Marvin Bagley III

What to watch for: Bulls look to salvage a win out of three-game west coast swing against the Kings

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USA Today

What to watch for: Bulls look to salvage a win out of three-game west coast swing against the Kings

The Bulls look to salvage a win out of a largely unsuccessful three-game west coast swing when they visit the Kings in Sacramento, Monday night. The game tips on NBC Sports Chicago at 9 p.m. CT — until then, here’s what to watch for:

Kings’ last five (2-3)

  • Nov. 30 — W vs. Denver Nuggets: 100-97 F/OT

  • Nov. 27 — L vs. Philadelphia 76ers: 97-91

  • Nov. 25 — L @ Boston Celtics: 103-102

  • Nov. 24 — W @ Washington Wizards: 113-106

  • Nov. 22 — L @ Brooklyn Nets: 116-97

One storyline for each team

This season hasn’t started exactly as planned for the Kings, a near-consensus preseason pick to steal a playoff spot and some hearts in a deep Western Conference. With an 8-10 record, they’re currently locked in a tie for the No. 8 seed in the West, but they’ve been without franchise cornerstones De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley for the majority of their first 18 games. They did pick up their best win of the season on Saturday, though — a tooth-and-nail 100-97 overtime victory over the surging Nuggets in which they trailed by as many as 17 points. For them, the Bulls coming to town serves as a prime opportunity to build on that momentum.

The Bulls just need a win any way they can muster it, playoff aspirations (waning fast) aside. They enter tonight’s contest on the outside-looking-in of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and 0-2 so far on a west coast swing that has featured opponents all below .500. Until further notice, Lauri Markkanen is the prevailing storyline to track with this team — he showed flashes (in an ultimately underwhelming performance) in Portland on Saturday, and the Kings’ presently depleted frontcourt could prove a favorable matchup for him.

Player to watch: Buddy Hield

Without Fox and Bagley, the Kings are lacking two of the engines of their offense. Respective understudies Cory Joseph and Nemanja Bjelica are each more-than-competent NBA players, but both boast demonstrably lower usage rates than their predecessors.

Buddy Hield has stepped up to fill that gap. Since Fox went down with a sprained ankle on Nov. 11, he’s bumped his volume (27% usage, 19.2 FGA/11.7 3PA per game) and led the team in scoring with 22.9 points per. His efficiency is down across the board, but he remains one of the more thrilling heat-check guys in the league when he gets going:

For what it’s worth, Hield and the Kings have been turnover-happy this year, which could play into the Bulls’ hands.

Battle to watch: The running game

That point leads pretty handily — pun intended — into my next one: After ranking third in the league in PACE last season, the Kings are currently producing the second-least amount of possessions per 48 minutes in the NBA. Chalk that up partially to missing Fox for nine games (and counting), but they were 28th in the league in the nine games before he went down, as well.

Whatever the reason, they play slow, which is at odds with the Bulls’ defensive style. The Bulls force turnovers at the highest rate in the NBA and, per Cleaning the Class, rank third in percent of possessions in transition (they have a 128.7 offensive rating on such plays). Especially considering Boylen will be forced to lean on the pesky three-guard lineups he so covets, the Bulls’ recipe for success will involve forcing turnovers, handling the defensive glass (the Kings rank 23rd in the league in Cleaning the Glass’ defensive rebounding rate ranks) and pushing the pace off those opportunities.

The Kings have allowed three players (Marcus Smart, Kelly Oubre and Trae Young) to have five-steal games against them, tied for the most in the league with the Warriors, Hawks and Suns. Kris Dunn is second in the NBA in steals and the Bulls lead the league in steals per game. If your fantasy team is in need of swipes tonight, hit the waiver wire stat (especially if Dunn starts). 

Injury/miscellaneous updates:

Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison are both out tonight, with both set to be evaluated in Chicago later this week. Jim Boylen has yet to officially announce who will slide into their spot in the starting lineup, but safe money’s on Dunn, who started against Portland Saturday and has assumed closing duties in the Porter/Hutchison spot, of late. 

For the Kings, Fox and Bagley are both obviously no-gos. Trevor Ariza hasn’t been with the team since Nov. 19 because of a personal issue, but he’s currently listed as probable for tonight.

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Scouting report on Wendell Carter Jr.: Elite rim protection, a terror on the offensive glass, improving range

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USA TODAY

Scouting report on Wendell Carter Jr.: Elite rim protection, a terror on the offensive glass, improving range

Wendell Carter Jr. committed to Duke in November 2016, the No. 3 recruit in the country and the prized possession of the Blue Devils’ latest historic recruiting class. Nine months later, just weeks before Carter’s freshman season began, Marvin Bagley – the top prospect in 2018 – announced his decision to both commit to Duke and reclassify to 2017.

In a flash, Carter went from the top recruit on his team to second fiddle in his own backcourt. Headed for a major role following the departures of Harry Giles, Amile Jefferson and Jayson Tatum the year prior, Carter settled for a role out of the spotlight and eventually the fifth scoring option.

