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Top picks and draft hopefuls converge at NBA Draft Combine

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Top picks and draft hopefuls converge at NBA Draft Combine

It doesn't get as much attention as the NFL version, but the NBA Draft Combine is still a very big deal for those participating and those looking for the next player that will turn their teams around.

The West Side is playing host to dozens of NBA Draft entrants this week, and though they've all got the same goal, they are certainly not in the same spot.

The biggest media crowds gathered around a pair of Wisconsin Badgers, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, who both boosted their respective draft stocks with dynamic performances en route to an appearance in last month's national championship game. And it's for that reason that there's not much left to prove for the duo. Heck, Kaminsky wasn't even in uniform Thursday, conducting his interviews in street clothes. Dekker worked out, doing the measurable drills like vertical jump and shuttle run, but he — like many of the other big names expected to go early in next month's draft — didn't participate in the organized scrimmages.

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That doesn't mean, though, that those guys aren't working as hard to impress potential future employers. Dekker has his resume down to a few sentences, easily rattled off when asked what he can bring to an NBA team.

"I think I bring a lot of things," Dekker said, recounting his stump speech. "I bring versatility, competitive drive. The pro game is a style of game I like. I've learned a lot of things, discipline and being able to play in systems, so I think when you mix those together, it makes a pretty good combination of someone who can be with many different organizations and fit in well. I think offensively and defensively, I'll be able to be a good addition to any team. I'm looking forward to what's in store."

Expected to go in the lottery or not, it's still a process, and Dekker's finding it to be an enjoyable one.

"It's been fun, mostly," Dekker said. "You've got to enjoy it. As a basketball player, this is your dream, to be in this situation. So I'm waking up every day with a good mindset that I'm going to get better and keep improving and keep working on my game, trying to perfect my craft. I'm nowhere near where I want to be, but that's the good thing about basketball: You can get better every day."

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The experiences of Dekker and Kaminsky were similar to other stars of the NCAA tournament, like the massive Kentucky contingent and the tourney's most outstanding player, Duke's Tyus Jones.

Another Blue Devil, Chicago-native Jahlil Okafor, and Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns, the two guys who could be the Nos. 1 and 2 picks, aren't even at the Combine.

But the big names aren't the only names out there. Plenty of others have a lot to prove this week with hopes of drawing interest from NBA teams. Plenty of guys haven't interviewed with any teams yet.

Another Chicago native is looking to prove that a 6-foot-nothing point guard out of Wisconsin-Green Bay can realize the same draft dream as the guys who played on a national stage.

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Keifer Sykes, who attended John Marshall Metropolitan High School on the West Side, was thrilled to be back at home, citing his familiarity with the Quest Multisport Complex — just across the Eisenhower from Marshall — as a potential advantage to stick out to teams.

"I think it's fun," Sykes said. "I have a little more advantages than a lot of these guys. I can go get treatment, I can go do a lot of different things than these guys who've just got to get up out of a hotel bed. I know my family's here, so I can go home after a little bit, go see the family. It's just a chance for me throughout this process of going to the draft to connect with my family. I've been in this weight room hundreds of times, I've been in these gyms shooting on these rims hundreds of times. I was able to get here last night. So it was just fun to be in the city and be around familiarity."

Sykes might know the gym and the city, but he's still working on people knowing much about him. Coming from a mid-major that didn't get the same national exposure as teams in the Big Ten, ACC or Big 12, he's got a lot to teach people about his game. And having met with zero teams prior to Thursday, he considered that five-on-five scrimmage his chance to impress the NBA executives watching.

"I really liked the five-on-five today because it gave us an inside look at how you're going to play, how you're going to play under a coach, how you're against players in the summer league, how you're going to run different types of sets," he said. "The NBA game, it's structured, but it's not as structured as college basketball where your coach is directing you. They let you play.

"Today was my interview, I think, just playing out there. A lot of these guys got 20 interviews. I told them, 'My interview is 2 o'clock today when I go out there and play.' So I don't really look at the interviews. I'm pretty sure I'll have a ton of team workouts because I'm in the middle of the pack. A lot of teams are skeptical and don't know about me, so they're going to want to find out about me."

This is hardly the end of the draft process. In the upcoming month, all these prospects and more will have individual meetings and workouts with a variety of NBA teams as those franchises decide where to steer their futures with a selection or two.

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

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USA TODAY

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

According to a story by Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney, the Bulls may be looking for help in the form of one of the NBA’s better two-way players.

In the post, Deveney goes over the most salient points made by brand new New Orleans Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin. This included the fact that Griffin stated that Pels head coach Alvin Gentry will be back and that Jrue Holiday is considered “a franchise building block”.

This could be a bit of gamesmanship from Griffin, hoping to drive up the asking price for an All-Star caliber player such as Holiday.

But Deveney suggests that New Orleans may indeed be serious about their efforts to keep building with Holiday on the roster. Deveney stated, “if the Pelicans don't trade Holiday, it will set up the team for an attempt at a fast turnaround rather than a long, slogging rebuild......It will also frustrate teams looking for a versatile point guard in his prime, hoping that Holiday would be on the block.”

