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Analyzing the Chicago Bulls’ Draft Picks

Which rookie is ready to become a part of the greatest culture in professional basketball?

With the 2013 NBA Draft officially in the books, each lottery team can now get ready for, and attempt to win, the Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes by praying for nothing but another season of shittiness and playoff spectating from the couch. Some teams and their fans, though, are fortunate enough to have a NBA season to look forward to, the Bulls being one of those teams. Four of the Bulls’ last eight draft picks (Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler) have given us all we could’ve asked for and more. One of their picks (James Johnson) ate himself out of Chicago, two were traded on draft night (Sonny Weems and Norris Cole; Nikola Mirotic was acquired on draft night), and one is set to enter his second season as a backup point guard who has yet to scratch the surface of his potential (Marquis Teague). Can the 2013 draft class go down as another one of Gar Forman’s milestones? Let’s assess.

Tony Snell, Small Forward, University of New Mexico; 6’7.25″, 198 lbs.

I don’t completely hate this pick, but I don’t love it either. Tony Snell comes to Chicago with a number of concerning question marks. His work ethic is mediocre at best, and he tends to disappear in games far too often. Many times throughout his college career, he would look disengaged on the court and seemed to lack an attacking mentality by settling for contested jumpers and forcing bad shots. That lack of an attacking mentality makes him a very poor rebounder for his position (averaged 3.4 rebounds per-forty minutes as a junior), so he’ll need to show that he has the ability to play with aggressiveness and focus if he wants to earn any playing time as a rookie.

In addition, Snell struggled mightily, for the most part, against some of the best defenses in the country each season. His inability to create off the dribble limits his upside, as he’s more of an off-the-ball shooter than anything else, having spent most of his time in college being run off screens or spotting up (which he is very effective at, actually). The good news, however, is that he obviously won’t be asked to do much on the offensive end (early on in his career, at least) besides come off the bench as a floor spacer and hit open three-pointers, which he can certainly do, having made 38% of his three point attempts in three seasons at New Mexico.

Despite all the intangible flaws, the Bulls didn’t draft Snell to be a leader or a playmaker. They drafted him to fill a gaping hole behind the arc and for his high potential as a wing defender. A 6’11.5″ wingspan for a man of his size is pretty unbelievable and has helped make him the solid on-the-ball defender that he is and should continue to be. He has very good defensive awareness, and his aforementioned length continuously disrupted opponents in college, allowing them score only 18.8% of the time against him when isolated. Here is DraftExpress’ scouting report on Snell’s defensive capabilities:

Defensively, Snell’s physical tools make him an intriguing piece, as he has the size, length, and lateral quickness to be a versatile defender capable of defending both wing positions. If he makes a commitment to focusing on the defensive end, it would go a long ways towards helping him solidify a role at the NBA level. He’ll need to continue to get stronger and play tougher, but he certainly has the potential to excel on this end of the floor.

While there may have been better options than Snell, this isn’t all that surprising of a pick. He was pegged as a dark horse candidate for the Bulls at 20, and picking him solidifies the fact that the Bulls are making a conscious effort to fill the three-point shooting hole that they so desperately need to fill. Snell’s defensive potential is a major plus for Thibodeau and his system, but if he doesn’t come in to camp ready to work his ass off and display a passion for playing this beautiful game of basketball, then he won’t even sniff the hardwood as a rookie. I trust Thibs and the veterans will get the most out of him, which should fare well for both Snell and the Bulls over time.

Erik Murphy, Power Forward, University of Florida; 6’10”, 240 lbs.

I’ve always been a fan of Murphy’s game. The dude can shoot the freakin’ lights out from three – he’s wetter than an adolescent’s bed sheets during puberty – by knocking down two trays per game and leading the entire SEC in three-point shooting as a senior at 45.3% (also shot 51.6% from the field overall). He’s the epitome of a stretch-four and has drawn numerous comparisons to San Antonio Spur Matt Bonner, another Florida alum. He has an extremely quick release and has proven to be very proficient shooting off the pick-and-pop. Murphy is a fun player to watch, and if you don’t close out on him in a hurry, he can single-handedly change the momentum of games with his hot hand.