He still flourished. While Bagley rightfully received the accolades – ACC Player of the Year, ACC Rookie of the Year, All-American – Carter held his own and was a key cog for the Blue Devils during their 29-win, Elite Eight season. He doesn’t have the height or raw athleticism of the bigs who likely will be selected before him on June 21. He does, however, possess a skill set built for today’s game that will take him off the board somewhere in the Lottery, if not the first 10 picks.

You’ll read about comparisons to Al Horford in the coming paragraphs. Here’s why. Horford measured at the 2007 Combine at 6-foot-9.75 (Carter is 6-foot-10), weighed 246 pounds (Carter is 251), had an 8-foot-11 standing reach (Carter’s is 9-foot-1) and a 7-foot-1 wingspan (Carter’s is 7-foot-4.5). Carter’s game is a little more like the current Horford’s, but in college both players shared the frontcourt spotlight with similar bouncy power forwards: Joakim Noah for Horford and the aforementioned Bagley for Carter.

Carter was fifth on a loaded Duke team in field goal attempts (319). His ability to get to the free throw line (4.6; second to Bagley) and his passing acumen (2.0 assists) helped him finish second on the Blue Devils in usage rate (22.8%; second to Bagley). He was a model of efficiency, shooting 56.1% from the field and 41.3% from beyond the arc, just one of four players in the country to reach those thresholds.

The 3-point shooting came on only 46 attempts, but Carter looked comfortable more often than not from the top of the key, where 40 of his 46 shots came from. He’s a non-factor in the midrange game, but he’s more than comfortable spotting up from beyond the arc. Plus, Horford was 0-for-4 in three years at Florida; last year in Boston he made 97 triples. Carter is ahead of the curve already.

Carter has impressive footwork but that didn’t translate to his post-up numbers, as he averaged a pedestrian 0.753 points per possessions, far worse than Horford’s mark (1.056) at Florida. Still, Carter’s 1.06 overall PPP ranked in the 90th percentile thanks to that outside shooting and his work on the glass – also, his post game is better than those number suggest.

Carter had an offensive rebounding rate of 12.8%, higher than Mo Bamba (12.2%) and Jaren Jackson (8.7%). That impressive mark – all while battling with Bagley for boards – was higher than Horford’s 12.2% mark.

Carter made good on those offensive rebounds, scoring 99 points on 68 possessions. That 1.456 PPP ranked in the 94th percentile and was better than Mamba’s 1.338 PPP. He’s a terror inside and as he improves his post-up game will be a jack of all trades.

Carter’s defense is a little more difficult to analyze. He was the anchor of the Blue Devils’ 2-3 zone that transformed their season, so many of his 1-on-1 numbers are skewed. From the limited data we do have, however, Carter was dominant. He ranked in the 97th percentile nationally in post-up situations and the 87th percentile defending around the basket.

Carter did the heavy lifting defensively, whereas Horford deferred to Noah in Gainesville. Carter’s 7.6% block rate was higher than Horford’s 6.7%. For reference, likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton had a 6.1% block rate. It was a solid number for Carter, especially considering he played zone so often and had less opportunity to block shots.

Again, it’s tough to draw anything from those numbers, but make no mistake: Carter is an excellent defender. His 9-foot-1 standing reach and 7-foot-4.5 wingspan are plenty big, and his 251-pound frame is larger than players like Jaren Jackson (236), Mo Bamba (226). He may not have the 7-foot height but Carter is plenty capable of defending the interior. It’ll be his most NBA-ready trait.

He's got the foot speed and foot work to defend pick-and-roll action. Again, he didn't get to shot it often playing primarily a zone at Duke but he has that skill set. His 1.7% steal rate was on par with Horford's at Florida and projects at the next level.

Carter has a veteran-like game. He's just 19 years old but he already does a lot of things well that otherwise take players longer to accomplish. He has the footwork, he rim protects without committing too many fouls (4.2 fouls per 40 minutes). His post game numbers weren't great, but he projects as a player who will finish those looks more often than not. Don't read into his numbers; again, he was a fourth or fifth option on a team littered with talent. Plays were rarely run for him.

His ceiling may be lower because he isn't a bouncy athlete, isn't someone who can put the ball on the floor and isn't all that versatile.

That shouldn't matter. His floor is high and there's a reason he's been compared to Horford throughout this process. Horford has been an unsung hero on many a playoff contender, and Carter could be the same type of player in Chicago.

Why Duke's Wendell Carter is the man to anchor the Bulls' defense

Why Duke's Wendell Carter is the man to anchor the Bulls' defense

Wendell Carter Jr. committed to Duke in November 2016, the No. 3 recruit in the country and the prized possession of the Blue Devils’ latest historic recruiting class. Nine months later, just weeks before Carter’s freshman season began, Marvin Bagley – the top prospect in 2018 – announced his decision to both commit to Duke and reclassify to 2017.

