Jarrett Culver

Why Jarrett Culver should be an option for the Bulls at No. 7

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USA TODAY

Why Jarrett Culver should be an option for the Bulls at No. 7

The phrase “getting downhill” became somewhat of a buzzword during Jim Bolyen’s first year at the helm. It may not have elicited the same reactions as his “soul and spirit” comments did, but the Bulls had clear instruction to blitz defenses by getting to spots and attacking the basket. The result was the Bulls leading the NBA in drives per game after Dec. 3, when Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg. They went from 41.9 last season, to 43.3 under Hoiberg this past season to a whopping 55.9 under Boylen.

Personnel certainly played a part, as Kris Dunn averaged 11.7 drives and played just two games for Hoiberg, while an aggressive Lauri Markkanen in February also helped the cause. No matter how you slice it, Boylen likes his guys attacking the rim. The hope is that it eventually leads to kickouts and open 3-pointers, but the Bulls aren’t quite there yet.

They led the NBA in drives per game but were just 15th in points percentage, netting points on just 55.7% of drives (15th best). Despite their pass percentage being 18th in the NBA (they passed after drives 36.4% of the time) they were 28th in assist percentage, with a drive resulting in an assist just 8.3% of the time.

One could surmise that the Bulls need shooters. Instead, we’ll argue today that they should continue to play the drives game. That means going after Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The sophomore put together an outstanding year in Lubbock, Tex., averaging 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals in 38 games. He led the Red Raiders to the NCAA championship game, where they lost in overtime to Virginia.

Culver excelled attacking the rim. Whether it’s using pick-and-rolls, cutting off the ball or using his length in post-up action, Culver was a beast around the rim. Per Synergy Sports, he shot almost 59 percent on 269 attempts around the rim. Though he settles for midrange jumpers at times, he’s got a strong dribble, does a nice job lowering his shoulder and finishes with contact. And again, he plays longer than his listed height. His wingspan will be interesting to see at the Combine as he seemingly hasn’t stopped growing over the last year.

Working in Culver’s favor as far as his NBA prospects are concerned is that he had an excellent season in pick-and-roll action. Though he played 84 percent of his minutes at shooting guard, Culver had 201 pick-and-roll actions. He scored 162 points on those – placing him in the 63rd percentile among all players – and his turnover rate of 14.4% was 18th among the 50 players with 200 or more PnR possessions.

In addition to his ability getting to the basket, Culver is an experienced player who can work off the likes of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. He’s an apt passer, too, averaging the 3.7 assists off the ball.

Then there’s his defense. Wingspan doesn’t equal good defender, but Culver uses it incredibly well. He’s arguably the second best wing defender in the class behind Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, but he projects as someone who would give the Bulls continued versatility to switch. A defense with Wendell Carter, Otto Porter and Culver is a large improvement from 12 months ago.

The Bulls need shooting. Badly. Culver’s outside numbers were ugly, but consider two facts: He shot 38.2 percent from deep as a freshman on nearly the same amount of attempts and his form isn’t broken. He had seven games with three or more 3-pointers, and shot 24 of 45 in those games (53.3%). He’s a smart player and can really get going when he feels it.

If you’ve read to this point, consider Jimmy Butler as an NBA comparison. Not overly fast or athletic, but gets to his spots, is strong attacking the rim, plays solid defense and can catch heat from deep from time to time. The Bulls could use Culver as a sixth man who staggers with Zach LaVine and Otto Porter and gives the Bulls someone to attack on the second unit – Shaq Harrison and Wayne Selden didn’t exactly cut it last season. He’d be a good complement to Chandler Hutchison, too, as another lengthy defender who can play multiple positions.

Culver doesn’t have the ceiling of a Zion, Ja or Barrett. But he’s also got perhaps the highest floor of anyone in the draft. His defense is going to translate and there’s room for a non-point guard who can run pick-and-roll action. He’ll keep the ball moving, which should have him at the top of the Bulls’ draft board. If his 3-point numbers get back to where he was as a freshman, he has All-Star potential. Defenses may sag in on him at the pro level, which could make attacking the rim more difficult. But even if that’s the case, he’ll still work well off the ball as a cutter.

His skills translate as someone who can play right away. That’s what the Bulls need after an injury-riddled 22-win campaign didn’t really move the rebuild forward. It’s time to take a step forward, and Culver gives them the best chance to do so if they aren’t lucky enough to move up in the Lottery. If he's available at 7, he should be their pick.

