Hamidou Diallo

NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft

0123_marvin_bagley.jpg
USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft

The majority of the NBA universe is speculating about which players will be traded before the Feb. 8 deadline — but we already did that a couple days ago.

So, with the college basketball season past its halfway point, how about an early projection of what the 14 lottery teams might do with their first-round selections?

It's never too early for a mock draft.

1. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke. The Kings have been whiffing on lottery picks for most of the last decade, but taking Bagley would be a no-brainer. Sacramento is pretty thin up front after the DeMarcus Cousins trade last season, and Bagley looks like a multiple-time All Star with a variety of post moves and shooting range out to the 3-point line.

2. Atlanta Hawks: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona. The Hawks have completely torn down the roster just a few short years after finishing with the best record in the East. They could use help at every position, but as we saw when the Bulls visited on Jan. 20, the Hawks have absolutely zero rim protection. Enter Ayton, an athletic seven-footer with an NBA-ready frame who should be able to anchor the Atlanta defense for years to come.

3. Orlando Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma. The Magic are another team in major need of a roster makeover, and after watching Elfrid Payton struggle for four seasons at the most important position in the modern game, isn't it time for an upgrade at the point guard position? Young leads the nation in both scoring and assists with Steph Curry-like shooting range. He would definitely be a big-gate attraction in the Magic Kingdom.

4. Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic, SG/SF, Slovenia. After riding international star Dirk Nowitzki to their only NBA title in 2011, how about bringing in the best player currently competing in Europe? Mark Cuban has never been afraid to take chances with personnel moves, and the highly skilled Doncic could turn out to be the best perimeter player in the draft. At the age of 18, his shooting and passing ability have drawn rave reviews from NBA scouts.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: Michael Porter, SF/PF, Missouri. Porter only played two minutes for the Tigers before leaving his first college game with what turned out to be a season-ending back injury. Still, scouts love his potential to play both forward spots at 6-foot-10, and if Porter decides to apply for the draft, it's hard to see him falling beyond this point.

6. Phoenix Suns: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama. The Suns used to be drowning in point guards, but after trading Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe in recent years, their starter is now 5-foot-9 Chicago native Tyler Ulis. Sexton has tremendous scoring and ball-handling skills, showing up on the national radar after almost single-handedly beating Minnesota in a Thanksgiving tournament game when Alabama was forced to play with only three players for a good portion of the second half because of injuries and ejections.

7. Boston Celtics: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas. The Celtics continue to stock up on young talent by virtue of all the great trades made by general manager Danny Ainge in recent years. Boston has just about every position but center covered, and now they get a chance to add a defensive anchor with a 7-foot-9 wingspan. The Celtics are poised for a long run as the beasts of the East.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Michigan State. Power forward really isn't the Cavs' biggest position of need, but if LeBron James leaves in free agency, Cleveland could be heading into rebuild mode. Jackson has a soft shooting touch from 3-point range and is quick off his feet as a shot blocker. He could team up with Kevin Love on a new-look Cavs team post-LeBron.

9. Bulls: Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova. With four starting positions already covered (assuming Robin Lopez remains on the roster), the Bulls would have the luxury to add another shot creator on the wing. Bridges is tall enough to play the small forward spot and has a lightning-quick first step to get to the rim. He also is shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line and 50 percent overall. Adding Bridges to a lineup that features Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn would give the Bulls a young and versatile unit capable of playing with tremendous pace.

10. Charlotte Hornets: Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky. The Hornets could be ready to push the reset button after watching their veteran-laden team underachieve this season. Charlotte will be looking to trade the big contracts of Nic Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, which means they could be in need of a versatile frontcourt player with high-end scoring potential.

11. Utah Jazz: Wendell Carter, PF, Duke. With Derrick Favors likely to leave in free agency, the Jazz could definitely use a young power forward with Carter's ability to score inside. Carter has played in Bagley's massive shadow at Duke, but he figures to get more touches and shot attempts in an NBA offense. The Jazz have had pretty good luck drafting power forwards in the past with Karl Malone and Paul Millsap.

12. New York Knicks: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State. Bridges surprised a lot of NBA executives with his decision to return to Michigan State for his sophomore season considering he was a likely lottery pick last year. Bridges has become much more than just a spectacular dunker, adding a more consistent 3-point shot to his offensive arsenal. He could be an excellent fit in New York alongside Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter.

13. Detroit Pistons: Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky. Diallo hasn't really stood out on a young Kentucky team, but his physical tools are off the charts. He's a great finisher at the rim but needs more consistency with his outside shot. The Pistons could be in need of a shooting guard with Avery Bradley heading to free agency.