In a flash, Carter went from the top recruit on his team to second fiddle in his own backcourt. Headed for a major role following the departures of Harry Giles, Amile Jefferson and Jayson Tatum the year prior, Carter settled for a role out of the spotlight and eventually the fifth scoring option.

He still flourished. While Bagley rightfully received the accolades – ACC Player of the Year, ACC Rookie of the Year, All-American – Carter held his own and was a key cog for the Blue Devils during their 29-win, Elite Eight season. He doesn’t have the height or raw athleticism of the bigs who likely will be selected before him on June 21. He does, however, possess a skill set built for today’s game that will take him off the board somewhere in the Lottery, if not the first 10 picks.

You’ll read about comparisons to Al Horford in the coming paragraphs. Here’s why. Horford measured at the 2007 Combine at 6-foot-9.75 (Carter is 6-foot-10), weighed 246 pounds (Carter is 251), had an 8-foot-11 standing reach (Carter’s is 9-foot-1) and a 7-foot-1 wingspan (Carter’s is 7-foot-4.5). Carter’s game is a little more like the current Horford’s, but in college both players shared the frontcourt spotlight with similar bouncy power forwards: Joakim Noah for Horford and the aforementioned Bagley for Carter.

Carter was fifth on a loaded Duke team in field goal attempts (319). His ability to get to the free throw line (4.6; second to Bagley) and his passing acumen (2.0 assists) helped him finish second on the Blue Devils in usage rate (22.8%; second to Bagley). He was a model of efficiency, shooting 56.1% from the field and 41.3% from beyond the arc, just one of four players in the country to reach those thresholds.

The 3-point shooting came on only 46 attempts, but Carter looked comfortable more often than not from the top of the key, where 40 of his 46 shots came from. He’s a non-factor in the midrange game, but he’s more than comfortable spotting up from beyond the arc. Plus, Horford was 0-for-4 in three years at Florida; last year in Boston he made 97 triples. Carter is ahead of the curve already.

Carter has impressive footwork but that didn’t translate to his post-up numbers, as he averaged a pedestrian 0.753 points per possessions, far worse than Horford’s mark (1.056) at Florida. Still, Carter’s 1.06 overall PPP ranked in the 90th percentile thanks to that outside shooting and his work on the glass – also, his post game is better than those number suggest.

Carter had an offensive rebounding rate of 12.8%, higher than Mo Bamba (12.2%) and Jaren Jackson (8.7%). That impressive mark – all while battling with Bagley for boards – was higher than Horford’s 12.2% mark.

Carter made good on those offensive rebounds, scoring 99 points on 68 possessions. That 1.456 PPP ranked in the 94th percentile and was better than Mamba’s 1.338 PPP. He’s a terror inside and as he improves his post-up game will be a jack of all trades.

Carter’s defense is a little more difficult to analyze. He was the anchor of the Blue Devils’ 2-3 zone that transformed their season, so many of his 1-on-1 numbers are skewed. From the limited data we do have, however, Carter was dominant. He ranked in the 97th percentile nationally in post-up situations and the 87th percentile defending around the basket. Carter did the heavy lifting defensively, whereas Horford deferred to Noah in Gainesville. Carter’s 7.6% block rate was higher than Horford’s 6.7%. For reference, likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton had a 61.% block rate. It was a solid number for Carter, especially considering he played zone so often and had less opportunity to block shots.

Again, it’s tough to draw anything from those numbers, but make no mistake: Carter is an excellent defender. His 9-foot-1 standing reach and 7-foot-4.5 wingspan are plenty big, and his 251-pound frame is larger than players like Jaren Jackson (236), Mo Bamba (226). He may not have the 7-foot height but Jackson is plenty capable of defending the interior. It’ll be his most NBA-ready trait.

Like many of the bigs in this class, Carter is a perfect complement to Lauri Markkanen if the Bulls use the No. 7 pick on him. Though Markkanen shows promise as an agile defender capable of defending pick-and-rolls, he would be best utilized with a rim protector. That’s Carter, whose 7.6% block percentage was 24th in the country among players at or above 60% of their team’s minutes.

Carter spoke to reporters at the Bulls’ practice facility after his private workout and touted his defensive versatility. It’s true, that he’ll hang his hat on what he can accomplish as a rim protector. If he can clean up the glass and improve as a 3-point shooter it’ll be an added bonus. The comparisons to Horford are real. He won’t make it at the next level if he’s simply overpowered by more athletic bigs on both sides of the ball. He doesn’t leap out of the gym and isn’t overly quick, despite the good footwork.

The Bulls should bet on him. They’ve focused on offense in each of the last six drafts. Now’s the time to shore up the defense. There are a surplus of wings waiting in the 18-22 area for the Bulls to address the position then. It’s no longer a big man’s league, but when one with such an impressive skill set that also fills a need presents himself, you simply can’t pass on him.