Bulls strike out at NBA Draft Lottery but will have some options

Bulls strike out at NBA Draft Lottery but will have some options

So that didn’t exactly go according to plan.

The Bulls entered Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery with a 36.6 percent chance of landing a top-3 pick. It didn’t happen. It’s obviously a tough pill to swallow for a franchise that actually won last year’s tiebreaker with the Sacramento Kings, only to see the Kings move up to No. 2 in the draft while the Bulls slipped back to seventh. And where the Bulls weren’t exactly trying to tank this season, myriad injuries to key pieces resulted in a 22-win season and the fourth best odds in a Lottery that for the first time in years was as evened out as ever.

Dreams of Zion Williamson becoming the face of the franchise have been dashed, and Ja Morant won’t be running the point for a team in desperate need of someone with his exact skill set. Barring something unforeseen, the Bulls won’t have the ability to work with and untap the potential of R.J. Barrett, who is seen as the third best prospect in the class.

But all’s not lost. It’s certainly easy to feel that way after knowing what those famous 125 combinations could have brought the Bulls. Now it’s back to the drawing board for the Bulls, who will look to strike Lottery gold at the No. 7 spot for a third consecutive season.

They’ll certainly have their options. The realization that this is a three-player class (really it’s Zion + a two-player class) stings when considering the Bulls won’t be drafing any of them. But the silver lining is that the rest of the prospects who will go in the top-10 are on a pretty even playing field. The Bulls will see players on their big board rise and fall leading up to the draft on June 20, but there’s no clear-cut players in this group of players that they’ll necessarily miss out on.

They’ll have two options when they go on the clock in New York. The first option is addressing their point guard concerns. The Bulls have been an embarrassing carousel of below-average point guards since they traded Derrick Rose in 2016. They’ve had nine players start a game at the point since then: Rajon Rondo, Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, Isaiah Canaan, Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne, Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney and Walt Lemon. Not exactly point guards of the future, even if a few of them were labeled as such.

Those eight players – Canaan started a playoff game against Boston, if you care to jog your nightmare memories – combined to start 246 games the last three seasons. They averaged 28.6 minutes, 10.1 points, 5.4 assists and shot 41.4 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. They also averaged 1.66 free throw attempts per game.

The Bulls have a need at point guard. Like, a really big need. The good news is the post-Ja Morant big board includes Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White. The Bulls are high on Garland, though there’s not much of a collegiate sample size to analyze his game – he missed all but five games with a torn meniscus.

He’d give the Bulls a Kemba Walker-type scoring option at the point, something they’ve been missing dearly since Rose. Where Garland isn’t the kind of playmaker Morant is, he’s got outstanding range and makes defenses work. At the very least he’d keep the ball moving and attract attention to free up guys like Zach LaVine, Otto Porter and Lauri Markkanen on the wings.

White only got better as his freshman season with the Tar Heels went along. He’s a bit out of control in transition but has excellent size at 6-foot-5 and has a promising jump shot that would give the Bulls much-needed help on the perimeter. He also projects as a plus defender, something the Bulls could use in the backcourt to help mask some of LaVine’s shortcomings on that end.

There’s also a bevy of wings clustered in that range where the Bulls will be picking. Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver is probably the best two-way player in the class, and his ability to play downhill and get to the rim plays into what Jim Boylen instituted since taking over for Fred Hoiberg in December.

De’Andre Hunter is the best defensive wing in the class and was marksman from beyond the arc, making nearly 42 percent of his 160 3-point attempts in two seasons at Virginia. He’d be a high-floor, low-ceiling option for the Bulls if they decide not to swing for the fences in a draft class that’s sure to have more than a few busts.

If the Bulls do swing for the fences, they’ll have a few options. Duke’s Cam Reddish had a disappointing freshman season at Duke but is a few months removed from being a higher-rated prospect than Zion Williamson. He’s got all the potential in the world and could find the pace and space of the NBA more optimal for his game.

If the Bulls really want to get wild – and they’ll have that option after hitting on their last two draft picks – they need to consider France’s Sekou Doumbouya. The 6-foot-9 wing, who was born in Guinea, has excellent athleticism and projects as a plus defender at the next level. He’s an absolute project who is more athlete than basketball player, but at this stage in the Bulls’ rebuild he’d have plenty of time to reverse that.