Phoenix was mentioned as the “top contender” for Holiday’s services should he be made available, as the Suns are one of the few teams with an obvious hole at PG. Along with the Suns, Chicago and Orlando were the other teams listed as having interest in Holiday. The Magic completed a low-risk trade during the 2018-19 season that landed them 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, so they may not be inclined to give up solid assets in a deal.

As far as the Bulls are concerned, any serious inquires on Holiday are likely to come after the May 14 NBA Draft lottery.

Depending on where the Bulls lottery pick ends up, the Pelicans could be much more inclined to make a deal with the Chicago front office. The Pelicans ended the season tied with Memphis and Dallas for the 7th spot in the draft lottery odds, and their specific organizational goals could make moving up in the draft order worth losing a valuable player like Jrue Holiday. And for the Bulls, nabbing a player like Holiday helps build onto the positive team culture that Jim Boylen wants to establish and gives the Bulls a perfect guard to pair in the backcourt with Zach LaVine.

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

This is the first entry in our "8 for 38" series, where will be looking at eight different under-the-radar NBA prospects that the Bulls could snag with their No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Charles Bassey/ 6’11’’/ 275 lbs./ Freshman/ Western Kentucky  

Bassey is a a well-regarded five-star recruit from Nigeria, who played his college ball at Western Kentucky University. He is a physical force on the court but definitely is a raw prospect at this stage of his development.

Bassey came into the season as an assumed first round talent, however, his stock has dropped after his impressive freshman season still revealed holes in his game that will definitely be exploited at the NBA level. All that being said, he was quite the prospect at WKU.

Strengths:

In his lone season at WKU, Bassey averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field. His impressive double double average was built on his insane dominance inside the paint.

He shot an astounding 77.4 percent on shots at the rim and that number is even higher on non-post up shots around the basket. Bassey has a rudimentary hook shot that he can hit over his left shoulder but his postgame isn’t the hub of his offense. He generates most of his points by finishing on pick-and-rolls and using his faceup game.

Bassey’s physicality leads to him setting hard screens, and when he doesn’t set a hard screen, he slips to the basket quickly where he takes advantage with his soft touch when looking to score. It is tough for help defenders to knock Bassey off his path when he is rolling to the rim, as his immense lower body strength allows him to displace smaller players.

When Bassey faces up from 15-feet and in, he uses the aforementioned soft touch to convert on 40.8 percent of his 2-PT jump shots per Hoop-Math.com. On top of that, he generally has the speed to blow by most big men.

Bassey’s biggest strength from day one in the NBA will be his motor. He clearly gets fired up for big matchups, as he showcased when he dominated Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who ended up winning the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the country’s best center. In their late December matchup, Bassey helped hold Happ to a very inefficient 20 points on 23 shots.

In that same game Bassey finished with 19 points (7/8 FG, 5/5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks. He has arguably had better games, but the all-around versatility showcased in the stat line above is outstanding.

Bassey has flashed the ability to make nice passes before:

Since Bassey’s NBA offense will be centered around pick-and-roll plays, further developing his decision making on the short-roll will be a boon to whatever team drafts him.

On defense, Bassey already shows the ability to be an asset in the right system. When he is allowed to play in a traditional defensive system that has the center dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, he swallows up shots with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Weaknesses:

The gigantic weakness Bassey showcased this season was an inability to function as a switch defender. He was great when it comes to protecting the rim--he averaged 2.4 blocks per game-- but he was consistently beat off the dribble by guards.

Of course it is rare to find any center--let alone a young one--that has the legitimate ability to function at a high-level when it comes to switching on to smaller, faster players. But that is precisely what makes Bassey the exact type of center you can find easily.

This is why a player of his talent level can slip into the second round.

Another big issue for Bassey is hands, or more specifically, the inability to hold on to passes when diving to the rim. As mentioned above, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop basketball is how Bassey will carve out a niche in the league. But he occasionally struggled to hold on to the ball on throws that many would not even consider to be “tough passes”.

In the above strengths section it is mentioned how Bassey has some untapped potential as a passer, but he will never cash in on that potential if simply possessing the ball is a difficulty for him. He isn’t as explosive as usual if there are multiple defenders crowding him and raking at the ball, which happens often.

Over 1,067 minutes Basey amassed 24 assists as compared to a whopping 97 turnovers.

Long term outlook:

I believe Bassey will have a long NBA career due to his finishing in the paint and ability to block shots.

Bassey ran roughshod over his mostly Conference USA opposition on the season.

His 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes were a few of the many things that showed that Bassey is at least ready for the physicality of the NBA.

But to become much more than a solid journeyman center, Bassey will have to hone his perimeter jump shot to the point that he can become a solid 3-point threat. He shot 45 percent on a very limited 20 attempts from 3-point range and converted on 76.9 percent of his free throws, an enticing set of numbers that show the type of player he could be in the future.

Whether or not Robin Lopez stays, the Bulls will be short on center depth next season.  After Wendell Carter Jr. went down for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, we saw the Bulls play ultra-small lineups that got beat up on the glass often as Jim Boylen was still reluctant to play Felicio more than 15 minutes per game.

Adding a high-upside prospect like Bassey helps Boylen and co. avoid over-using lineups with Lauri Markkanen at center, which helps keep Markkanen fresh and theoretically improves the overall team defense.