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: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts


Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill discuss the NBA Draft and what happened at the NBA combine that shifted most experts mock drafts.

Kendall also explains why a "promise" to draft a player isn’t guaranteed. He also shares his experience on getting drafted by the Hornets and why he initially felt they were the wrong team for him.

North Carolina "News and Observer" Duke basketball beat writer Jonathan Alexander gives us his opinion on Wendell Carter and the other Duke draft prospects including why he thinks Carter will be a future all-star. Also includes an interview with Carter from the draft combine.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here:

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

Anfernee Simons looks more like a ball boy than a 2018 NBA Draft prospect right now. He’s not considered small, what with having a 6-foot-3 frame with a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine at 183 pounds, “heavier” than Lottery-bound guards like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton.

But there’s plenty of potential to unpack from the soon-to-be 19-year-old, baby-faced combo guard. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Simons is one of the most talented players in the class, and a team patient enough to let him develop at his own pace could reap major benefits in due time.

You won’t find much video on Simons, as the IMG Academy star is preparing to be the first prospect to go preps-to-pros without a year in college since Thon Maker did so in 2016.

Simons, a consensus five-star recruit in the 2018 class, originally committed to Louisville in November 2016 and then decommitted the following September shortly after Rick Pitino was fired. Since he had graduated from Edgewater High School in Florida and was playing a post-grad year at IMG Academy, he became eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft because he is a year removed from high school. That’s where he played this past season, declaring for the draft and signing with an agent in late March.

“The opportunity is there. Me and my parents talked about it a lot and I feel like I’m confident in myself that I’ll be able to make this jump,” he said at last week’s Combine. “So I just felt like, do it now and not waste any time.”

Simons has been on the radars of NBA teams, even if he’s not a household name like Ayton, Doncic and Bagley. He’s currently projected outside of the Lottery, in part because teams haven’t seen him compete against collegiate level talent and because his wiry frame almost surely means time in the G-League as a rookie. But again, the skill set is there.

Simons is a point guard with solid range beyond the arc. He may struggle off the ball because of his size, though that long wingspan and a quick release from his chest should allow him to get off shots. He’s a blur in transition and finishes well at the rim – his 41.5-inch vertical was tied for third best at the Combine, and his three-quarters court sprint was eighth fastest.

He’s a mixed bag defensively. Wingspan is the fun buzz word these days, and that will help him at the next level, but his small frame means there’s work to be done. A strength and conditioning coach will salivate at bringing Simons into the weight room and getting his body NBA-ready.

“Just staying durable through 82 games,” Simons answered when asked about his biggest challenge physically at the next level. “Taking care of your body is real pivotal so I feel like learning how to take care of my body now is a good thing.”

Simons maturely answered that the “unknown” of his game will be both a positive and minus during the pre-draft process. While fellow prospects he may face in team workouts don’t know as much about him and, thus, his game, teams also need to find out more about Simons’ game and off-court habits.

“Coming in young, people don’t know who I am and haven’t seen me play much. That’s the good side about coming in early,” he said. “It could be the same thing (negatively). People haven’t seen me like that, so I feel like they don’t know who I am. They probably think I’m too young to play in the league.”

Simons met with the Bulls and has scheduled a pre-draft workout with them. Though the Bulls feel like their rebuild could go quicker than anticipated – especially if they hit on their No. 7 pick – there could be plenty to gain from drafting for upside on a player like Simons.

Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne will both be free agents in 2019, and Denzel Valentine’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Chicago. That leaves plenty of openings in the backcourt behind Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Simons won’t be ready to contribute much in 2018-19, but the Bulls wouldn’t need him to. A handful of outlets projected Simons as a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Bulls could snag him a year earlier, let him develop in Hoffman Estates and bring him up in a year when they’re a step closer to contending.