As much as I like Murphy, I’m not totally sure how he fits into the Bulls’ system. I don’t anticipate he’ll play much at all, if he even makes the roster, during his rookie season, so the question remains how can he contribute to this team going forward? He’s a one-dimensional player with minimal athleticism, and he’s a liability as both a rebounder and a defender. Do the Bulls envision him playing the five in a small-ball lineup with Taj? Do they even see a future for Murphy in Chicago once Nikola Mirotic comes over from Spain in 2014? Am I completely over-thinking this like I always do? Yes. Yes I am.

Nevertheless, Murphy has a high basketball IQ and rarely ever takes bad shots, so if he does ever end up playing in a Bulls uniform, he’s plenty capable of giving them a couple valuable minutes here and there off the bench when the offense is reeling or the front court needs a spell.

As with most mid-to-late round draft picks, it will likely take a few years before we can truly determine whether this draft was a success or not. Both Snell and Murphy bring positive attributes to the table and can help quench the Bulls’ enormous hunger for three-point shooting, but it’s too difficult to say right now what kind of impact they’ll have as rookies. Don’t expect much early on, as Coach Thibs forces his first-year players to work countless hours and earn his respect before sending them onto the court. But over time, the answer to how Snell and Murphy can legitimately help this team will become more clear.


Welcome Home, Lord Stanley

The Chicago Blackhawks are Stanley Cup champions for the second time in four years.

After a three year hiatus, the Stanley Cup is coming back to Chicago.

“Better than sex – almost.”

That’s what Monday night’s stunning finish to the Stanley Cup felt like for Blackhawks fans, from Dave Bolland’s perspective, anyway. Elation swept the streets of Chicago through the wee hours of Tuesday morning, as diehards and bandwagoners alike celebrated one of their proudest sports moments in recent memory.

Rarely, if ever, do you see a team come back down 2-1 in the final 1:20 of a game and win, with a Stanley Cup on the line, mind you, in regulation. Once that goalie gets pulled, everyone approaches the final minute in one of two ways: with the glass half empty or with the glass half full. Whichever way you look at it, though, that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you see your goaltender hurrying off the ice in the top right corner of your screen will always make you sick. It was over. We were heading back to Chicago for a final chance at the Cup. Or so we thought.

The Blackhawks got completely outplayed throughout the first 58 minutes of the game. Faceoff after faceoff, shot opportunity after shot opportunity, this series seemed destined for a Game 7. But when Jonathan Toews found an open Brian Bickell in front of the crease for the game-tying goal with 1:16 left in regulation, suddenly that half-filled glass had quickly filled to the top, and whatever happened in those first 58 minutes was rendered irrelevant. The tide had drastically turned, and the city of Boston was reeling.

Seventeen seconds later, Dave Bolland happened to be in the exact right place at the exact right time, as his miraculous goal that had previously deflected off the left post from a Johnny Oduya wrist shot gave Chicago the rights to the Cup. Within a blink of the eye, the Blackhawks were once again Stanley Cup champions. But had it not been for every single player on the deepest team in the league pitching in at some point down that long journey, the Cup would currently be in the hands of 20+ other men.

Patrick Kane’s unforeseeable surge to claim the Conn Smythe Trophy was truly inspiring. He struggled mightily for a majority of the postseason, and fans all over were unjustly blaming him and his inability to score for our losses. In the end, however, he came through when it mattered most, posting a hat trick in the series clinching win against Los Angeles, one goal in the Game 4 win against Boston and two goals in Game 5. Kane has matured from the binge-drinking frat star that opposing fans know him by (he probably still qualifies as a binge-drinking frat star, but if you were 24 years old and making millions playing hockey, you would too) into the soft-spoken leader that we all had hoped he would become, and for that, he deservedly became the fourth American-born player (and first American-born forward) to ever win the Conn Smythe (Brian Leetch, ’94 Rangers; Tim Thomas, ’11 Bruins; Jonathan Quick, ’12 Kings).

On top of that, Corey Crawford shut up any and all doubters that promised this team could never win a championship, so long as he’s in goal. He came into the Cup scorching hot, hit a rough patch in Game 4 that he ended up winning anyways, shored up his glove side significantly, and closed out the Bruins with a sensational performance in Game 6. He posted one of the eight best Goals Against Averages in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for any goalie to have won all 16 playoff games (1.84 – better than Antii Niemi in ’10 and Tim Thomas in ’11). With Crawford’s performance throughout the postseason being as valuable as any, it’s now safe to assume that no one is jumping off the Corey Crawford Train for a long, long time.

