Butler, Bulls battle to continue their success against Detroit

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Butler, Bulls battle to continue their success against Detroit

Fresh off an impressive win Monday night against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, the Bulls will look to keep up their success at home with a matchup against the Detroit Pistons. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill

Jimmy Butler may not want to label himself as the "Kobe Bryant Stopper" -- though he did limit the future Hall of Famer to 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting in Monday night's 95-83 win over the Lakers -- but the second-year swingman out of Marquette has been everything the Bulls needed when Luol Deng aggravated a hamstring injury last Friday in Boston.

Over the last three games -- the latter two of which were his first and second career starts -- Butler is averaging 13.6 points 6.6 rebounds and may draw yet another start tonight against the Pistons. Deng did not practice Tuesday and, with Butler playing as well as he has been, there's no need for Tom Thibodeau to rush back his leading scorer given how often a hamstring injury can linger all season if not treated properly.

The numbers do tell part of the story of Butler's resurgence, but the Bulls' 2011 first-round draft pick has played just as well defensively -- taking after Thibodeau's team model -- in that span. Guarding the likes of Boston's Paul Pierce, Memphis' Rudy Gay and Bryant mirror the traits that moved Butler into the first round of the draft two years ago. His versatility allowed Marquette coach Buzz Williams to utilize his swing man on defense against four different positions, and Butler -- who was rarely used as a rookie -- has proved his worth in the past three games, if not the entire season.

Overlooked as a junior college athlete before arriving at Marquette as a junior, Butler waited until the end of the first round to hear his name called despite leading the Golden Eagles to their first Sweet 16 in 2011 for the first time since the days of Dwyane Wade. Butler has played with a chip on his shoulder his entire playing career and has never been one for the spotlight.

The three key Pistons that Butler and the Bulls will face tonight, however, have been in the spotlight ever since high school, and are now making names for themselves at the NBA level.

Point guard Brandon Knight, power forward Greg Monroe and center Andre Drummond have helped the Pistons rebound from a horrid start to the 2012-'13 season and are playing some of their best basketball as they head to the United Center tonight. They've won five of eight contests since the calendar flipped to 2013, and have tallied a 9-4 record since Dec. 21. Wins in that span have included Miami, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Boston, all playoff teams as of today.

Like Derrick Rose, who began contact practice with the Bulls earlier this week, Knight is one of a handful of players on the list of Kentucky head coach John Calipari's point guard "dynasty." Ranked as the No. 6 high school player in the 2010 class, Knight spent one season with the Wildcats before the Pistons selected him No. 8 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. He has regressed slightly in his second season, but has the athleticism and talent to make Kirk Hinrich's job a tough one. Knight scored 21 points in the Pistons' 108-104 home loss to Chicago in December.

Monroe was ranked as the No. 8 high school player in the 2008 class, and declared for the draft after two successful seasons with the Georgetown Hoyas. The Pistons used their seventh overall pick in the 2010 Draft to select Monroe, and after an up-and-down rookie season the 6-foot-9 forward has become a key cog inside for Lawrence Frank's group. Monroe squared off against Butler three times in college, with his Hoyas holding a 2-1 advantage over Butler's Golden Eagles.

One of the reasons Monroe has improved has been the shift to move him to his more natural power forward position. That was made possible, in part, by management selecting Drummond with the No. 9 pick in last year's draft. After reclassifying to the 2011 high school class, Drummond was ranked No. 2 in the country, behind only Anthony Davis. Davis would go on to Kentucky, win a national championship, be named the AP Player of the Year, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the NCAA Tournament's MOP. Things weren't as smooth for Drummond, who struggled at Connecticut under Jim Calhoun and entered the draft after his freshman season. But the raw talent the Pistons saw in the 6-foot-10 center was legitimate, and he's averaged 7.5 points and 7.3 rebounds for Detroit in his rookie season.

Veterans Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince have also helped the Pistons rebound from an 0-8 start to begin the season, but the young guns deployed by Frank -- who replaced Thibodeau as an assistant in Boston after Thibodeau accepted the Bulls' head coaching gig -- are the players to watch for in tonight's matchup. If the last week is any indication, Butler will have his sights set again on locking down defensively and acting as a role player in the offense. Tune in tonight to catch all the action.

Elena Delle Donne returns to Chicago, helps Mystics take down Sky

Elena Delle Donne returns to Chicago, helps Mystics take down Sky

ROSEMONT — Elena Delle Donne scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds in her return to Chicago, and the Washington Mystics beat the Sky 82-67 on Wednesday.

The 2015 MVP asked to be traded in the offseason after four seasons with the Sky. She opened the scoring with a turnaround jumper from the free-throw line and finished 7-for-15 from the floor.

"Definitely feels weird coming in here, being in the guest locker room, being on the other bench and all," Delle Donne said. "But my teammates, they've been great and even in the locker room they're like, 'How you feeling? You good, you good?' Just checking on me, and that made me relax."

Neither team led by more than six points in the first three quarters, but Washington broke it open early in the fourth quarter with a 14-6 spurt. Delle Donne had six points during the span, Ivory Latta and Natasha Cloud each hit a 3-pointer, and the Mystics' lead didn't drop below eight points the rest of the way.

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt added 15 points and 10 rebounds for Washington, ranked sixth in the AP power poll. Reserve Tianna Hawkins scored 12 points and grabbed nine boards.

The Mystics shot only 40 percent but had 19 assists on 29 field goals.

"That's one of the best parts about our team is that we do move the ball well," Washington coach Mike Thibault said. "We're unselfish and we try to find the open man. If we had hit some 3s like we normally can, we might have had a few more."

Cappie Pondexter led the 10th-ranked Sky with 17 points and 10 assists. She also moved into seventh on the WNBA career assists list. Stefanie Dolson had 13 points and 11 rebounds against her former team, and Allie Quigley also scored 13 — all in the first half. Starting point guard Courtney Vandersloot missed her fourth game.

Quigley scored eight of the Sky's first 15 points in her first game of the season since returning from Turkey, and the Sky trailed 43-41 at halftime after shooting just 33 percent.

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson gets some love from NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson gets some love from NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.

Is Northwestern becoming QB U?

Trevor Siemian and Mike Kafka have already been drafted this decade, and Clayton Thorson — the team's current signal-caller — could be next.

ESPN's noted NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Thorson as one of his top five underclassman quarterbacks ahead of the 2018 draft.

Now that doesn't mean much right now. Kiper himself dubbed his position-by-position rankings as "way too early." Thorson's stock could soar or fall depending on what happens next season. And Thorson will still have one season of NCAA eligibility remaining after the upcoming 2017 campaign, meaning he might not even be in the 2018 NFL Draft.

But it's solid praise for a quarterback who looked much better in his second season as the Wildcats' starter than he did as a redshirt freshman the year prior.

As a redshirt sophomore, Thorson completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 3,182 yards and 22 touchdowns (fourth in the Big Ten in both of those categories) compared to nine interceptions. Thorson also rushed in for five touchdowns on the ground.

His quarterback rating skied from 95.9 as a freshman to 125.9 as a sophomore.

Now, there's little telling where Kiper might rank Thorson among all quarterbacks for the 2018 draft. He ranked five seniors and five underclassmen, with Thorson ranked fifth among underclassmen, behind Southern California's Sam Darnold, Wyoming's Josh Allen, UCLA's Josh Rosen and Louisville's Lamar Jackson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

But certainly the Northwestern quarterback has captured the attention of draft evaluators and could follow Siemian and Kafka as recent Wildcats signal-callers to hear their name during the draft.