Derrick Rose? Never mind.
Miami's winning streak? No thanks.
Let's talk about the NCAA Tournament instead.
After an exciting first three rounds of the "Big Dance," including upstart Florida Gulf Coast upsetting my beloved Georgetown Hoyas and then proving they're no fluke with Sunday's win over San Diego State, not to mention my alma mater, Temple, losing a heartbreaker to top-seeded Indiana, the Sweet 16 awaits. The basketball should be entertaining, but it's also an opportunity for top draft prospects and sleepers alike to showcase their wares with everyone from fans to general managers watching.
With that, here are 16 potential future pros (based on their likely NBA positions) to keep an eye on in the regional semifinals:
Michigan point guard Trey Burke (floor general could be the first point guard picked in the draft), Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams (playmaker might have the most potential of any player at his position), Louisville center Gorgui Dieng (improved on offense to go with shot-blocking ability), Michigan shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (son of Chicago native with the same name and Burke's backcourt mate has NBA-type shooting and athleticism) and Duke power forward Ryan Kelly (prototypical stretch-four)
There's Miami point guard Shane Larkin (son of baseball legend has said he's returning to school, but could be a first-round pick this year if he changes his mind), Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore (potential top pick has struggled in the tournament, but has undeniable talent), Florida power forward Erik Murphy (similar to Duke's Kelly, a big man with the ability to stretch defenses) and Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo (despite his clutch shot contributing to my Owls' demise, my fellow DMV native's defense, explosiveness and relentless game translate well to the next level).
Then there's Michigan State power forward Adreian Payne (always a big-time athlete, but has added consistency and polish), Duke center Mason Plumlee (better player and more athletic than his older brother Miles, Indiana's first-round pick last year), Michigan small forward Glenn Robinson III (much more athletic than his scoring-machine father and has all the tools), Syracuse small forward James Southerland (sixth man has excellent range and accuracy), Ohio State small forward DeShaun Thomas (versatile southpaw scorer just puts the ball in the basket), Kansas center Jeff Withey (perhaps the nation's top shot-blocker) and last, but not least, Indiana power forward Cody Zeller (agile, polished and fundamentally sound big man).
As for my Final Four picks, I'm sticking with Louisville, Miami and Ohio State, and to replace my Hoyas, I'll go with Michigan, with the Hurricanes and Cardinals advancing to the title game, and Rick Pitino winning another championship. On to the mailbag:
After watching Damian Lillard against the Bulls, can he be the next Kyrie Irving?
Jerome, it might be a little too early to call any player the "next" Irving, especially Lillard, who happens to be older than his Rookie of the Year predecessor--with less than a month remaining in the regular season, I don't think I'm being presumptuous by handing Lillard the award--by virtue of playing four years in college. But while the two do have some similarities--their poker-faced demeanors, the fact that both came into the league with accurate, deep range and excellent ability to operate in pick-and-roll scenarios, a lot of work to do on the defensive end of the floor--I believe that Lillard and Irving will carve out their own niches.
What is the Bulls' most famous injury after D-Rose's ACL and Jordan's broken foot?
Bryce, probably Scottie Pippen's infamous migraine headache. I didn't grow up in Chicago and I wasn't a Bulls fan, but Scottie was one of my favorite players--even more than Michael Jordan, who I appreciated more after his first retirement--so I hope this isn't viewed as taking a shot at him. But that situation, although it's been minimized over time, since the Bulls went on to win six championships with Scottie playing a major role, was a pretty big deal. It wasn't a long-term situation, but the nature of when it happened made it a heavily scrutinized situation. As far as an injury that had a greater long-term effect, I'd go with Jay Williams' motorcycle accident.
Do the Bulls beat the Heat on Wednesday?
Chris, I'm no fortune teller, but I'd give the Bulls a chance simply because of how well they've played Miami in recent years, which lessens the intimidation factor that other teams could face. It would help if Jo and Marco are back in the lineup, but we've seen stranger things happen--John Lucas III, anybody?--when these two teams play. After getting blown out at the United Center in the last matchup with the Heat, I do expect the Bulls to come out with an edge, as they like to say, but we'll see how much that matters against a team on an incredible roll.
What is the best matchup for the Bulls in Round 1 of the playoffs?
Trey, the East is such a crap shoot that it's hard to say, but based on how they've fared against them this season, the Knicks wouldn't be a bad first-round opponent for them. Thibs seems to have a formula to beat New York, a 3-point happy, Carmelo Anthony-dependent, defensively deficient team with a handful of the NBA's oldest active players, many of whom are breaking down late in the season.
Carmelo is, along with Kevin Durant, one of the league's best pure scorers, but I can't see him carrying them against the Bulls' defense in a seven-game series, and the matchup between Jo and Tyson Chandler, the Knicks' second-best player, is pretty much a draw on paper. The Bulls' size inside and rebounding advantage is also problematic for New York, and they also seem to get up for games at Madison Square Garden. As bunched up as the conference playoff race is, the Bulls could also draw the Nets, another team I'd give them favorable odds against, and if the Hawks ended up being their opening-round opponent, that wouldn't be a bad matchup either. The teams to avoid are obviously the Heat and the Pacers, though I believe the latter would be an extremely competitive series.
Do you think Malcolm Thomas will have the same impact as Lou Amundson?
@BPspeak, probably on the court, but the difference in the two situations is that the Bulls are getting a look at Malcolm, who was on their summer-league team, for the future. Lou is a vet and was focused more on immediate playing time, while Malcolm is a young player, wants to be in Chicago and is a viable option for next season, if the Bulls like what they see in practice and in the locker room. Although his situation is different, I'd put Daequan in the same boat, as an affordable young player who could be a good roster fit.