It’s not where the Bulls wanted to be. It’s a punch to the gut that last year’s 22-win campaign didn’t result in better draft positioning. But there are still options out there for the Bulls to improve. Though they won’t have the options they initially desired at the top of the draft, they still have options nonetheless.

The next chapter of the rebuild begins with identifying which of these players grouped together in a fuzzy draft class fit the best and will get the Bulls one step closer to contention.

Future Bulls? Top NBA prospects to watch in the 2019 NCAA Tournament

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USA TODAY

Future Bulls? Top NBA prospects to watch in the 2019 NCAA Tournament

The Bulls will have a top 10 pick for the third consecutive season and it’s likely that the next piece of their rebuild is playing in the NCAA Tournament this weekend.

A handful of our Bulls analysts – Mark Schanowski, Mark Strotman, Michael Walton and Joaquin Carrig – have picked out 12 of the top prospects in this year’s class who you can watch during March Madness.

The list is done in order of when each player’s team tips off, so don’t be concerned that Zion Williamson isn’t leading things off. All times listed are Central Time. TV channels are listed in parentheses.

Thursday Games

Ja Morant, PG, Murray State – 3:30 p.m. vs. Marquette (TBS)

Stats: 24.6 points, 10.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 50.3% FG

Scouting Report: This could be the most entertaining opening round game on the schedule, featuring the top-rated point guard (Morant) against Marquette’s explosive scoring guard Markus Howard (25.0 points per game). Howard has been slowed lately by a left wrist injury but told reporters he should be fine physically for the tournament opener.

Morant averaged 24.6 points and led the nation with 10.0 assists per game during his sophomore season at Murray State, but questions persist about whether he can put up those kinds of numbers against elite competition. Marquette will present a tougher challenge defensively than any team Morant faced in the Ohio Valley Conference, especially with shot blocker Theo John waiting to protect the rim on Morant’s drives to the basket.

You can look for 6-foot-5 junior Sacar Anim to get the primary responsibility for guarding Morant on the perimeter, but keeping the lightning-quick guard from getting into the paint and drawing fouls will be a total team effort.

Marquette slumped badly late in the season, losing 5 of its last 6 games, but the Golden Eagles are used to playing against high caliber competition in the Big East Conference. NBA scouts will be watching closely to see how Morant performs under the high-pressure atmosphere of the NCAA Tournament. – Schanowski

Keldon Johnson, SF, Kentucky – 6:10 p.m. vs. Abilene Christian (CBS)

Stats: 13.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 38.8% 3FG

Scouting Report: A consensus five-star recruit, Johnson has disappointed for those who expected gaudy numbers. But when it comes to being quietly efficient and productive, Johnson is your guy.

He does most of his work attacking closeouts, coming off of pin-down screens and on simple catch-and-shoot opportunities. Johnson is averaging 17.6 points per 40 minutes and shooting 38.8 percent from 3-point range. His 44.9 percent free throw rate is a testament to how good he is at using his 6-foot 6, 211-pound frame to draw contact on drives. Johnson isn’t the fastest or most explosive athlete, but he makes up for it with a herky-jerky dribble-drive game and an awesome floater.

Any team that falls outside of the top-7 will have to take a hard look at Johnson. He can fit in any system, and has untapped potential as a shot-creator and defender. – Walton

P.J. Washington, PF, Kentucky – 6:10 p.m. vs. Abilene Christian (CBS)

Stats: 14.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 51.5% FG

Scouting Report: PJ Washington is without a doubt the best player on this year’s Kentucky team. Washington came back to Lexington for his sophomore year and has improved across the board.

He is averaging 20.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per 40 minutes. Washington’s excellent passing ability and newfound 3-point stroke--41.9 percent through 33 games--make him a great fit for NBA offenses. Although he is still a work in progress on the defensive end, his 7-foot-3 wingspan leaves plenty of room for defensive improvement. The closest comparison at the moment would be where Chris Bosh was as an NBA prospect at Georgia Tech.

A hard worker and physical force on the floor, Washington is sure to be a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft. – Walton

Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga – 6:27 p.m. vs. Fairleigh Dickinson (truTV)

Stats: 20.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 60.9% FG

Scouting Report: For some reason, the 6-foot-8 Hachimura hasn’t generated a lot of excitement among draft analysts, falling out of the lottery in many mock drafts. 

