NBA Draft: Looney's rebounding could prove useful to Bulls


NBA Draft: Looney's rebounding could prove useful to Bulls

Of the 24 five-star recruits in the Rivals' Class of 2014, 10 were power forwards or centers. Two of those players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, are expected to be the first two names Adam Silver calls on June 25 at the NBA Draft. Two others, Trey Lyles and Myles Turner, should be gone by the end of the lottery.

And yet, perhaps the best one-and-done rebounder from that class may be UCLA's Kevon Looney.

The 6-foot-9 forward's 15 double-doubles were most in the country among freshmen - the next closest was Duke's Jahlil Okafor, who tallied 11 - and fourth most among all players in power conferences. He led all freshman in rebounding (9.2 per game) and complemented his prowess on the glass with stellar defensive work, averaging 1.3 steals and nearly a block per game.

His defensive rating (97.0) and Defensive Win Shares (2.0) were team-bests and ranked top-15 in the Pac-12. Looney certainly has a knack for finding missed shots, though he's also helped greatly by his 7-foot-4 wingspan, which measured fourth longest at last month's combine.

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It was a trait he believed he'd excel in, averaging nearly 13 rebounds per game in his final high school season in Milwaukee. A five-star McDonald's All-American, Looney was ranked No. 10 in the Rivals class and arrived in Los Angeles with high expectations that he by in-large met, thanks to his rebounding and defensive acumen.

"I rebounded really good," Looney said of his lone season at UCLA. "Coming out of high school I played against guys that were smaller so it was like, ‘Can he do that against bigger guys?’ And I did that, so I proved I can do that and can take it to another level."

Now he'll be tasked with doing it at the final level. He's undersized at 210 pounds with a broad-shouldered frame that certainly can - and will - put on weight. The Bruins' roster necessitated Looney playing inside, though he's shown tendencies and natural ability to play on the perimeter. What he lacks for in sheer quickness for a player his size he makes up for with his length and basketball IQ. His offensive numbers - 11.6 points on 47 percent shooting - were helped by his 3.3 offensive rebounds per game, and adding to his offensive arsenal in a more free-flowing NBA offense should help him greatly.

All Looney's traits and potential upside fit with what the Bulls will be looking for this offseason. For all the offensive imperfections that surfaced late in the year, one of Chicago's most critical shortcomings came on the defensive glass. Their fifth-best rebound differential (+2.3) was a bit misleading, as they ranked 19th in defensive rebound percentage in the regular season - Thibodeau's worst mark in five seasons with the Bulls - and were worst among playoff teams that advanced past the first round.

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Pau Gasol led the NBA in double-doubles, Nikola Mirotic's defensive rebounding rate was solid for a player of his skill set, and Taj Gibson was still a plus-defender despite battling through various ankle injuries. But Joakim Noah's status with the Bulls past next year could leave an open spot in the frontcourt, and the Bulls' current wings - specifically Tony Snell and Doug McDermott - are more offensive, perimeter-oriented threats that don't offer much defensive worth, and even less value on the glass.

Looney could be an option for the Bulls at No. 22 if he's still available - Rotoworld's most recent mock draft had Looney going No. 17 to Milwaukee, while Draft Express has him pegged at No. 20 to the Raptors  - despite Fred Hoiberg having more glaring offseason needs, notably backup point guard and center.

Considering the vast differences in skill sets currently in the Bulls' frontcourt, Looney would have three solid veterans to learn from and guide him, as he's still a project offensively and will need to add weight before logging serious minutes in the paint. Still, in Hoiberg's expected up-tempo offense having a player such as Looney who can, at times, handle the ball, pass well (1.4 assists per game) and run the floor would make him a solid fit in Chicago.

Above all, his rebounding can't be overlooked. 

"I have a knack for getting the ball. It comes naturally to me so that’s something I take pride in," he said. "I think I’ll be able to do it on the next level. I don’t know if I’ll do it at the same level I did at UCLA right away, but I think over time I’ll definitely be one of the best rebounders."

Bulls Talk Podcast: Getting to know the Bulls Outsiders team; bold predictions for this season

NBC Sports Chicago

Bulls Talk Podcast: Getting to know the Bulls Outsiders team; bold predictions for this season

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, the Bulls Outsiders team of Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine join Kevin Anderson to talk about the series premier of ‘Bulls Outsiders’ Thursday night. Hear about how the show came together and what they are hoping to bring to the Bulls fanbase this season. They’ll also share their bold predictions for the season including two potential end-of-season award winners from this roster.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

We all know what Zach LaVine is capable of doing on the offensive side of things. But what about his defense?

It's no secret that LaVine has had his fair share of struggles on defense, but Kris Dunn thinks highly of his 23-year-old teammate and what his potential is at the other end.

"On the defensive end I just told him, 'You're as fast as me. You're more athletic than me. There's no way you shouldn't be a good defender in this league. You could be one of those guys who could be dynamic in the passing lanes because you're so athletic and fast.'" Dunn said of LaVine. "And personally, I like to score. If you get in a passing lane, that's a dunk for yourself and because you've got so much bounce that's when you get the crowd on their feet — maybe do a windmill, a 360, something.

"But I think he's been going a good job on the defensive end. It's not going to be easy. We all got to learn and I think we're all trying."

Improving his defense would obviously be a big step forward for LaVine (and the Bulls), and he knows it. 

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” LaVine said when assessing his preseason. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

LaVine and the Bulls travel to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Thursday night in their season opener. You can watch Bulls Pre- and Postgame Live on NBC Sports Chicago before and after the game for highlights and analysis.