards, in a class dominated at the top by bigs, who could be there when the Bulls are on the clock at No. 22.

Meet Wichita State guard Landry Shamet. That classic NBA buzzword “versatile” is thrown around more often than ever before. The idea that a player can play multiple positions, can defend 1-3 or has the potential to learn two spots at the next level. Then there’s Shamet. He’s actually done it.

He arrived in Wichita as a shooting guard, the Shockers’ highest-rated recruit in nine years. A broken foot cost him all but three games of his freshman season, but he returned in 2016 and made an immediate impact, including a shift to point guard midway through the season; the move went seamlessly, as he led the Shockers in assists (3.3) and was 14th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.00). He matched Kentucky freshman point guard DeAaron Fox in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 20 points on 7 of 14 shooting in a loss.

He remained at point guard in his sophomore season and dominated, earning an honorable mention All-American nod while leading the team in points (14.9) assists (5.2), and 3-pointers (2.6) per game for a Shockers team ranked in the top 25 all year, and as high as No. 3 in December.

He had the ball in his hands plenty at Wichita State, but his shooting hardly suffered. A point guard in name, his shooting may be his best attribute. In his final two seasons Shamet shot 44.1 percent from deep on 354 attempts. He was the nation’s best spot-up shooter when Greg Marshall used him off the ball, and made multiple 3-pointers in 23 of 32 games.

His versatility can best be explained as such: He was the only player in the country – and just the 13th since 1992 – to average at least five assists, 2.5 3-pointers per game and shoot 44 percent from deep. The 6-foot-5 guard brings shooting, facilitating and length defensively to the table. It’s no cliché.

“I feel like I can step in and do whatever a coach needs me to do, whether it’s playing on the ball being a facilitator/playmaker/initiating offense, or a guy you’ve got to honor off the ball (as) a spot-up shooter,” Shamet said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine.

He struggled shooting in the 5-on-5 scrimmages over the two-day span, but also noted that he accomplished his main goal of defending well. His 6-foot-7 wingspan will be looked down upon in an era where measurements mean more than ever, but he also had a 39-inch max vertical (12th best) and a 3.11 three-quarters court sprint (10th best).

He admitted he’s more athletic than some give him credit for – as his vertical would suggest – but that his game is more “cerebral” and making the right decisions.

“I feel like I have a high IQ, a cerebral player,” he said. “I’m not going to wow you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. I feel like I’m a solid player, pretty steady across the board.”

It’s a skill set the Bulls could use. His numbers and measurements look similar to Denzel Valentine, who has drawn mixed reviews in two NBA seasons and is really the closest thing the Bulls have to a “versatile” guard; Valentine was one of 21 players with 140+ 3-pointers and 240+ assists, 12 of whom were All-Stars.

Shamet also has seven inches of vertical leap and a quicker sprint as far as Combine times are concerned, and he’s a more natural fit as a point guard than Valentine. Shamet said two players whose games he studies include Malcolm Brogdon, a less-than-flashy guard who won 2017 Rookie of the Year making just about every correct play. Brogdon possesses the same sneaky athleticism – ask LeBron James – has shot 40 percent from deep in two NBA seasons and has a 2.62 A/TO ratio.

“You don’t want to step out of your comfort zone and be somebody you’re not, so out here I’m trying to be me, be solid, (and) make the right play all the time,” he said. “I don’t rely on my athleticism, I like to think the game. So I try to just be myself.”

Kris Dunn is cemented as a point guard for the Bulls’ future, and the front office sang Cameron Payne’s praises at season’s end, though he’ll be a free agent after next season. But Dunn, Payne and Jerian Grant combined to shoot 33.6 percent from deep, and even Payne’s 38.5 percent shooting came in a limited, 25-game span.

Shamet wouldn’t be a home-run pick, and certainly not a sexy one. Those picks have burned the Bulls in the past with players like Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and even Valentine. Shamet is 21 years old and has had two major foot surgeries. But the skill set is one the Bulls have needed for some time. And in a draft where the Bulls will be searching for talent, adding a player who fits the bill as a team need as well makes sense.