Ask Aggrey: Watson a pleasant surprise

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Ask Aggrey: Watson a pleasant surprise

Another Monday, another edition of the mailbag. As I get ready to head back to Chicago from Boston after more than two weeks on the road, I feel compelled to answer your most pressing questions. But before I get into that, Ill share some of the good and the bad of the nine-game trip.

First, lets get the bad out of the way: living out of a suitcase, airport security and having to harass Derrick Rose about whether or not hes playing on a nightly basis. Now, for the good: Miamis weather, po-boy sandwiches in pre-Mardi Gras New Orleans, cheesesteaks in Philly, lobster rolls and clam chowder in Boston, hitting three of the cities where I used to live (New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington) and the dancers for the Heat, Wizards and Bobcats, in particular. On to your questions:

I hear Nikola Mirotic is tearing it up in Europe. I know he's a few years away from coming to the NBA, but what kind of player might he be once he finally puts on a Bulls uniform? -- Ben G.

Ben, great question. Indeed, Mirotic is playing at a very high level in the Spanish ACB league, regarded by most as the top league outside of the NBA. While he wont be crossing the waters for at least another couple of years, the Bulls front office is very pleased with the rapid progress that hes made and are even higher on him than they were on Omer Asik, who surprised many with his readiness to contribute upon arrival in the NBA. Mirotic is seen as a face-up power forward, with the ability to stretch the defense with his long-range shooting, but he brings more than just that skill to the table. While he needs to get stronger, Mirotic is viewed as highly skilled, possessing the ability to put the ball on the floor and with enough toughness to bang inside and snatch some rebounds. Even at his young age, hes a strong candidate to play for Spains loaded national team he has dual citizenship, as one parent is Spanish and the other is from Montegnegro in the Olympics this summer, though with the likes of the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, he might not see a lot of minutes on the front line. However, while he was seen as a steal in last years NBA Draft (other teams passed on him because of his buyout), if he was candidate in this years draft, regarded as one of the most talented in several years, Mirotic may well be a lottery pick.

Do the Bulls have a "Dunk Policy?" Seems they go for the lay up when other teams usually dunk. -- @jjpetrusa

JJ, thats pretty funny. When the Bulls are in transition, Ive also noticed that theyll often play it safe and go for a layup the majority of the time. Even Derrick, when slashing to the basket against a set defense, hasnt been throwing it down much this season, though some of that can be attributed to his injury woes. But when you think about it, besides Derrick, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer who fails to convert on enough of his dunks that laying it up more often could be a good idea for him how many big-time leapers do the Bulls really have? For all of his talents, Luol Deng would much rather take the sure two points and conserve his energy (especially with all the minutes Tom Thibodeau plays him) than dunk most of the time. As far as big men, while Taj and Omer Asik have their fair share of flushes, but Carlos Boozer doesnt have a lot of lift these days, though now Joakim Noah seems to be in rhythm, hes been throwing it down more. It might not be an actual policy, but somewhat of an unwritten rule, as even rookie Jimmy Butler seems to take the cautious route when hes had opportunities.
What do you make of the 'Lin-sanity' that is sweeping the nation? -- Rachel

Rachel, Im a big fan of Linsanity. I actually wrote a short magazine piece on Lin when he was a star at Harvard and then saw him play in the NBAs summer league in Las Vegas where he had a strong head-to-head matchup with No. 1 pick John Wall prior to his rookie season. While many people saw him as a novelty as a Warriors rookie, assuming Golden State picked the Northern California native up to cater to the areas Asian community, I knew he was a legitimate NBA-level talent. That said, I certainly didnt anticipate his incredible rise to stardom. People often compare Linsanity to the NFLs Tim Tebow phenomenon, but Tebow was a first-round draft pick, former Heisman Trophy winner and national champion at a major football power. Lin was in the absolute right place at the right time, as the Knicks simply dont have a healthy point guard on their roster veteran Baron Davis is on the shelf, while Toney Douglas and rookie Iman Shumpert just arent natural floor generals and in Mike DAntonis system, having a high basketball I.Q., being able to flourish in a pick-and-roll offense and having good court vision are huge advantages. Additionally, the Knicks are winning games, so when Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire (the latter should be fine, as he played under DAntoni in Phoenix with Nash and looked like an early MVP candidate with Raymond Felton at the beginning of last season) return to the lineup, it will be interesting to watch if Lin is still allowed so much free reign with superstar scorers to pass to.
Are you at all worried about D-Rose's rash of injuries of late? -- Wyatt H.

