Thon, Cheick and Ulis: Five observations from the NBA Draft Combine

Thon, Cheick and Ulis: Five observations from the NBA Draft Combine

The NBA Draft Combine came and went in Chicago this week at Quest Multiplex. With most of the top names in the draft opting against participating or speaking with the media there wasn't much of a buzz, but there were plenty of headlines worth breaking down. Here are five observations from Thursday and Friday's open sessions.

1. The rule is beneficial to everyone involved

Having college underclassmen declare for the NBA Draft and go through this combine process is a tremendous tool that players should try to do if they can. Even if some of these players testing the waters need another year of college basketball before they're ready, they get to interview with teams and play in front of personnel from every NBA team. It's a valuable learning tool and a good way for NBA teams to gauge how much a player is growing each year on and off the floor. - SP

2. Thon Maker impresses with media on Friday

The mystery man, Thon Maker, spoke with the media on Friday and knocked his interview out of the park. He was well-spoken, admitted his infamous YouTube mixtape isn't who he really is as a player, and how - despite being 19 years old - he sees himself as a leader. He was one of the best interviews during the two-day availability. He still has plenty to prove - he didn't scrimmage - and his game will likely remain a mystery to teams leading up to the draft. But what teams will know on draft night is Maker is a mature, intelligent prospect oozing with potential. CSN will have his story on Monday. Check for that. - MS

3. Cheick Diallo shows he can play 

After an up-and-down first season at Kansas, freshman big man Cheick Diallo opted to play in 5-on-5 competition and showed he could hold his own. Although it is still a mystery to see how the 6-foot-9 big man will look against complicated half-court sets, Diallo showed he can be productive in an uptempo setting as he moves well on the NBA floor. If Diallo works out well for individual teams he could find himself moving into the first round. - SP

4. Tyler Ulis' up-and-down week in Chicago

Tyler Ulis should hear his name called in the first round at next month's draft. But whether Ulis' measurements and speed times helped or hurt his stock remains to be seen. First, the good. Ulis, standing just shy of 5-foot-9, had a 38-inch maximum vertical leap and was top-12 in all three speed tests. The bad is that he weighed in at 149.2 pounds. Say what you will about his mental and physical toughness (he has both) or his skill set (he was the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year). But it's tough to see a player competing at under 150 pounds. Yes, he'll put on weight at the next level. How much he'll be able to add on without losing what makes him great is still a mystery. - MS

5. Daniel Hamilton shows versatility at combine

UConn sophomore Daniel Hamilton is trying to follow in the footsteps of his older brother Jordan, who played in the league for a few years out of Texas. The 6-foot-8 wing showcased his versatility at the combine this week as Hamilton scored, rebounded and also displayed some of his passing ability. During the season at UConn, Hamilton would frequently put up high-assist games as a distributing wing and could be a nice piece for a team that uses him the right way. - SP

Who says no?: John Wall to the Bulls


Who says no?: John Wall to the Bulls

The Washington Wizards are having a fire sale and their star backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall stand as their most attractive trade assets. The Bulls have their 2019 offseason plan of picking up a max-contract caliber player to add to their young and exciting core, but acquiring a player via trade is the best way to get an asset that is under a control long-term.

Obviously, the Wizards aren’t giving up Beal or Wall without a solid long-term asset coming back, and that is when the question becomes is it worth it for Chicago to give up a blue-chip prospect to add Wall to the core? And do the Wizards consider the Bulls with Wall a  playoff team in the short term?

The proposed trade would be:

Wizards receive: Bobby Portis (restricted free agent) Robin Lopez (expiring contract), Justin Holiday (expiring contract), Denzel Valentine, 2019 1st round pick, 2021 1st round pick

Bulls receive: John Wall

For the Bulls the rationale is that they are still years away from being a playoff contender but making this trade makes them a legitimate playoff contender through the duration of Wall’s deal, a playoff hopeful with the ability to be much more with a few rotation pieces sprinkled in.

Wall is under contract through the 2022-23 season and has a 15 percent trade kicker that would make his yearly contract more than the $42 million a year he is due now. The contract is massive but the payoff would be worth it if Wall’s playmaking prowess could take the games of Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine to an even higher level.

As of now, LaVine has a usage rate (32 percent) on par with that of James Harden (34 percent) but the difference is that LaVine doesn’t have that secondary, high-usage player that can allow LaVine to take a few possessions off on offense.

Antonio Blakeney and Jabari Parker have failed in that role in the absence of Markkanen. Dunn is capable of controlling the offense but doesn’t provide the same upside as Wall in terms of driving to the rim. Wall is third in the league in drives per game (16.9) and fourth in the league in free throw attempts per game off of drives. In Hoiberg’s offense, his ability to get downhill would open up opportunities for Markkanen and Carter, all who offer more in terms of pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop ability than anyone currently in the Wizards big man rotation.

