Bulls

NBA Draft: Kentucky's Devin Booker could be hidden gem

booker.png

NBA Draft: Kentucky's Devin Booker could be hidden gem

There's a hidden gem in the 2015 NBA Draft.

The expected top two picks, Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns and Duke's Jahlil Okafor, have superstar potential, while a host of other players like Justise Winslow, D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay have the traits to be future franchise players.

Looking outside the expected top five or seven picks, the draft's youngest player has all the tools to become a critical piece to a championship puzzle.

Kentucky's Devin Booker, who won't turn 19 until Oct. 30, arrived in Lexington as part of John Calipari's most recent heralded recruiting class. Ranked No. 29 by Rivals, he was the Wildcats' fourth best recruit behind Towns (5), Trey Lyles (13) and Tyler Ulis (21). His role was a distinct one: to provide mismatch problems at shooting guard with his 6-foot-6 frame and provide valuable outside shooting on a team stacked with five-star big men and average returning outside shooters in Andrew and Aaron Harrison.

[RELATED - NBA Draft Profile: Kentucky G Devin Booker]

Even the most casual basketball fan could assume that Booker did just that. On a Kentucky team that won its first 38 games - an NCAA record - Booker played the role of sharpshooter, connecting on better than 41 percent of his 141 3-pointers, finishing with the SEC's fourth best true-shooting percentage (60.0 percent) and best among all guards in the conference. As was the case for all Wildcats, which played a 10-man rotation, Booker deferred to the Harrison twins and Ulis and was never relied upon too heavily, only logging more than 25 minutes in a game six times.

That distinguished niche off the bench earned him SEC Sixth Man of the Year honors, finishing with 10.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.5 3-pointers in 38 games.

"We were surrounded by a lot of talent at Kentucky so I found my niche, and that’s what we needed to do," Booker said at last month's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "We had plenty of ball handlers out there with Tyler (Ulis) and Andrew (Harrison), so I felt I could show a little more (at the Combine), create for others. And I’m trying to become a two-way elite player."

The final part of Booker's quote may be the only hesitation. He mentioned multiple times during his availability that he's focusing his efforts in pre-draft workouts on improving his defensive game, which admittedly lacked and was covered up by the Kentucky bigs; opposing teams who got by Booker and any other UK guards were met by the country's tallest and most talented frontcourt.

Booker's 6-foot-8 wingspan helped make up for some of his lateral quickness deficiencies. That won't cut it at the next level guarding the likes of James Harden, Jimmy Butler and other two-guards with lightning-quick first steps. It's why he's also dedicated himself to studying film, specifically Golden State shooting guard Klay Thompson. Thompson was a more complete draft prospect and better defender in 2011, though he was also a junior when he was selected No. 11 by the Warriors.

[ROTOWORLD: NBA Mock Draft]

Initially known for his shooting and scoring prowess, Thompson has transformed into a lockdown defender on the NBA's best defense and arguably the best two-way defender in the NBA.

"You watch Klay Thompson and that’s what he’s become," Booker said. "He has the respect of defenses, and I’ve been working on my quickness. That’s what I’m going to keep working on."

Booker's shooting will be his calling card, at least initially. He needs to prove he can play off the dribble and, more importantly, defend at the next level. He's undoubtedly a project, but has all measurables NBA teams are looking for in their shooting guards. He's got the athleticism, his shooting will translate at the next level and has plenty of room to grow. It doesn't hurt, either, that he's coming from a Kentucky program that has churned out one-and-done talent for years.

"I was expecting to stay there two to three years, but it’s crazy when you focus on a team concept and the team has success the personal success comes with it, and it just comes back to hard work," he said. "There was a lot of talent at Kentucky and I found my way to fit in."

Soon enough he'll do the same at the next level.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls trade up or down in the draft?

garforman.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bulls trade up or down in the draft?

Mark Carman, Hub Arkush, Phil Rogers and Will Perdue join Kap on the SportsTalk Live Podcast.

The guys start by discussing Brandon Morrow's injury that he sustained while taking off his pants... what's the craziest cause for an injury the guys can remember?

Plus, should the Bulls move up or down in Thursday's NBA Draft? Does it make sense to take on a bad contract in a potential deal?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

9-20_chandler_hutchison_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

Over the past several weeks, the Bulls have been heavily rumored to be selecting Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although the 6-foot-7 Hutchison had a stellar four-year career with the Broncos, and was regarded as a top-100 national prospect coming out of high school, his background is relatively unknown compared to many of his first-round counterparts. Not many recruiting gurus watched Hutchison in-depth in high school. The same could be said about draft analysts watching Hutchison's career unfold at Boise State.

Part of the reason Hutchison has flown under the radar for so long, despite being a first-round talent, is his unique basketball upbringing. Many elite high school players opt to transfer to big-time basketball schools while playing in high-exposure shoe-company leagues during the spring and summer. Instead of the normal path, Hutchison chose to stick with the people that he trusted.

