Bulls will have plenty of options in 2017 NBA Draft

Bulls will have plenty of options in 2017 NBA Draft

Owning homecourt advantage at this week's NBA Draft Combine, the Bulls have one of the league's largest contingents for the testing and games at Quest Multisport, including their analytics experts and head of international scouting Ivica Dukan.

Picking in the middle of the first round (16th overall), you can expect the Bulls to go with the "best athlete available" formula, with extra emphasis on finding a young wing player to develop behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

So, assuming the Bulls stay at No. 16, which players might still be on the board when they're on the clock? Let's start with a pair of athletic wings' OG Anunoby (Indiana) and Terrance Ferguson (currently playing professionally in France).

Anunoby would have probably been a lottery pick if he had not suffered a knee injury that ended his sophomore season with the Hoosiers. At 6-foot-8, with a 7'2 1/4" inch wingspan, Anunoby should be a plus defender immediately. With the Bulls, he could provide valuable rest for Butler and also spare the three-time All-Star the responsibility of guarding the opposing team's best scorer for long stretches.

Anunoby only averaged 11.1 points during his shortened sophomore year at Indiana, but he has the athleticism to run the floor for easy baskets, and since he still hasn't turned 20, he has plenty of time to develop his offensive game.

Similar story with Ferguson, who grew up in Tulsa but decided to play overseas rather than spend a year in college. He's only averaging 4.6 points for French team Adelaide, but scouts are intrigued by his physical skills and potential as a 6-foot-7 shooting guard.

Some other players to watch in the middle of the first round include power forwards' Ivan Rabb (California) and John Collins (Wake Forest). Rabb was projected as a likely lottery pick last season, but decided to return to Cal for his sophomore year.

Facing double teams most of the season, Rabb didn't show the improvement in his numbers (14 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game) that a lot of NBA scouts expected. Still, the 6-foot-10 lefty continues to draw comparisons to long-time Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat star Chris Bosh, and is a polished low post scorer.

[RELATED: NBA executives understand why top players skip combine]

Rabb can hit consistently from mid-range, but if the Bosh comparisons are going to hold up, he'll need to stretch his shooting skills out to the 3-point line.

I asked Rabb about the possibility of being drafted by the Bulls.

"One of my friends, Bobby Portis, he's a real good player," Rabb said. "He played pretty well in the playoffs and throughout the season. I know they traded Taj Gibson, they have (Nikola) Mirotic, so I'm not really sure what they plan on doing. I feel that's a great destination from me, too."

The Bulls needs at power forward depend heavily on whether they re-sign Mirotic, who will be a restricted free agent on July 1. Rabb could be a good fit as an athletic, rangy 4 who can replace some of the skills the Bulls lost with the Gibson trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Similar story with Collins, who averaged 19.2 points at Wake Forest last season. The 6-foot-10 Collins is known for his athleticism and ability to finish at the rim, but he understands how important it is to show scouts he can be a threat from the 3-point line.

"I think I can shoot it a lot better than I've shown, or had the ability to show," Collins said. "Definitely going to be working on that, and keep on expanding on that, so when the time is necessary for me to shoot it, I'm going to look good doing it."

When it comes to self-confidence, it will be tough for any of the prospects to top Creighton center Justin Patton. The 7-foot Patton averaged 12.9 points per game last season, playing for Doug McDermott's dad Greg McDermott at Creighton. Patton shot over 68 percent on 2-point attempts and is a powerful finisher on alley-oop passes.

When asked about his ability to be a "stretch 5" in the league like Al Horford or Karl-Anthony Towns, Patton said, "If they're looking for a stretch-5, they come to me, and find the right person. My skills translate perfectly. I can put the ball on the floor, I can shoot the ball with range, and I'm a willing passer, and a great passer too, and I have a high IQ."

Okay, then. Patton says he's already met with the Bulls and will be ready to play immediately with any team that drafts him. At this point, it seems unlikely the Bulls would draft a center at No. 16, but anything is possible considering Cristiano Felicio and Joffrey Lauvergne are both restricted free agents.

Other names to watch during the middle part of round one include power forwards' T.J. Leaf (UCLA) and Kyle Kuzma, Duke shooting guard Luke Kennard, Syracuse small forward Tyler Lydon and point guard Jawun Evans.