All he did during the regular season was average 20.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting an amazing 61 percent from the field. Hachimura only attempted 32 shots from 3-point range, but he made 15 of them (46.9%). He’s an underrated ball handler for a power forward and has the ability to finish in traffic. Maybe it’s the caliber of competition Hachimura faces in the West Coast Conference that has scouts a little wary at this point, but the talent is obviously there. 

Even if Hachimura doesn’t fit the NBA profile of a “stretch 4,” he could start climbing up draft boards around the league if he is able to string together a number of big games on the way to leading Gonzaga to the Final Four. With the Bulls in need of a back-up power forward, Hachimura could be an option if their pick lands in the 6-8 range. – Schanowski

Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga – 6:27 p.m. vs. Fairleigh Dickinson (truTV)

Stats: 16.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 1.2 steals, 69.3% FG

Scouting Report: While Rui Hachimura’s stock has been fairly steady throughout the college season, the Zags’ other starting forward has been a steady climber because of his off-the-charts athleticism. When you watch a Gonzaga game, you can’t help but notice the guy wearing No. 15 jumping over the top of everyone for rebounds and put-back dunks. 

Because he does most of his work close to the basket, Clarke is shooting 69 percent from the field, averaging 16.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and a very impressive 3.1 blocks per game. The 6-foot-8 junior has been all over the map on mock drafts, from late lottery to mid-second round. He’ll get a chance to show college basketball fans and NBA scouts if he’s more than just a runner and dunker during the upcoming tournament. 

Never underestimate what a great NCAA Tournament showing can do for an athletic player’s draft stock. Bulls fans won’t forget how Tyrus Thomas came out of nowhere in 2006, leading the front office to pass on LaMarcus Aldridge when they had the second pick in the draft. Clarke won’t crack the top-10 this year, but he’ll probably be featured on a lot of highlight shows over the next three weeks. – Schanowski

Friday Games

Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech – 12:30 p.m. vs. Northern Kentucky (TNT)

Stats: 18.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 48.5% FG

Scouting Report: Culver has consistently been listed as a top 10 prospect in NBA mock drafts with a smooth two-way game that should be even more effective at the pro level.

The 6-foot-6 wing averaged 18.5 points during the regular season, shooting 48 percent from the field and 32 percent from the 3-point line. The Red Raiders earned a share of the Big 12 regular season championship, but then got bounced out of the conference tournament in the quarterfinals. Does Culver have the ability and temperament to raise his game under the NCAA tournament spotlight? Can he create his own shots against elite perimeter defenders?

These are the questions NBA scouts will look to answer while the No. 3 seed Red Raiders try to duplicate last season’s run to the Elite 8. Culver could wind up being a top-5 pick by showing an ability to score consistently against defenses designed to stop him. He wears No. 23 and has a body type similar to former Bulls’ All-Star Jimmy Butler. Could Culver eventually be as good as Butler? That’s what NBA decision makers are still trying to figure out. – Schanowski

De’Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia – 2:10 p.m. vs. Gardner-Webb (truTV)

Stats: 15.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 53.0% FG, 45.7% 3FG

Scouting Report: If there's a power rankings for tired draft cliches, "3 and D" has been on a steady rise the last few seasons. So pardon us for fanning the flames, but it's exactly what De'Andre Hunter brings to the table. He has an excellent frame at 6-foot-7, 222 pounds, and plays a physical brand of basketball on both ends of the floor.

He's the best perimeter defender in this year's class and - here comes another cliche - will defend multiple spots on the floor. He has the instincts, the toughness and the quickness to become an elite defender at the NBA level. Oh, and he's shooting nearly 46 percent from beyond the arc this season. He doesn't create much for himself - then again, he hasn't had to in Virginia's offense - but is physical enough around the rim that he won't be a one-trick pony at the next level. Remember, too, that his raw numbers take a hit in the Cavaliers' slow-paced offense. Every NBA contender needs a player with Hunter's skill set. – Strotman

Zion Williamson, PF, Duke – 6:10 p.m. vs. NDSU (CBS)

Stats: 22.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 1.8 blocks, 69.3% FG

Scouting Report: He does everything. If you're not familiar with the best NBA prospect since LeBron James, the previous sentence is all you need to know. Williamson is as unique a prospect as we've ever seen, with a 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame and the ability to jump out of the gym, blow by defenders with a lightning-quick first step and defend at an incredibly high level.

