Bulls

Will Frank Kaminsky turn college success into NBA greatness?

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Will Frank Kaminsky turn college success into NBA greatness?

Frank Kaminsky was the national player of the year in college basketball, named as such by just about everyone you can think to ask.

But college is over, and now it’s time to see if Kaminsky’s success at the NCAA level can translate to success in the pros.

Being dubbed college hoops’ best player doesn’t have much correlation to NBA greatness. Yes, the last 10 years of honorees have included Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. They’ve also included Jimmer Fredette and Tyler Hansbrough.

Kaminsky, obviously, will hope to be more like the first two guys named than the last two, and given the amazing transformation he went through during four years at Wisconsin, you shouldn’t count him out.

[MORE NBA DRAFT: NBA Draft Profile: Wisconsin C/F Frank Kaminsky]

Most believe that Kaminsky will be able to find NBA success thanks to a phenomenal offensive game that includes a bottomless bag of post-move tricks and an accurate 3-point shot. He shot 54.7 percent last season from the field and 41.6 percent from 3-point range. That’s a seven-footer shooting 41.6 percent from 3-point range, to be precise.

“I bring a lot of different things to the table,” Kaminsky told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine. “On the offensive end, I bring a versatile skill set, I can fit in with systems, I can fit in with people. I feel like I’ve got a good personality, and I’m committed to winning. If I’ve shown anything in the last two years in college, it’s that I want to win. I have a winning attitude, and I can bring that to the table.”

His offensive game is impressive, though he might need to move down a position in the NBA because of it. Yeah, he’s seven feet tall, but NBA teams might want to use him as a power forward instead of a center, something Kaminsky mentioned at the combine.

If there’s anything that folks are concerned might not move over to the NBA, it’s his defense. Playing power forward will mean guarding smaller guys. He proved himself as part of a strong defensive Badgers team defending the low post, grabbing a ton of rebounds and ranking highly in the Big Ten in blocked shots, but how will he do when he’s guarding guys away from the basket? Kaminsky knows it’s the part of his game he’ll need to improve the most.

“I think I need to improve on the defensive end,” Kaminsky said. “It’s a whole different evil at the next level. You can get away with some deficiencies in college, but in the NBA you’ll get exposed. So I know I need to get work on my body and get better.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: Myles Turner approaching NBA with 'strictly business' attitude]

There’s plenty, though, that won’t be in question.

Kaminsky’s bringing the same confidence and attitude to the draft process that made him a national celebrity this spring. It was a Final Four run during which the Badgers seemed more like fun-loving rock stars than college kids on a basketball mission, though both of those descriptions applied.

Kaminsky was the star of that show, putting his goofiness on display for the American basketball-watching public with on-air dance moves, humorous magazine photoshoots and an interview with actor Will Ferrell for Access Hollywood.

“Your everyday interesting character,” Wisconsin teammate Sam Dekker described. “He’s quirky, he’s fun-loving and he’s very straight forward. Sometimes people might not like that, but that’s Frank. He’s not afraid of who’s around, he’s just going to be himself, but that’s the thing that makes him great. He doesn’t care who’s watching him, he’s going to be him, he’s going to play his game. … The guy you see on the court’s the guy you see off the court.”

[MORE NBA DRAFT: NBA Draft Profile: Kentucky G Andrew Harrison]

Through all the giggling during press conferences, though, Kaminsky and the Badgers made it very clear that a switch flipped when they took the court, that winning was still the most important thing. And that proved true as they mopped the floor with the Big Ten and won some NCAA tournament games in incredible comeback fashion. Wisconsin took down Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament title game, bested Arizona in an Elite Eight rematch and put a stop to Kentucky’s undefeated season in a memorable Final Four showdown.

And through it all, Kaminsky played exceptionally well. He scored 29 points against Arizona, poured in 20 against Kentucky and finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds in the national title game loss to Duke. He averaged 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game during his senior season of college, earning national and conference player of the year honors and becoming a no-doubt first team All American.

So what’s the issue?

“Haters, man. There’s haters,” Dekker said. “When you’re good enough to put yourself in that position with the stuff he did, people are going to try to knock you down and doubt you. But the best players ever are going to go through that stuff. And I see Frank as a really, really good player. He won those awards for a reason. And he’s going to add even more to his game, and I see him doing well regardless of where he goes, he’s going to represent well and have a very long and very good career.”

That’s what Kaminsky is hoping for. He said his expectations were to be picked anywhere from No. 5 to No. 12. It’s a projection that would’ve seemed like lunacy just a few years ago, when he was an unheralded recruit out of Benet Academy who couldn’t find his way onto the court for Bo Ryan’s Badgers. But by the time he was an upperclassman, Kaminsky was leading the Badgers on deep NCAA tournament runs and winning national player of the year awards.

Time will tell how Kaminsky’s NBA career goes, but if the past is any indication, counting him out would seem a bad decision.

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.”