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West is best when it comes to opening round of NBA Playoffs

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West is best when it comes to opening round of NBA Playoffs

The NBA’s post-season party officially begins on Saturday with 4 games, including the Bulls-Bucks series opener at the United Center. But, let’s be honest, the real intrigue comes in the West, where seven different 50-plus win teams will battle it out in round one.

The top seeded Golden State Warriors won 67 games during the regular season, featuring the “Splash Brothers”, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, along with the league’s No. 1 ranked defense. First year head coach Steve Kerr hit all the right notes in taking over a talented and successful team from Mark Jackson, giving the players more freedom on offense while asking for accountability on the defensive end.

When you look at historical precedent, teams that reach the 67 win plateau have been nearly unstoppable in the playoffs. And, there hasn’t been a team to lead the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency since the Jordan Bulls. With all that in mind, Golden State has to be the favorite in the West, and should make quick work of the Anthony Davis-led Pelicans in Round 1. Let’s make it Warriors in 5.

[BULLS: Bulls tout 4th best championship odds heading into NBA playoffs]

The other three series in the West should feature some outstanding drama. Texas rivals Houston and Dallas square off in the match-up of No. 2 and No. 7 seeds. These organizations really don’t like each other, especially after the Mavericks came up with a creative offer sheet to steal talented young small forward Chandler Parsons away from Houston last summer. The Rockets have MVP candidate James Harden and a talented bench, plus big man Dwight Howard is back after taking a couple months off during the regular season to rest a sore knee. Dallas slumped late in the season after a fast start, but any team that has offensive weapons like Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Parsons, plus the defensive ability of Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo, can’t be discounted. Still, I’ll make it Houston in 6.

The 4-5 match-up between Portland and Memphis is intriguing, but the Trail Blazers were slowed late in the season by injuries to their top two shooting guards, Wesley Matthews and Arron Afflalo, and Memphis also suffered injuries down the stretch to guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen. The Grizzlies won all four meetings during the regular season, and their physical style with big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph usually translates well with the slower pace of the playoffs. I’m going with Memphis in 6.

The best opening round series in the West features the defending champion Spurs against Doc Rivers’ L.A. Clippers. San Antonio dropped from the No. 2 seed to 6th after a loss in the regular season finale, but this veteran team isn’t worried about winning on the road. Kawhi Leonard had a strong finish to the season, looking more like the player who was the MVP of the 2014 Finals, while ageless Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are also playing at a high level entering the playoffs. The Clippers are always dangerous with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and underrated center DeAndre Jordan, who would turn out to be one of the big prizes in this summer’s free agent class. But 6th man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford is just coming back from injury, and the Clips haven’t been getting much production from wing players J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes. I see the Spurs advancing in 6.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

As for the Eastern Conference, it should be pretty much chalk in round one, with the possible exception being the 4-5 match-up between Toronto and Washington. The Wizards have struggled for much of the season because of injuries to Nene and Bradley Beal, plus an on-going dispute between Marcin Gortat and head coach Randy Wittman over 4th quarter playing time, but I get the feeling their best basketball is still to come. Beal and John Wall have the speed to negate Toronto’s 1-2 punch of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and I believe Washington’s frontline is superior to the Raptors. This one could go the full seven games, and who knows, maybe veteran Paul Pierce will validate the decision by Wizards’ management to bring him in with a series winning shot.

It’s the best time of the year for NBA fans, so get ready for an exciting ride.

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, Deveny 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.