You've seen Zion highlights of him ferociously dunking in transition, but the reality is he's so much more than that. He's an outstanding passer, has great footwork once he gets into the paint and might even be better defensively than he is on offense; it gets overlooked but Williamson led the ACC in steals per game and was fourth in blocks per game. Question whether his jump shot will be an issue at the next level (he made just 17 of 54 attempts). You're in the minority. Williamson is a can't-miss prospect who is going to change an NBA franchise in three months. – Strotman

R.J. Barrett, SF, Duke – 6:10 p.m. vs. NDSU (CBS)

Stats: 22.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 45.7% FG

Scouting Report: He's been entirely overshadowed by Williamson, but let's not forget that it was Barrett who led the ACC in scoring. He's a natural with the ball in his hands and does an excellent job getting to the basket, averaging nearly 6 free throw attempts per game and scoring in a variety of ways. He also proved to be a plus passer, with much of Duke's offense running through him. He averaged 4.1 assists, including seven game with seven or more helpers (and the fourth triple-double in Duke history). His decision making needs some improvement but that can be chalked up to being 18 years old. There's always room for a scorer and ball handler in an NBA offense.

How he'll play off the ball in the NBA remains a question mark, as he shot just 30.4 percent from deep and was a totally different player without the ball in his hands. He's far from a finished product but there's still plenty to like about his game. He'll be a top-3 pick in June and has the ability in March to go off for 30 points at a moment's notice. – Strotman

Cam Reddish, SG, Duke – 6:10 p.m. vs. NDSU (CBS)

Stats: 13.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 32.7% FG

Scouting Report: The talk all summer and early in the fall was that Duke could become the first program to have players selected first, second and third overall in an NBA Draft. Then Cam Reddish's freshman season began and that talk disappeared. While Zion Williamson was becoming the future of the NBA, and R.J. Barrett was leading the ACC in scoring, Reddish struggled to find any success in his first year at Duke. Touted as a sharpshooter with excellent length, Reddish shot less than 33 percent from beyond the arc and outside of his game-winner against Florida State never really had any impact moments.

That being said, Reddish is still a perfect NBA fit. Despite his struggles he's still an excellent shooter and one that comes standing 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. There's plenty of reason to believe the NBA's spacing and pace will open up shots for him, and once he fills out more (he's listed at 218 pounds) should be a plus defender at the NBA level. He's had his struggles but it wouldn't surprise anyone if he caught fire for a few games in March, reminding everyone why he was a potential top pick just a few short months ago. – Strotman

Nassir Little, SF, North Carolina – 8:20 p.m. vs. Iona (TNT)

Stats: 9.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 46.4% FG

Scouting Report: Expectations were high for freshman forward Nassir Little, a five-star recruit out of Florida, when he signed his letter of intent to be a Carolina Tar Heel.

However, Little’s freshman campaign has not gone as anticipated. Despite his raw athleticism and star potential, Little has never cracked Roy Williams’ starting lineup, struggling to fit cohesively into UNC’s offensive system.

With that being said, Little is an important reserve, averaging 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds in 18.3 minutes per game on one of the premier college basketball teams in the nation. That combined with the NBA currently favoring his combo-forward style of play, means Little is still projected to be drafted mid-to-late first round in most mock drafts.

Unless Little quickly materializes into a top-five pick, the Bulls interest in the forward remains low. Especially considering Chicago filled their glaring void at small forward with the acquisition of Otto Porter Jr. earlier this year. – Carrig

Coby White, PG, North Carolina – 8:20 p.m. vs. Iona (TNT)

Stats: 16.3 points, 4.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds

Scouting Report: While Little’s stock has fallen, Coby White’s has never been higher. The 5-star recruit has gone from likely returning to the Tar Heels for a second season to becoming a potential lottery pick.

White started all 33 games at the point for UNC, averaging 16.3 points and 4.2 assists per game. His 76 three-point makes are a Tar Heel freshman record.

As a result, White made the ACC All-Freshman team and only received second team All-ACC honors because of the absurd amount of talent in the conference this season.

White is the engine that led this UNC team to win a share of the regular season ACC title and if the Tar Heels go deep into March, he will be a main reason why. As a result, most mock drafts are projecting the young guard to go in the 5-10 range.

If the Bulls don’t land a top-3 pick, which likely means missing out on Murray State’s Ja Morant, White could be a very realistic alternative to address their weakness at the point guard position. – Carrig