And, there's always the possibility the Bulls could be involved in a trade to move up into the Top 10. That would bring a whole different level of prospects into play. But for now, the front office is looking for athletes and shooters to add quality depth to a roster that figures to be very similar to the one we watched last season.

NBA Insiders Notebook: Taj Gibson making the most of starting role with Thunder

NBA Insiders Notebook: Taj Gibson making the most of starting role with Thunder

AN ARENA NEAR YOU – Welcome to the latest edition of the CSN Insiders notebook. It’s impossible to look at the NBA season these days and not think about playoffs or ping-pong balls. We’ve got plenty of time to talk about the lottery, so we’ll focus this week’s notebook on the former.

As much as teams want to be playing their best this time of year, they also want to go into the postseason as rested as possible.

The San Antonio Spurs have set the tone for this by sitting key players from time to time, often falling on the night of a nationally televised, hyped matchup.

But the Golden State Warriors took it to another level in resting four of their top-six players (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala) in a national televised matchup against – who else? – the San Antonio Spurs. And remember, they were already without Kevin Durant (knee) so this game had the potential to get ugly real quick.

Indeed, it was that kind of game as the Spurs had no trouble in beating Warriors 107-85.

It’s not hard to understand why Kerr would make such a decision. The San Antonio game was their 10th since the All-Star break, seven of which were on the road.

And of those three games at home, two came right after the break.  

He’s trying to win a title and he knows he needs his best players at their peak health-wise in the playoffs.

And with the grind that they were nearing the end of schedule-wise, there’s a certain amount of logic to his decision.

But here’s the problem.

What’s best for the Warriors isn’t necessarily what’s best for the NBA’s fan base which is getting tired of shelling out big bucks to see stars who don’t play because their coach felt they needed a night off.

And when you look at this 10-game stretch, had Kerr sat them for one game after their Feb. 28 at Washington, his players would have had four days off before returning to the floor which is one day less than they’ll have after skipping out on the Spurs game this past weekend.

But what makes the resting of players late in the season stink so much is that coaches often choose to do it for road games, knowing full well that game may be the only shot fans in that market get to see the marquee players of opposing teams.

“I genuinely feel bad for the fans who bought tickets to see Steph, Klay and Draymond play, but I have to do what I have to do,” Kerr told reporters after the game. “Our team has been through the ringer here the last couple of weeks. The travel has really worn us out. We needed to get through this game and I’m really happy those guys will get several days rest before our next game. We needed to do this.”

And the league needs to do something before fans decide to take matters into their own hands; specifically, their wallets.

There are only so many of these late season superstar no-shows fans will stomach before they’ll take their entertainment dollars and become no-shows themselves.

This week we start off with the hottest 1-2 punch in the NBA right now, John Wall and Bradley Beal. Or is it Beal and Wall? CSN Mid-Atlantic J. Michael gets us up to speed on the Wizards’ dynamic duo which has fueled one of the best in-season turnarounds we have seen this season.

Eastern Conference

BEAL LEADING WIZARDS’ MAGICAL TURNAROUND THIS SEASON

After 10 games post-All-Star break, Bradley Beal has taken what he still considers a snub to the next level.

He’s averaging 28.3 points on 53.6% field-goal shooting, 44% from three-point range, 85.7% free throws, 3.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.2 steals.

His backcourt mate John Wall hasn’t been half-bad, either. His shooting percentages have dipped slightly but he’s at 24.4 points and 11.9 assists.

“They play both sides of the basketball,” coach Scott Brooks said. “They can score. They can help the team score with their play-making.”

The Wizards are averaging 115.1 points per game since the break, third-best in the NBA. – by J. Michael

SANDERS IN, BOGUT OUT

We hardly knew thee, Andrew Bogut!

Bogut’s career as a Cleveland Cavalier didn’t even last a minute - seriously.

The veteran big man, who signed with Cleveland after being waived by Dallas, suffered a broken bone in his leg just 58 seconds into this debut for Cleveland and was later ruled out for the rest of the season.

Still in need of rim protection, the Cavs waived Bogut and signed Larry Sanders who hasn’t played in an NBA game in two years.