Wyatt, if you asked me that before Sunday, I would have said no. Derrick is an individual capable of playing through pain and while I didnt doubt how much his back was bothering him prior to the Celtics game while most people reference him getting stretched out on the sidelines in the middle of the Bulls nine-game road trip at Milwaukee, I witnessed him being stretched out on by the training staff on the sidelines against Washington, the second game of the trip I figured skipping the Charlotte game Friday was a way to get extra rest before Boston. However, with him admitting before the game how much pain he was in throughout the entire trip and missing a showdown that he badly wanted to play in, I have to say that Im a bit concerned. Well see how his visit with a specialist goes Monday, but at 23, having these back issues isnt a good sign. Just know that if he can play through it, he will for better or worse and with the history of a star player holding grudges against management for sitting him due to injury, theres no need for people to act like Thibs put a gun to his head and forced him to play.
What has surprised you the most with this current Bulls team? -- Johnny Y.

Johnny, with Ronnies recent shooting struggles he started out the season shooting from the perimeter like he stole Kyle Korvers identity Id say C.J. Watson. I know he hasnt shot the ball well in his last few games, but from coming back early from injuries to stepping up with huge performances when Derricks been out of the lineup, C.J. has really taken his game to another level this year. From my perspective, hes one of the leagues upper-echelon backup point guards and there are a number of teams for instance, the pre-Linsanity Knicks that he could start for. Working out in his hometown of Las Vegas, C.J. had a great offseason, really took to heart the things the coaching staff asked him to work on and embraced his role after struggling with it early last season, following his stint in Golden States run-and-gun style, in which he also played more minutes. His defense, ball security, shot selection and passing have also been much improved, making him a major reason the Bulls have one of the leagues best benches.

Keep the questions -- whether theyre about the Bulls, the rest of the NBA, other levels of basketball or life in general -- coming. Youll get a much better explanation, though not as instant, than you would via Twitter with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Brian Hedger (nhl.com) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel.  The Bulls beat the Pistons in a game with huge playoff implication.  So could they actually make the postseason?

The Blackhawks are closing in one division title but what’s their biggest weakness?

Plus Theo Epstein’s a really great leader, Kyle Hendricks is going to have to wait a while to pitch plus DeShone Kizer loves the band “Chicago” but will he play here?

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

If you've been watching the NCAA Tournament closely, it's apparent this June's draft will include a number of elite prospects, maybe the best top 10 talent since the LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Wade draft in 2003. 

Washington didn't qualify for the tournament, but NBA scouts seem to be in agreement that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz will be the No. 1 pick. The 6-foot-4 freshman has the size and ball-handling ability to play either guard spot, and word out of Boston is Fultz will be the pick if the Celtics get the first choice in the draft lottery.

UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball put on quite a show in the Bruins' win over Cincinnati on Sunday, finishing with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-6 Ball reminds scouts of a young Jason Kidd, showing amazing court vision and passing skills with the size to see over the top of smaller defenders. And don't caught up in his unusual shooting form. Ball can knock down shots, hitting almost 56 percent from the field this season and 42 percent beyond the 3-point line.

The other consensus top-3 prospect is Kansas small forward Josh Jackson. The 6-foot-8 Jackson is an Andrew Wiggins clone who has amazing quickness and finishing ability. Jackson improved his draft stock with a sensational performance in the first two games of the tournament. If the Bulls decide to trade Jimmy Butler in a deal for one of the top picks this June, the rangy 20-year-old Jackson would be an ideal replacement. If he ever gets a consistent jump shot, look out. We could be talking about a 25 points per game scorer.

Since Fultz, Ball and Jackson appear to be the kind of players NBA teams build around, the Bulls could potentially negotiate with the teams holding the top 3 picks for the best possible Butler deal. Right now, the Nets (pick will be swapped with Boston), Lakers and Suns own the worst records, and if the order isn't changed by the lottery, the Bulls could obtain a quality package centered around this year's first-round pick and a quality young player from any of the three teams.

Here's a look at how the lottery selections could fall based on the draft order as of March 23.

1. CELTICS (from Brooklyn)  Markelle Fultz  PG   Washington
2. LAKERS                              Lonzo Ball        PG    UCLA
3. SUNS                                  Josh Jackson   SF    Kansas
4. MAGIC                                Jayson Tatum   SF     Duke
5. 76'ers                                  De'Aaron Fox     PG    Kentucky
6. KINGS                                  Malik Monk         SG    Kentucky
7. KNICKS                               Dennis Smith      PG   N. Carolina St.
8. TIMBERWOLVES              Lauri Markkanen  PF    Arizona
9. KINGS (from Pelicans)       Frank Ntilikina      PG    France
10. MAVS                                 Miles Bridges    SF    Michigan St.
11. HORNETS                         Jonathan Isaac   SF    Florida St.
12. BLAZERS                          Justin Jackson   SF    N. Carolina
13. PISTONS                           John Collins      PF     Wake Forest       
14. BULLS                                OG Anunoby     SG-SF   Indiana  

Alright Bulls fans, I'm sure you're asking, why would the Bulls want to draft a player coming off a serious knee injury? Well, the Bulls haven't done all that well drafting productive older players from major programs, so why not roll the dice on a 19-year-old who could develop into the next Butler?