The offense would have a bit of a my turn, your turn-feel to it. But it could work for the Bulls as long as they continue to pick up shooters to space the floor for inevitable Wall-Markkanen pick-and-pops (or PnR).

Defensively this trade offers a ton of upside as well. Hoiberg and the front office would have to go through a bit of a rough patch with the rotation as he figures out how to make up for having one SF after this deal.

Rawle Alkins could be called up from the G League and the free agent market could be explored as Hutchison receives a ton of valuable playing time. Hoiberg would also be able to experiment with three-guard lineups that actually provide some semblance of perimeter defense.

The lineup of Felicio, Parker, Blakeney, Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison has a massive 41.2 net rating. That is not truly representative of the effectiveness of the lineup because it comes in such a small sample size. But the reason it’s interesting is because that lineup did so well is the presence of three-guards and the fact that it was one of the Bulls better lineups in terms of pushing the pace.

Hoiberg has slowly started to ramp the pace back up as he awaits the returns of his top talents but Wall’s arrival would allow his offense to work at warp-speed now.

A lineup including Wall and Dunn on the floor together would allow defenses to shrink the floor, but the issue can be mitigated by the Bulls cluster of 3-point shooting bigs and occasionally playing LaVine at the small forward spot.

Ultimately, this trade would give the Bulls a solid core of Wall, LaVine, Markkanen, Carter--and potentially Dunn and Parker depending on what the front office decides--that could develop into one of the more balanced lineups in the league.

For Washington, this trade allows them to unload the massive contract of Wall, which may make him harder to move than Beal.

There aren’t a ton of point guard-hungry teams in the NBA. And even the guard-needy teams will likely want to wait until the 2019 offseason to see if they have a shot at players like Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic or Terry Rozier; all who come with less baggage than Wall. The Suns, Magic and Lakers all could arguably make better cases for Wall trades depending on what assets they were willing to give up. But being willing to give up multiple future 1st round picks and/or their 2019 pick could separate the Bulls from the pack.

The main competitor would be fellow Klutch Sports client LeBron James’ Lakers but the fact they think they have a shot in the Jimmy Butler/Kawhi Leonard/Klay Thompson sweepstakes could make them hesitant to make a long-term commitment to Wall.

There are very few windows when a legitimate All-NBA caliber player is available. While the Bulls may think waiting to the offseason to add talent is the best course of action, their low success rate in recent free agency periods suggests that they definitely should reach out to the Wizards and feel out what type of package they are looking for.

Denzel Valentine will undergo surgery on left ankle, will miss 4-6 months


Denzel Valentine will undergo surgery on left ankle, will miss 4-6 months

Denzel Valentine was originally expected to miss one to two weeks after suffering a sprained ankle on the second day of training camp. One setback led to another, and on Monday the Bulls announced that the third year guard will undergo surgical reconstruction on that left ankle. He'll miss four to six months, the team announced, effectively ending his season.

The surgery stems from what the team is calling "ongoing ankle instability." Valentine was evaluated by Dr. Bob Anderson, a foot and ankle specialist in Green Bay, Wis., and will undergo surgery next week. The team said in a press release that Valentine is expected to make a full recovery and will not have any limitations in the offseason or the following training camp.

That is, if he can remain healthy. Valentine's ankle has given him trouble ever since the Bulls made him the 14th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. As a rookie he missed a large portion of the season with two separate sprained ankles, and he had surgery on that ankle the following offseason.

When Valentine suffered the initial sprain on Sept. 28, there was belief that he could potentially return for the season opener on Oct. 17. That never happened, and a few days later a scan revealed a bone bruise in the ankle that shut him down indefinitely. Valentine only got as far as straight-line running in his rehabilitation.

The Bulls picked up his fourth-year team option on Oct. 30, so he's still part of the Bulls' plans for 2019-20. But at this point it remains to be seen if he can be a contributor. Though he shot well from beyond the arc last season, Valentine hasn't been able to replicate the playmaking skills he showed at Michigan State and has struggled defensively. Valentine just turned 25 and will have missed more than a year of game action when he returns to training camp next September.

Since Valentine hasn't played this season the Bulls' rotation shouldn't look all that different going forward. Ryan Arcidiacono will continue to log major minutes, moving to the second unit when Kris Dunn (knee) returns to the lineup. Past that, Chandler Hutchison may find himself a bigger role on the second unit without Valentine's floor spacing. Rawle Alkins, a G-Leaguer for Windy City who is practicing with the Bulls on Monday and Tuesday, could potentially see minutes depending on how he plays in Hoffman Estates and how long Dunn is out.