14. Denver Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky. Another talented young athlete who gets kind of lost in a somewhat dysfunctional Kentucky offense. The Nuggets are ready to move on from the Emmanuel Mudiay experiment, though Gilgeous-Alexander offers similar concerns as a raw, underdeveloped prospect.

Around the Association

The big news this week involves the Milwaukee Bucks' decision to fire head coach Jason Kidd, who originally came to Milwaukee because of his longstanding friendship with Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry. Kidd signed a contract extension in 2016 and has a good relationship with All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So why the change? Clearly, Kidd and his staff have not done the best job of developing the talent on the roster. The Bucks made an early season trade with the Suns to acquire point guard Eric Bledsoe, giving them another shot creator to go along with the Greek Freak. They've also loaded up on long athletes over the years, drafting frontcourt players John Henson, Thon Maker and D.J. Wilson, while also adding point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year. And the Bucks starting lineup features a third proven scorer in swingman Khris Middleton, with Chicago native Jabari Parker expected back next month after completing his second ACL rehab.

With the Bucks scheduled to move into their new downtown arena next season, ownership is clearly not satisfied with a team hovering around .500 and in danger of missing the playoffs. Assistant coach Joe Prunty will take over for now, but the names of David Fizdale and Monty Williams have already surfaced as leading candidates to replace Kidd.

The San Antonio Spurs have long been held in high regard as the NBA's model organization. But now ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright are reporting there's a growing disconnect with star forward Kawhi Leonard over the handling of his rehab from a quad injury. Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season because of the injury, and according to the report, he wasn't always on the same page with how the rehab process was done. Leonard is currently sidelined again because of the same injury, and the Spurs aren't sure when he'll be ready to play again.

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford denies there is any problem between the organization and its star player, but it's definitely a situation to watch considering Leonard can opt out of his current contract following the 2018-19 season. If the Bulls decided not be active in this summer's free-agent market, is there a chance they could make a run at one the NBA's top 10 players with a max offer in 2019?

While the Bucks have been one of the league's most disappointing teams this season, the Washington Wizards aren't far behind. Washington currently holds the fifth seed in the East, but that has more to do with the quality of the conference rather than the Wizards' outstanding play. Washington players recently decided to hold a clear-the-air meeting, but things didn't go exactly as planned.

According to the Washington Post, the meeting actually had a negative impact on team morale. John Wall said, "We had our team meeting. A couple guys took it the negative way, and it hurt our team. Instead of taking it a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a little bit."

Wizards leading scorer Bradley Beal added, "Honestly, it was probably — I won't say pointless, but we didn't accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting. We just need to win ballgames. Like I told the guys, it doesn't matter how many meetings we have. We can have a meeting after every game, but if we're not mentally prepared for each game, we're going to lose again."

And that's exactly what happened. In the next game after the meeting, the Wizards got pounded by the Hornets, 133-109. Clearly, there's a lot of work to do before Washington can be considered a legitimate threat in the East.

Speaking of bad team meetings, how about Wojnarowski reporting the embattled Cavs got together before practice on Monday and actually questioned the legitimacy of Kevin Love's illness after he only played three minutes in a blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder? According to the report, Love had to explain to his teammates why he left the arena before the game was over and then missed practice the following day. The Cavs might eventually get their act together before the playoffs, but it sure doesn't look good now.

Quote of the Week

Former Cavs coach David Blatt felt blindsided when he was fired and replaced by Ty Lue midway through the team's 2015-16 championship season. Blatt eventually went back to Europe to resume his coaching career, and he directed one of the teams in a Turkish BSL All-Star Game on Sunday.

When asked about his goals for the game, Blatt offered this classic that resonated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean: "I hope we don't give up as many points as the Cavaliers gave up last night."

Very funny line after the Cavs were torched for 148 points in that loss to the Thunder, which matched a franchise record. Problem is, Blatt's All-Star squad gave up 151 in losing their game. You know what they say about karma.

Swanigan's, Diallo's decisions and how it affects Bulls' NBA Draft

Swanigan's, Diallo's decisions and how it affects Bulls' NBA Draft

The deadline for underclassmen to pull their names out of the NBA Draft passed on Wednesday at midnight.

There were a few surprises, and a handful of decisions had an effect on how the Bulls will go about next month's draft.

Staying in the draft

Caleb Swangian, PF, Purdue: The sophomore All-American surprised many by keeping his name in the draft. Swanigan actually tested the waters after his freshman season but returned to the Boilermakers in 2016. He averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 35 games, earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors and was a National Player of the Year candidate. It's no secret the 6-foot-9 Swangian can score  - he had 15 games of 20 or more points - and showed some ability to shoot from deep, making nearly 45 percent of his 85 3-point attempts. Quickness and conditioning will be the real test for the 245-pound Swanigan, who has already lost significant weight since high school. Questions about his defense (he had just 27 steals and 36 blocks in two seasons) also stand out. With Nikola Mirotic's future in Chicago unknown, the Bulls could be in the market for depth at power forward. He wouldn't be an option for the Bulls at No. 14, but if he slides out of the first round he could be an option at No. 38.