There will never be an explanation for how Monday night’s chain of events could take place during a game of that magnitude, in any sport. Maybe it was the Hockey Gods trying to do something nice for Chicago’s predominantly classy players and fans. Maybe it was straight up luck. Maybe the Blackhawks just wanted it more, or maybe the Bruins just choked. Whatever the case may have been, we will surely never witness an ending quite like that in our lifetimes again. The Chicago Blackhawks were the best team in 2013 from start to finish, and after what they accomplished during the regular season and beyond, they will surely be remembered as one of the greatest hockey teams ever assembled. They brought fans who were ready to give up on the sport back to life, and for six solid months, they gave everyone in the city of Chicago a sense of pride and joy.

It’s a funny thing about sports. Some people don’t understand how or even why they are such a big part of our lives. But if you walked around any part of the city Monday night, or experienced the game at a bar in the suburbs, or watched from the comfort of your own home with friends and family, the answer is simple: sports bring people together. Whether you’re black, white, brown, blue, rich, poor, big, small, male, female, shemale, sports bring out the best in people.

No matter where you turned, people who had never met before were hugging, high-fiving, and jumping on each other’s backs; people were dancing on roof tops and buying strangers drinks. No matter what terrible things may have happened in one’s life over the past year, winning a championship in any sport gives us reason to believe in something, to soothe our wounds, to feel free for one night. The world temporarily stops – for that one night, an overwhelming sense of joy is cast over everyone. We’re all without a single worry on our plate, and whatever was going on in our lives ten hours earlier has been shoved to the back burner to be dealt with tomorrow or the next day. We all choose to savor each and every precious moment to be a part of something special, to feel like a true champion. These are unforgettable moments that we all will hold onto for the rest of our lives, and nothing anyone can say or do will take that away from us. This is the power of sports, the power of witnessing your beloved team prove to the world that they are, in fact, the very best at what they do, and I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.

For the second time in four years, the Chicago Blackhawks are Stanley Cup Champions. And until some other team dethrones them next June, we, too, are champions, my friends.

Welcome home, Lord Stanley.

NBA Draft 2013: Chicago Bulls’ Prospects

David Stern will be on the podium for his final NBA Draft. Absolutely no one is complaining.

Let’s be honest – no one is overly excited for this year’s NBA draft. There just isn’t that one franchise-changing player that basketball talking heads and fans alike are slobbering over. Most people are pegging this draft class as “weak” for that very reason which, to me, is pretty unfair.  There may not be any Derrick Roses or John Walls amongst this crew, but its lack of potential superstars to date is made up for in significant depth and experienced college basketball players.

That depth will be key for a majority of teams possessing picks near the backend of the first round. One of those teams, as you may know, is the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, are currently in a terrible cap situation and are likely to enter next season with yet another new bench mob, making Thursday’s draft that much more important. They lack frontcourt depth and a sharpshooting wing (the Belinelli situation is still up in the air) to aid their three-point shooting and overall scoring woes. Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of players projected to be drafted 20 or after who fit either description AND scream “immediate impact,” especially given how Tom Thibodeau never seems to trust his rookies. But, with much of the bench mob set to enter free agency (Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Rip Hamilton once his contract gets bought out, Daequan Cook and Nazr Mohammed), maybe Gar Forman can strike gold and find another valuable player to join Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler on his list of hidden gems.

Gorgui Dieng – Center, University of Louisville

  • Draft projection: Mid-to-late first round
  • Probability of being available at 20: High
  • comparison: Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje (not a joke – this is actually his name)

The comparison to Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje certainly won’t get anyone fired up. Why chooses to waste everyone’s time by comparing a sure first-round pick to a guy who a) has two last names, both of which are the same, and b) averaged 6.3 minutes per game in three NBA seasons a decade ago is beyond me. But that’s besides the point.

Gorgui Dieng is an extremely unpolished offensive player who happens to have incredible defensive instincts and upside.  At 6’11” and 230 pounds, the Louisville product is coming off a season in which he averaged nearly a double-double (9.8 points, 9.4 rebounds) and 2.5 blocks per game, all while anchoring the paint for the best defense in college basketball and helping lead the Cardinals to their first National Championship in 27 years.

