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Schanowski: Bulls must be all-in for LeBron

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Schanowski: Bulls must be all-in for LeBron

Monday, May 17, 2010
5:35 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Would you be willing to hire John Calipari as the Bulls' next head coach if you knew it would guarantee LeBron James coming aboard in July? Please post your comments in the section below.

You can bet that's a question that's being considered in the Bulls' front office right now. The coaching search figures to slow to a crawl right now while John Paxson and Gar Forman plan their strategy for trying to recruit the league's most talented player to Chicago. It's no secret LeBron, and his agent, Leon Rose, have a good relationship with Calipari. But we're hearing James would not go as far as insisting Calipari be the head coach in whatever NBA city he decides to play in (including Cleveland). Still, when it comes to recruiting the most marketable player in the game, you have to use every tool at your disposal. And, if that means bringing on Calipari as head coach, it's something the Bulls will need to consider very strongly.

Calipari does have NBA head coaching experience, spending three years in New Jersey from 1996 to '99. Our Bulls' analyst Kendall Gill played for Coach Cal in Jersey, and says Calipari is a good X's and O's guy but was too immature to deal with the strong egos of the players he was coaching. 11 years later, that might not be as much of an issue, and we know Calipari coached Derrick Rose for his one season at Memphis, which could make for having an important supporter in the locker room. Calipari continues to say he will coach at Kentucky next season, and doesn't know why he has to respond to every rumor that's put out on the internet. But, until James makes his free agent decision, Coach Cal will continue to hear his name linked with NBA rumors, whether he likes it or not. And, if the Bulls haven't talked to him yet, they need to find out if he really could deliver LeBron to Chicago.

ROSE AND LEBRON ALREADY MAKING PLANS?

And, how about this nugget from veteran NBA writer Scoop Jackson, who reported James called Rose after the Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs and told him how much he likes Rose's game, likes the Bulls, and would welcome the chance to play together. LeBron went out of his way during the regular season to praise the city of Chicago and the Bulls' young talent, but to have him actually call the Bulls' best player and say the same things right after the Cavs' season came to such a disappointing conclusion, well, that takes the story to a whole new level. Sure, talk is cheap, and we'll have to wait until at least July 1st for LeBron to pick his next team, but this isn't a second or third hand report from a friend close to LeBron. This is THE MAN HIMSELF picking up the phone and making a call to a prospective teammate he's respected as a fellow all-star and budding superstar.

Right now, all the momentum is building towards LeBron calling Chicago his new home. So, what could mess things up between now and July 1st? Actually, there are dozens of things that could happen, starting with the Bulls picking a coach LeBron isn't excited about, to one of the other teams with cap room making a bold trade around the NBA Draft in late June to alter James' thinking about his best prospects for winning championships. Whether you think the Bulls should keep LeBron's opinion out of the coaching search or not, the reality is, they really don't need to hire a new coach before free agency begins. Paxson, Forman and the team's scouts are working out prospects in preparation for the draft, and until the Bulls know which player or players they'll be able to add in free agency, they really can't make an informed decision on what style of coach would be best for the talent on the roster.

Also, don't count out veteran NBA player, coach and executive Pat Riley down in Miami. Riley is promising fans in South Florida he's ready to build the next NBA dynasty, and that would be pretty hard to do if LeBron winds up in Chicago. Riley plans to trade disappointing 2nd year forward Michael Beasley before the draft to create more cap room, and his grand plan involves bringing LeBron AND Chris Bosh to South Beach to team with Dwyane Wade. Granted, there probably aren't enough shot attempts to keep that trio happy, but Riley has the reputation of making big things happen, and all the teams in the league will be keeping an eye on what he does over the next six weeks.

BULLS FANS SHOULD ROOT AGAINST NEW JERSEY IN DRAFT LOTTERY

Finally, even though the Bulls aren't involved in Tuesday's NBA Draft Lottery, there's still a good reason to watch. LeBron built a friendship with Kentucky freshman guard John Wall during this past season, and Wall is the consensus number one pick in this year's draft. If New Jersey wins the top pick, they'll suddenly have a pretty good nucleus to build on with Wall, Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, Courtney Lee and Yi Jianlian. And, we know LeBron has been friends with Nets' minority owner Jay-Z for a long time. So, root for anyone but the Nets to get that number one pick. It will take away one attractive recruiting chip for New Jersey when the free agent chase begins on July 1st. The Nets can't fall any lower than fourth in the NBA Draft Lottery, but after Wall and Ohio State guard Evan Turner, the talent level drops pretty sharply to some talented, but raw big men. So, having New Jersey fall to third or fourth would be the next positive step in the chain of events that could bring LeBron to Chicago.

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.