D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan: After averaging just 6.1 minutes as a sophomore, Wilson burst onto the scene as a junior, averaging 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 30.4 minutes for the Wolverines. He did his best work during the postseason; during Michigan's Big Ten Championship run and Sweet 16 appearance, Wilson averaged 15.6 points on 54 percent shooting, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. Standing 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Wilson leaves some to be desired on the defensive end but has the ability to play as a combo forward - he had a 3-inch growth spurt after high school. Like Swanigan, Wilson won't be an option for the Bulls at No. 14 but could be a second-round option. He'd give the Bulls a similar look to what Bobby Portis does with a little more versatility on the wing.

Going back to college

Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky: The NBA Draft's biggest mystery could have been a home-run selection for the Bulls in the first round. Alas, Diallo has decided to play a year under John Calipari at Kentucky and likely boost his draft stock. Having not played since December, where he played at a prep academy in Connecticut, so there wasn't much film of the 6-foot-5 leaper. Still, after Thon Maker went No. 10 to the Bucks last year there was thought that a team would take a gamble on a high-upside mystery.

Andrew Jones, PG, Texas: There was little surprise that Jones, a five-star recruit who put together a solid freshman season, returned. He's still a bit raw as a prospect despite having elite size (6-foot-4) and solid athleticism, and another year running the point with incoming five-star recruit Mo Bomba could really improve his draft stock. The Bulls clearly have a need at the point (less if Rajon Rondo returns) and if Jones had made the leap he likely would have been around at No. 38. Even still, Jones is a player to keep an eye on during next year's draft, assuming Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant don't make significant improvements.

Moritz Wagner, PF, Michigan: There's a need on every NBA team for a stretch forward with 3-point potential. But those teams will have to wait at least another year after Wagner decided to return to Michigan for his junior season. Like Wilson, who kept his name in the draft, Wagner had an excellent postseason run for the Wolverines. That stretch included a 17-point effort against Minnesota and a career-high 26-point outing in a win over Louisville. He weighed in at just 231 pounds and only averaged 4.2 rebounds per game, so adding some strength to his game will help his draft prospect for next year. He could have been an option for the Bulls at No. 38.

Why Hamidou Diallo could be the splash the Bulls are looking for

Why Hamidou Diallo could be the splash the Bulls are looking for

A mini-NBA Combine broke out on March 24 in Memphis. It came in the form of a Sweet 16 showdown between Kentucky and UCLA. The two teams squared off in a matchup littered with NBA talent, including six players who may hear their names called in the first round of next month's draft.

Kentucky was led by De'Aaron Fox's career-high 39 points, while SEC Player of the Year Malik Monk added 21 points. Bam Adebayo, Kentucky's interior presence, was quiet in 37 minutes, as was his counterpart in UCLA's Ike Anigbogu. Likely top-3 pick Lonzo Ball scored 10 points and power forward T.J. Leaf added 17 points and seven rebounds in the Bruins' 86-75 loss.

While the NBA showcase played out that Friday evening - Kentucky's Isaiah Briscoe is a potential second round pick, and UCLA's Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh have pro futures - a quiet, slender 6-foot-5 guard sat tucked away on the end of the Wildcats bench. Five-star prospect Hamidou Diallo didn't play in that Sweet 16 matchup. He didn't play before it, either, and he watched from the bench during the Wildcats' Elite Eight loss to North Carolina two days later.

His story is as unique as his game. He's the NBA Draft's biggest mystery, and maybe its most intriguing. And if he pans out the way some believe he can, he could also wind up being one of the draft's best.

"I think everybody has a different route to the NBA," he said at last week's combine. "We can sit here and talk about a lot of peoples's route to the NBA, but it's whatever best suits them."

Diallo graduated high school early in the spring of 2016, which made him eligible for the 2017 NBA Draft. He enrolled at Putnam Science Academy, a prep school in Connecticut. He played his last game in late December before enrolling at Kentucky for the spring semester, choosing the Wildcats over Connecticut. In January he practiced and traveled with the team but chose not to play.

Diallo said his decision not to play was to allow his Kentucky teammates to maintain the chemistry that had pushed them to a 13-2 record by the time he enrolled, but it also helped the 18-year-old maintain the same mystique that has NBA executives so intrigued now.