His 7’3.5” wing span gives him exceptional length and makes him arguably the best rim protector in this year’s draft, two characteristics that the Bulls prefer their  backup big men to possess and have a true knack for developing (Taj Gibson, Omer Asik). He’s a very capable weak-side shot blocker with great timing and an ability to not bite on shot fakes. Unlike many players in the NBA (Carlos Boozer, echem), the 23-year-old Dieng simply understands how to play defense and owns a very strong work ethic, having added 50 pounds of muscle since arriving in America from Senegal a few years back and willing his Louisville squad to the promise lands despite breaking his wrist early in the season. Outside of open looks around the basket or face up shots, Dieng needs some serious help to improve his game, but given his positive work ethic and high character, one can only help but think that he’s the exact kind of player the Bulls are looking for to back up Joakim Noah in Thibodeau’s defensive-minded system.

Mason Plumlee – Power Forward/Center, Duke University

  • Draft projection: Mid first round
  • Probability of being available at 20: Medium
  • comparison: Yi Jianlian

I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t really like Mason Plumlee. A lot of that may have to do with the fact that I don’t really like Duke and everyone constantly compared him to my beloved Cody Zeller over the past couple years, so I will attempt to provide you as objective an assessment as possible.

The 6’11” Plumlee comes into the draft with quite a lot of college experience, having gone up against some of the best big men throughout his college career and having been an integral part of four NCAA tournament teams at Duke, including two Sweet 16 runs and a National Championship run (he didn’t play much on that team, as he was only a Freshman, but he was still a part of the rotation).  He’s a very tough nosed and energetic player who improved every single season during his time at Duke. Like Zeller, Plumlee contains rare athleticism for a man of his size, as well as the ability to get out and run in transition. He’s also an excellent rebounder, having ranked just outside the top ten in the nation (13th) in rebounds per game last season (10.2).

The knock against Plumlee, however, is his predictability in the post. His repertoire of post moves is very limited, and he struggles to adjust against elite defenders because of it. The good news, though, is that he understands how to effectively work the pick-and-roll, and in a pick-and-roll dominated league, he could eventually turn himself into a valuable asset from that standpoint if he can somehow develop a solid mid-range game. I don’t think Plumlee would be a great fit for the Bulls right now (he’s also not a very good defender), but the potential for a bright future is there.

Jeff Withey – Center, Kansas University

  • Draft projection: Late first round to early second round
  • Probability of being available at 20: Higher than my blood sugar after eating a slice of Portillo’s chocolate cake
  • Probability of being available at 49: Very low
  • comparison: Travis Knight

Withey’s name has popped up a lot in the recent months in Bulls draft discussions, but for whatever reason, his draft stock has somewhat decreased. He doesn’t have much strength or toughness at all, and he’s very ineffective with his back to the basket, but the 7-foot Withey does know a thing or two about defense, which happens to be the key to Tom Thibodeau’s heart.  He earned himself Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors last season (along with Victor Oladipo), ranking third in the nation with 3.9 blocks per game in only 30.9 minutes (4.9 blocks per 40 minutes) and ending his career as one of the most defensively dominant big men over the past decade.  He has phenomenal instincts as both a man-to-man and help-side defender, as his ability to avoid committing fouls by going straight up and absorbing contact (he committed only two fouls per game as a senior) gives him the aptitude to alter nearly every shot his long arms can reach.

Withey is the type of player that actually loves playing defense, which should bode well for his playing time early on in his career for a team lacking any sort of defensive presence (basically half the league) in the paint. Once teams figure out how to take him out of the game (spoiler alert: force him to step outside the paint, which he rarely ever had to do at Kansas), though, that potential playing time could diminish quickly. Hopefully some of these aforementioned flaws will be improved upon come October.

Tim Hardaway Jr. – Shooting Guard, University of Michigan

  • Draft projection: Late first round
  • Probability of being available at 20: High
  • comparison: Wesley Person/Arron Afflalo

The key word with Tim Hardaway Jr. is upside; everyone knows how good he can be, it’s just a matter of him continuing to improve and becoming a consistent shooter. He worked very hard to improve his three point shooting last offseason, which he did (jumped from 28.3% to 37.4%), but for whatever reason, he just could not seem to stay consistent, as his catch-and-shoot, pull-up jumper and runners around the rim percentages were all over the place throughout his three years at Michigan.