“Everyone deserves a second chance and it looks like he wants to get back to playing the game he loves," LeBron James, speaking to reporters, said of Sanders recently. "You don't know how much you can get out of a guy that's been out so long, but I'd love to see it. Why not?"

At this point, adding Sanders is a high-reward, low-risk addition for the Cavs.

He replaces Bogut who gave them a whopping 58 seconds of court time, so it’s not like he’s got huge shoes to fill.

And if he can play even remotely close to the level he was at prior to walking away from the game, this will be a great addition for Cleveland not only now but also going forward.

Cleveland reportedly signed him to a two-year deal with a team option for next year. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

DISCIPLINE ISSUES IN ATLANTA?

The Hawks already punished starting point guard Dennis Schroder for being late in returning to the team after the All-Star break.

Now comes word that Thabo Sefolosha was benched recently because he was late to a shoot-around before playing the Raptors.

For a team that’s trying to find an identity through what has been a season of transition (Al Horford signed with Boston; Jeff Teague was traded to Indiana; Kyle Korver was traded to Cleveland), something like this doesn’t help.

Despite the suspensions, the Hawks are still finding ways to play winning basketball.

After finishing in a four-way tie for the third-best record in the East last season, the Hawks aren’t that far off a similar pace this season. They have won three straight and are currently fifth in the East. … The status of Mike Dunleavy is unknown as the Hawks try to compete for a top four seed. He has been out indefinitely since last month because of right ankle inflammation. Dunleavy was injured while playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers but was acquired in a trade for Kyle Korver. He’d missed four games before the deal was made. Not passing a physical has been known to void transactions (see Donatas Montiejunas trade from the Rockets to the Pistons being rejected last year) but Dunleavy’s injury seemed minor. – by J. Michael

RAPTORS IN TROUBLE WITHOUT KYLE LOWRY?

Toronto General Manager Masai Ujiri may have called Kyle Lowry’s right wrist surgery a temporary setback, but they’re in danger of dropping farther down the standings than anticipated.

Currently, the Raptors’ skid has included them 15 of their last 25 games as the Boston Celtics continue to put more and more distance between themselves and the Raptors for the best record in the Atlantic Division.

While there are a number of problems Toronto is grappling with now that Lowry will be out for a significant amount of time, too much one-on-everyone basketball has been a problem.

The Raptors’ reliance on so much isolation basketball from DeMar DeRozan to get buckets has strangled the offense without Lowry, their All-Star point guard there to help distribute and take off some of the scoring burden.

“DeMar is going to get his offensive game going no matter what, so we can’t just rely on him to carry us throughout the whole game,” coach Dwane Casey said recently. “We can’t just give him the ball and just go stand in the corner and be like, ‘Take us home.’”

In a 104-89 loss to the Miami Heat, the Raptors had an NBA-low seven assists on 33 field goals. In a loss two weeks ago to the Wizards, they were stuck on three assists in the fourth quarter until garbage time allowed them to inflate it to 11. The franchise low is six. – by J. Michael

Western Conference

SPURS’ ALDRIDGE (HEART) OUT INDEFINITELY

Injuries are a given that every team has to go through to some degree.

But the absence of San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge is a much more serious matter.

He is out indefinitely because of what team officials describe as “a minor heart arrhythmia.”

“Somebody says a heart, you start thinking a little more possible long-term kind of stuff, that’s a little scary,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after San Antonio’s 112-102 loss at Oklahoma City last week, a game in which Aldridge told the team that “he felt a little odd.”

This was not the first time that Aldridge had a heart-related issue.

As a rookie in 2007, Aldridge was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome which is when extra electrical path in the heart causes a rapid heartbeat.

Aldridge’s heart condition was known when he came into the NBA, but wasn’t considered too serious because whenever he had an episode it didn’t keep him sidelined for very long.

Still, even with it not being a major setback in the past, that doesn’t make it any less scary for Aldridge or his teammates.

“It's a sensitive issue, so we want to make sure that he's fine," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili told reporters over the weekend. "The most important thing is to have him healthy. We'll wait as long as is necessary for him to feel secure and sure, and the team, too." – by A. Sherrod Blakely

PARSONS SUFFERS YET ANOTHER KNEE INJURY

The Memphis Grizzlies were hopeful that Chandler Parsons’ long history of knee problems was a thing of the past.

