Hamilton could miss extended time with injury

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Hamilton could miss extended time with injury

PHILADELPHIA Despite his slender frame, throughout his 13-year NBA career, Bulls shooting guard Rip Hamilton has withstood the punishment of getting knocked around by much bigger men as he runs through a maze of screens, trying to get open for his patented mid-range jumper. One thing he cant shake, however, is a left-leg injury apologies for the hockey terminology, but thats how the veteran describes his ailment that has sidelined him for more games than hes suited up for in his short tenure as Derrick Roses backcourt mate.

Im just more looking at if I can go or not. I think thats the most important thing. I missed a whole lot of games earlier because of the injury. Right now, you just want to be on the floor. Thats just the bottom line. I just want to be out there, Hamilton explained prior to the Bulls morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center, where theyll take on the 76ers Wednesday evening. Not even just that being cautious due to the NBAs condensed schedule, just being out there and being able to play. The last game I played, it was killing me. The whole second half, I felt like I was playing on one leg and then, the next day, its 20 times worse. Its one of those things where you want to be out there I know everybody says, Look at the big picture, look at the end but its tough because you want to be out there now, you want to play now and my bodys not allowing me to play right now.

Us me and the trainer have been talking and its different because it feels good at one point in time and as soon as I start playing, its like, Boom. Come here. What do you think youre doing? Stop it. And thats the most frustrating part of the whole thing.

Its my thigh. You can say my whole leg, my whole left leg, continued Hamilton, who originally suffered a strained left groin, which was exacerbated by a left-thigh injury, apparently now the more serious of the two. Its funny because as the games going on, its just adrenaline. Its a battle of wills, youre just playing and you dont realize it until that thing just says, Hold on. What are you doing? What do you think youre doing?

Its a tiny bit better than it felt after his last game in Miami. Its not worse than since the last game because once the next day comes, once your body comes down and your adrenaline comes down, its even worse than what it was playing.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is sympathetic to Hamiltons plight, but realizes the best course of action could be to sit the native of nearby Coatesville, Pa., until he can fully contribute for a sustained period of time, instead of being in the lineup for a game or two, then having to miss time again.

Thats the tough one. Hes doing all his rehab and what we want to avoid is the in and out. Hes missed more games than hes played, so thats a big concern. So, we want to make sure that hes completely healthy, he said. Rip, hes a terrific player and he plays both ends. Im concerned about him, with this thing becoming reoccurring, so I want to make sure this time that hes completely healthy. I think a guy like that, youve just got to be careful with, so thats what were going to do.

Hamilton is even more down about missing Wednesdays contest because family and friends were excited to see him play as a member of the Bulls after his time with the Pistons ended in disappointing fashion

Its fun, but its sad in the same sense because all my family came to see me play and to be hurt, its crazy, he said. Theyre all excited about me being in Chicago and not to get an opportunity to showcase that in front of them, its tough.

Still, Hamilton is pleased with how hes adjusted to playing in Thibodeaus system and blending with his teammates when hes been on the court, as it has allowed him to display the versatility thats been often overlooked during his career.

Oh, I love it. It fits me. Got a lot of great guys, got a lot of great talent on this team, he said. I always say, When you score so good in this league, thats all people look at, at your scoring. They dont look at anything else and my whole career, I really never got a whole lot of credit, but when I was there, the coaches knew what they had, so to get an opportunity to get to show what I do here is unbelievable.

Meanwhile, Thibodeau noted that another member of the starting lineup is making gradual progress in his recovery.

Luols still out, said the coach. Well see what he can do today, did more yesterday and thats game-time.

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.