Nevertheless, Hardaway has great size for his position (6’7”) and can come in and effectively stretch the floor for a team like the Bulls, who lack any sort of outside scoring threat at the moment. He’s a hard worker who plays with passion, and being the son of a bigoted homophobe – er, potential NBA Hall of Famer – should only help him put in to perspective what it will take to be successful at the next level. Whether or not Hardaway Jr. will be a good pro remains to be seen, but he could be a solid option for a team looking to add some 2-guard depth.

Reggie Bullock – Shooting Guard/Small Forward, University of North Carolina

  • Draft projection: Mid first round to early second round
  • Probability of being available at 20: Migh (a medium/high hybrid)
  • comparison: Casey Jacobson

If the Bulls are set on filling their perimeter shooting hole with the 20th pick, then 6’7″ Reggie Bullock should undoubtedly be their choice. The former Tar Heel comes in as arguably the best pure shooter in this year’s draft (shot 43.6% from three last season) with great size and length to play the 2. He has a textbook shooting stroke, quick release, moves well without the ball, and he has proven to be very efficient shooting off screens and spotting up for open looks. It’s hard not to like his game; not only is he effective without the rock in his hands, but he’s also smart when he has it, as evidenced by his miniscule average of 1.2 turnovers per game.

The one issue may be Bullock’s lack of creativity with the ball in his hands because he’s not the greatest ball handler and doesn’t possess that explosive first step that allows players to drive by opponents. Here’s how Draft Express views Bullock:

Considering his strong long-range shooting, low-mistake style of play, and lack of creativity on the offensive end, Bullock seems best suited to play a role similar to the one fellow North Carolina product Danny Green plays for the Spurs.

Danny Green? After his performance throughout the NBA Playoffs and most of the NBA Finals? Sign me up.

Jamaal Franklin – Shooting Guard, San Diego State University

  • Draft projection: Mid-to-late first round
  • Probability of being available at 20: High
  • comparison: Will Barton/Hassan Adams

I love me some Jamaal Franklin, who remains one of the most underrated players in the draft. The do-it-all shooting guard single-handedly kept San Diego St. in the national conversation the past two seasons after Kawhi Leonard’s departure, leading them to the NCAA tournament both years and throwing down the sickest dunk of the season. ESPN Draft Analyst Chad Ford, who has the Bulls selecting Franklin in his most recent draft board, loves him more than I do, pegging him as “one of the toughest players in the draft and a kid who should contribute immediately — a smaller version of Kawhi Leonard.” Kawhi Leonard? You know, that guy who guarded Lebron James for seven hard fought games in the Finals and has transformed himself into one of the league’s best young stars? Yeah, that’s him. Pretty high praise for the long-sleeved Franklin, and for good reason if you ask me.

At 6’5″, Franklin’s tremendous versatility was on full display over the past couple of years on the west coast, as he led his team in scoring, assists, rebounding and steals per game during his final season. He’s an incredible athlete and fantastic rebounder for his size with the highest of motors, always giving 110% effort on both ends of the floor. His defense, as indicated below by Draft Express, should translate very well at the next level:

Defensively, Franklin showed great versatility with the ability to cover four positions if necessary, thanks to his tremendous toughness and athleticism. He has great potential on this end of the floor as an NBA player if he really makes a commitment and focuses on every possession. His anticipation skills and quick hands make him a pest in the passing lanes and on the ball, and his motor and physical tools stack up very well at his position.

Franklin’s biggest flaw, unfortunately, is his shooting (42.6% overall and 30.2% from three throughout career at SDSU), but as has been the case with Leonard, a little hard work on that aspect of his game can take him a long away. I anticipate Franklin will one day prove to be one of the bigger steals in this draft, but only time will tell.

As you can see, there are a lot of decent options that should be available at 20 (everything after the first round is always a crap shoot) – it all just depends on whether the Bulls decide to go big or not. My guess is that they will end up drafting a center to back up Noah, as they’ve given no indications that they’re going to bring back Nazr Mohammed, and find some mid-level shooters/slashers to fill their back court at minimum salaries, but what do I know? Until then, let’s enjoy Thursday night’s draft and look forward to welcoming two new players to The City of Broad Shoulders.

Other first-round prospects to keep in mind: Allen Crabbe, Rudy Gobert, Ricky Ledo, Tony Snell, Tony Mitchell, Glen Rice Jr.

Second-round prospects to keep in mind: Carrick Felix, Trevor Mbakwe, Colton Iverson, James Ennis, Zeke Marshall, B.J. Young, Brandon Paul

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