Nope.

The veteran forward finds himself once again sidelined because of a knee-related injury. The Grizzlies announced that the 6-foot-9 forward is out indefinitely due to a partial meniscus tear in his left knee.

This is Parsons’ third injury to his left knee in three years, the kind of track record that no player wants to claim as their own.

You have to wonder just how many times can the 28-year-old work his way back on to the floor after what’s believed to be a season-ending injury.

“To suffer a setback like this after working so diligently to rebound from the injury to his right knee is obviously tough. That said, we know he will continue to work tirelessly to return to the court with his teammates and contribute,” said Memphis General Manager Chris Wallace. “Chandler has the full support of myself, Coach Fizz and the entire team and we are all focused on getting him healthy.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

GIBSON MAKING MOST OF STARTING ROLE WITH THUNDER

When the Thunder traded for Taj Gibson from Chicago, it became a matter of when – not if – he would be inserted into the starting lineup.

Head coach Billy Donovan made the call prior to the Thunder’s 102-92 win over San Antonio on March 9.

The move had a two-fold objective: To provide more toughness and experience with Gibson with the first unit, while strengthening the bench by pairing former starter Domas Sabonis with Enes Kanter

And to prove it was no fluke, Gibson helped Oklahoma City knock off Utah 112-104. Gibson had 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting along with six rebounds. Just as important, the Thunder were +22 when he was on the floor – tops among all players. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

RUBIO QUIETLY LEADING TIMBERWOLVES’ PLAYOFF PUSH

Karl-Anthony Towns has been playing at an all-NBA level since the All-Star break. And Andrew Wiggins has elevated his play of late as well. But Minnesota clawing its way back into the playoff picture has been fueled by the defense with major contributions from Ricky Rubio.

Since the All-Star break, Rubio has a defensive rating of 99.0 – almost 10 points better than his defensive rating this season.

With Towns’ ability to protect the rim and Rubio doing a better job defensively at the point of attack, it has been instrumental in the Timberwolves being one of the NBA’s top defenses since the break.

Minnesota’s defensive rating of 100.0 since the All-Star break is second in the NBA only to San Antonio (98.6).

Seeing Rubio on the floor let alone making a major impact, was not how this season was supposed to play out for Minnesota.

They drafted Kris Dunn with the fifth overall pick, a player many anticipated would be a rookie of the year candidate.

But Dunn’s minutes have been few and far between, in large part because of Rubio’s play which has been better than expected. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

CLIPPERS GETTING RIGHT AT THE RIGHT TIME

Injuries and inconsistent play have both been common themes with the Los Angeles Clippers this season. They lost four of their first five after the all-star break and have since bounced back with wins in four of their last five.  Not including Monday’s game against Utah, the Clippers close out the season with 10 of their last 15 games at home which bodes well for a team that’s looking to fight off Utah for the No. 4 seed and with it, home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Clippers have won each of their first two matchups with two remaining.

But before the Clippers can even begin to think about that final stretch of games, they must somehow navigate their way through a stretch in which they play seven games in 11 days that began with Monday nights’ game against Utah.

On top of that, Rivers is trying to balance that pursuit of the No. 4 seed in the West with trying to manage his player’s minutes so they get the proper amount of rest between now and the playoffs.

“It’s just dicey,” Rivers told reporters recently. “We’re just trying to do the best we can.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Taj Gibson drains incredible shot from opposing 3-point line at the buzzer

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TNT

Taj Gibson drains incredible shot from opposing 3-point line at the buzzer

Taj Gibson hit the best three-pointer of his career on Thursday night.

With the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers tied 57-57 with 2.8 seconds left in the half, Gibson intercepted a long pass from Pat Connaughton, who inbounded the ball.

Gibson caught it then chucked it up from Portland's free throw line and buried it at the buzzer.

Here's another angle:

As if it weren't weird enough, a fan hit a half court shot during a timeout to win a new car.

TNT must really love the Bulls — and former Bulls.

This comes over an hour after Chicago beat the Golden State Warriors, which extended their TNT Thursday home game win streak to 18.