Still, his decision to attend Kentucky had its benefits. He was able to work with a coaching staff that annually churns out the most NBA prospects of any school in the country and practice against some of the top pro prospects.

"He's extremely strong. He's a great defender," said Fox, expected to be a top-10 pick next month. "When he was guarding us, when people always ask, 'What was harder: practices or the games?' It was the practices for me."

Added teammate Isaiah Briscoe: "He's a competitor. We're from the same area (New York). You've got to have that heart and competitive spirit to be on the court. He's a competitor. He's got that fight in him. That'll carry on at the next level."

Fox admitted that Diallo will need to shoot better from beyond the arc - he was a 26 percent 3-point shooter at Putnam - at the next level. Whether he improved on his outside jumper in his three months at Kentucky was not on display during last week's NBA Draft Combine.

Diallo, who has not hired an agent and could still return to Lexington, opted against performing any of the shooting drills or participating in the 5-on-5 games. Again, he created mystique about his game. Much of that decision came from his head coach, John Calipari, who has seen 21 of his players drafted in the first round since 2010.

"Just being advised by one of the people that's really been through it more than anybody else, what that guy says I have to trust 100 percent," Diallo said. "Because I feel like he's been through more than anyone I know."

The decision seems to have worked, at least for now. Diallo's strong showing in the physical testing drills and his meetings with 10 teams - including the Bulls - have allowed his draft stock to rise. It's not unlike the rise of Thon Maker, who became the first preps-to-pro jump since the NBA instituted its one-and-done rule. Maker was considered a borderline first-round talent, also sat out the shooting drills and scrimmages at the combine, and wound up going No. 7 to Milwaukee last June following impressive workouts.

"They don't know. Well, don't show them," Calipari said, speaking to a group of reporters on Thursday. "They all like you without watching you? Good. The more you don't play, the more they like you, the more they're impressed."

Calipari's latest recruiting class features six players ranked in Rivals' top 31, five of whom are listed as five-star recruits. They could also still add Mo Bamba, the No. 2 player in the class, and CBT ranked the Wildcats No. 5 in their preseason top 25 rankings.

Diallo would almost certainly improve his draft stock in a 2018 class that figures to be less top-heavy than the loaded 2017 draft, and the allure of playing for a national title contender (instead of watching one from the bench) is enticing.

"I got a text from almost all the guys today telling me, 'Hey, man, go out there and kill it. Do it for your family,'" Diallo said Thursday at the Combine. "I love those (incoming recruits) like my brothers. At the end of the day I have to do what's right for me and my family."

That decision is looming. While Diallo has until June 12 to withdraw his name from the draft and return to Kentucky, he'll likely receive feedback on where he might go long before then thanks to more team interviews and workouts. If he does keep his name in the draft, there's a team that plays nearly 400 miles north that should consider taking the mystery man who hasn't played a game in nearly five months.

Bulls general manager Gar Forman's quote about the Bulls wanting to get "younger and more athletic" in the wake of trading Derrick Rose last season hasn't exactly panned out. The Bulls signed aging veterans Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, drafted a 22-year-old Denzel Valentine and only have Cameron Payne to show for an uninspiring haul at the trade deadline in February.

Assuming Forman's vision to "start changing the culture of the team," as he said in June, remains, Diallo checks just about every box. He won't turn 19 until the end of July, making him one of the youngest players in this year's class (and the second youngest first-round prospect, behind UCLA's Anigbogu). Diallo's athleticism speaks for itself. His 44.5-inch vertical was the second highest recorded jump in NBA Combine history, his 2.79-second shuttle run was second fastest and his 3/4 court sprint was third fastest. His "worst" test was his lane agility, and he finished 10th fastest among the 54 participants.

Diallo is far from a finished product, and has said he's open to spending time in the D-League to work on his game. While the Bulls certainly could use immediate help, that strategy has landed them Valentine and Doug McDermott in two of the previous three drafts. In between they nabbed Bobby Portis, who fell to No. 22 despite being a potential lottery pick.

Diallo even checks the box on a Bulls need; assuming Rondo, Nikola Mirotic and Cristiano Felicio return, the Bulls' biggest need will be at wing behind Jimmy Butler and Wade (a surplus of point guards makes that position a slightly smaller need, despite the talent deficiency there).

There's a boom-or-bust feel to Diallo's NBA prospects, but most of that stems from there being so little footage of him. The Bulls clearly liked him enough to sit him down, and it seems likely he'll have a workout in Chicago. If he's there at No. 16, and the Bulls really are looking to get younger and more athletic and make a real splash, there isn't a better realistic package of the two in this class than the mystery man from Lexington.

"I can see my dreams getting closer and closer," he said. "I'm just trying to stay level headed and be a great listener. Follow your heart and do what you want to do at the end of the day."