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NBA Draft: Tyus Jones ready to show off the total package

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NBA Draft: Tyus Jones ready to show off the total package

With freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow struggling through foul trouble and off-shooting nights in last season's National Championship, Duke needed a spark down the stretch.

Fellow five-star freshman Grayson Allen helped the Blue Devils erase a nine-point Wisconsin lead with eight straight points for his team that cut the deficit to four at the under-12 TV timeout. That's when head coach Mike Krzyzewski subbed in Tyus Jones, who had been limited to four first-half points against Wisconsin's lengthy defense.

Jones had tallied six early points in the second half, but his historic evening was just getting started. The freshman scored 13 of Duke's final 21 points on 4-for-6 shooting, including a a 3-pointer with 4 minutes to play that put Duke ahead for good, and another triple with 90 seconds remaining that sealed Duke's fifth NCAA title.

[MORE: NBA Draft Profile - Duke PG Tyus Jones]

Jones, the smallest starter in the game at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, played biggest when his young Duke team needed him, helping him earn Most Outstanding Player honors for the Final Four. Two days earlier, in a blowout victory over Michigan State, he tallied a team-high four assists while Okafor, Winslow and senior Quinn Cook took care of the heavy-lifting scoring duties.

That three-day span cemented Jones' spot in Duke lore, and was a perfect example of the complete point guard Jones had been all season for the Blue Devils.

"A complete point guard, a pure point guard," Jones responded at last month's NBA Draft Combine when asked what about his best traits. "Someone who is a leader and is a winner. Someone who can make their teammates better, who can set up their teammates and most importantly, win."

[MORE: 2015 NBA Draft - Analyzing the Top 5 point guards]

In his lone season with the Blue Devils Jones, the No. 7 recruit in the country who came to Durham as a package deal with the Chicago native Okafor, averaged 11.8 points on 42 percent shooting and was second in the ACC with 5.8 assists per game. He was a terror in transition, was the floor general for the country's 3rd ranked offense and saved some of his best individual performances for primetime, most notably in two wins against rival North Carolina; he averaged 23 points and 7.5 assists and sent the first game to overtime with a last-second layup.

It's why, despite his sub-par measurables and clear deficiencies on the defensive end, he'll hear his name called in the first round of the NBA Draft on June 25. Jones is experienced for being just 19 years old, having five seasons of high school basketball under his belt (he played with his brother on the high school team as an 8th grader), in addition to spending time with USA Basketball as well as playing under a spotlight all year with the Blue Devils.

He proved to be a capable 3-point shooter, making 1.2 triples per game at a 38 percent clip, and was 17th in the country in free-throw percentage (88.4 percent). He struggled at times finishing at the rim, though he won't be asked to play the same style in the NBA as he did with the Blue Devils.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Past the Combine numbers, his averages and postseason accolades - he was named to the All-ACC Third Team - Jones is simply a winner. Pardon the cliche, but even playing for a perennial powerhouse with the country's best crop of freshmen and a Hall of Fame head coach, Jones made the plays necessary for the Blue Devils to win 35 games and an NCAA title.

NBA teams looking for smart decision makers - his assist-to-turnover ratio was third in the ACC, 17th in the country and second among freshmen - with the ability to make shots on a second unit will love what Jones brings to the table. He's not the potential franchise-altering prospect that D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay are, he doesn't have the length of a Jerian Grant or the defensive upside of a Cameron Payne, but Jones is banking on his ability to win and step up in clutch situations to carry him at the next level.

"You don’t know who’s going to draft you, what’s the situation with that team or that roster, so you just got to be ready for any circumstance, you have to be ready to go in and be a backup, you have to be ready to be a starter," he said. "You’ve just got to be ready, so I will be."

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”