Scouts raved about Anunoby's potential heading into his sophomore season at Indiana. At 6-foot-8, Anunoby has good positional size to play both the small forward and shooting guard spots and figures to be a plus-defender from Day 1 in the NBA. Right now, his rehab from right knee surgery and lack of a consistent jump shot are the biggest concerns, but looking at mock drafts in the 13-20 range, do the Bulls really want to take a project big man or a mystery international player? 

Even if it takes a couple years for Anunoby to reach his ultimate potential, he seems like a good choice in today's position-less NBA. Plus, in the Bulls' current position, they need to take some chances and try to get lucky in landing a future star.

Two other athletic possibilities who are projected as late 1st round picks right now are SMU junior swingman Semi Ojeleye, a 6-foot-7 bundle of energy and muscle who should be able to contribute right away, and Oklahoma St. point guard Jawun Evans, one of the fastest players in the college game who could ignite the Bulls' fast break after Rajon Rondo moves on.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

If the Bulls are going to make a late season run to the playoffs, they'll have to find a way to pass two of the league's hottest teams. Milwaukee has won eight of its last 10 games to pull into a 6th place tie with the Pacers, while Miami has been one of the league's biggest surprises over the last two months, going from an 11-30 record on January 13 to 35-36, and a game and a half lead over the Bulls and Pistons for the final playoff spot.

Both late surges are surprising, especially the job Erik Spoelstra has done in Miami. After the controversial departure of Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley decided to hedge his bets for the future and signed a number of journeyman veteran types like Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Derrick Williams and Willie Reed to short-term contracts.

Williams was released and signed on with Cleveland, but Spoelstra and his staff have done a masterful job in piecing together a roster with a lot of duplication into a consistent winning team. Hassan Whiteside has continued to improve, averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds, while the guard rotation of Waiters, Goran Dragic, Ellington and Tyler Johnson has been especially effective.

Bulls fans will remember James Johnson as a guy who arrived from Wake Forest with a lot of potential, but went on to bounce around the league with little success. Now that he's finally in optimal physical shape, Johnson is averaging 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists off the bench while doing a strong job on the defensive end.

Spoelstra probably won't win the Coach of the Year award, but it might be his best job yet after losing Wade and Chris Bosh, then seeing promising second-year forward Justise Winslow go out with a season-ending shoulder injury.

It's been a different story in Milwaukee, where the Bucks got off to a fast start behind the amazing rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo to All-Star status. A mid-season slump dropped the Bucks out of the top 8 in the East, and when Chicago native Jabari Parker suffered another devastating ACL injury, it appeared Milwaukee was heading towards another trip to the lottery.

But Bucks' coach Jason Kidd got Khris Middleton back from a hamstring injury, and inserted rookies Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon into the starting lineup. All of a sudden, the Bucks took off with Antetokounmpo getting back to his early season production, and the bench unit of Greg Monroe, John Henson, Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry becoming a real strength.

It's unlikely either Milwaukee or Miami will be a threat to Cleveland and Boston in the opening round of the playoffs, but the hard work and persistence of those coaching staffs should not be overlooked.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Yet another example of the Bulls' maddening inconsistency under Fred Hoiberg over the last 2 seasons is the number of impressive wins offset by blowout losses.

These numbers courtesy of CSN's stats cruncher, Chris Kamka.

Bulls 20+ point wins and 20+ point losses

(with Fred Hoiberg as Head Coach)

                 20+ point wins             20+ point losses

2016-17              6                           7
2015-16              3                           7

total                      9                          14
========================================
(With Tom Thibodeau as Head Coach)

2014-15              7                           1
2013-14              7                           4
2012-13              5                           5
2011-12             14                          0
2010-11              8                          1

total                     41                         11

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

I'm pretty sure Hoiberg was being sarcastic when asked early in the week if battling for one of the final playoff spots in the East is "fun".

The coach's response? "It's miserable." 

Hoiberg won't get a lot of argument from Bulls fans who see their team stuck in the middle among the 30 NBA franchises right now. That's the worst place to be in professional sports, with no hope of contending for championships and little chance of getting a franchise-changing talent in the draft.