Playing for a small, independent grassroots program in high school known as Team Eastbay, Hutchison started showing special gifts as a sophomore in before blossoming into a top-100 national prospect towards the end of high school. Hutchison's trainer and coach with Team Eastbay, Perry Webster, saw that Chandler had the ability to be a big-time player.

"I walked into the gym and saw this 15-year-old kind of gangly kid. And he just moved different than anybody else. I thought he had a chance to be a pretty good player," Webster said of Hutchison.

As Hutchison developed more of a reputation in the Southern California basketball scene, becoming a starter at Mission Viejo High School his junior season, he started to draw more attention from local and national recruiting analysts — including former ESPN recruiting insider Joel Francisco, Scout.com's Josh Gershon and SoCal recruiting analyst Devin Ugland.

"You saw during his junior year that he was a legitimate Division I prospect. During the spring he started blossoming," Francisco said. "He had the ball skills and the prototypical length and things like that. And he was finishing plays. He had a good IQ for the game. It was a matter of strength and he had to fill out to become a more complete player."

By the end of summer going into his senior season, Hutchison had established himself as a potential Pac-12 recruit, as schools like Oregon and USC started to show heavy interest. But it was mid-major programs like Boise State, Saint Mary's and UC-Irvine who had long been involved in Hutchison's recruitment.

Knowing that Hutchison was a unique wing with a high IQ and passing skills, Webster, a former Division I player at Cal State Fullerton himself, advised that his star player take a close look at the programs that would put him in position to succeed right away.

"Every AAU program in Southern California was trying to get him for their team. Free ride this, free shoes. The kid stayed really loyal to me. I was very hard on him," Webster said. "I demanded a lot of him. I screamed at him, I yelled at him. And he looked me in the eye and took it. I realized, this kid is pretty special because he's not running away from what he is. He knows what his limitations are. That's not something he's afraid to address.

"Not everybody was sold on him. Joel [Francisco] was. Joel was one of the proponents of him. But being that he burst on the scene late, and that he didn't play for the big shoe companies, we kind of came to the decision that we wouldn't be so enamored by the Pac-12. He realized he had ability but he still had a long way to go." 

Hutchison eventually decided to sign his National Letter of Intent with Boise State before his senior season started as assistant coach Jeff Linder acted as his lead recruiter. Even though his collegiate future had been decided, Hutchison continued to evolve into a major prospect during senior year as he flourished at Mission Viejo.

Even with his strong senior season, skepticism remained about Hutchison since he hadn't played with and against many of the major names in Southern California. Ranked as the No. 83 overall prospect in ESPN's final Class of 2014 national recruiting rankings, Hutchison was viewed as the seventh best player in his own state. While Francisco pushed for Hutchison to be ranked in the top 50, he had to settle for him being a back-end top-100 talent.

"They're like, hey, he's going to Boise State, he's not on a major shoe company team. How good can he be? But if he can play, he can play. It doesn't matter if he's not on the adidas circuit, he's not in the EYBL," Francisco said.

Francisco wasn't the only major recruiting analyst to take notice of Hutchison's play. Rivals.com's Eric Bossi also labeled Hutchison as a potential breakout player at Boise State. Hutchison was even placed in the Rivals national recruiting rankings, ending up at No. 98 overall, after his senior season. Bossi was on vacation with his family during spring break and he happened to see Hutchison play during his senior season. But Hutchison's strong effort, along with some research, convinced Bossi that he was worthy of a top-100 ranking, even with only one serious viewing. 

"I decided to go watch some regional California high school playoff stuff. And it just so happened to be that Chandler's high school team was one of the teams I was seeing," Bossi said. "I knew he was on the team and committed to Boise State. But then when I watched him play I was like, 'Holy cow, what an incredible get for Boise State. Like, this dude's legit.' He had great size for a wing. He could handle the ball, he could really pass and I thought he could defend multiple positions at the next level when it was all said and done. I thought he was a versatile, well-skilled, well-rounded basketball player. So, based on that, I thought he was top-100. I wish I had seen him more."

Even as a former top-100 national prospect, it took some time for Hutchison to gain traction at Boise State as he didn't put up big numbers during his first two seasons. Although Hutchison played plenty of minutes and started a healthy amount of games, he often took a back seat to talented all-conference players like Anthony Drmic and James Webb III.

When those players eventually moved on from the Broncos, Hutchison was given his chance to shine, as his ascension into all-conference player and future first-round pick came with an intense work ethic that continually developed during workouts in college.

Hutchison also became a consistent three-point threat — something he had been lacking during his development — as he became a hot name in the 2018 NBA Draft despite his unorthodox basketball background.

"He's always been competitive. I think the big thing is reps. And it still will be as he continues to play in the league," Webster said. "He wasn't a bad shooter in high school, but I think the big adjustment for him getting to college, it's hard to put up good percentages in college. I think some of it is mental. But I think he's a good shooter and I think that he'll prove that." 

It's hard to predict if the Bulls will end up with Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick on Thursday night — especially given all of the chaos that can occur on draft night. But if Hutchison does end up in Chicago, he won't be fazed by having to prove himself after already doing so at the high school and college level.