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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

Did the Chicago Bulls send a message to incumbent starting power forward Tyrus Thomas Thursday night by drafting two power forwards? By using both of their first round draft picks on prospects who play the four, the Chicago front office seems to be telling us one of two things. Either a.) Coach Vinny Del Negro, GM Gar Forman and company are unhappy with Thomas (who desperately needs to develop a post move) and are attempting to motivate him, or b.) Ty is being aggressively shopped to other GMs in the league. Maybe we’ll learn more once NBA free agency starts on July 1, when more transactions are like to start happening around the association.

But we can worry about that later, for now let’s focus on who the Bulls did pick up with the 16th and 26th overall picks.


Wake Forest, Forward, James Johnson

In college, Johnson was able to muscle weaker defenders down low while also using his ability to drive and finish. His range from deep leaves plenty of room for improvement, but he did develop a more consistent mid-range game as a sophomore. “We love his versatility he can play the four, he can play the three, he can play inside, he can play outside, at his size 6’8” 250 he can put the ball on the floor, he can rebound and put it out in transition. He’s a very big passer for a big guy,” Forman said to the media present at the Berto Center.

USC, Forward, Taj Gibson

Gibson is already 23 years old and should be able to contribute off the bench right away. He will likely make a living as a professional thanks to his rebounding and shot-blocking ability. 6’10” with a 7’2” wingspan, Gibson had the second longest reach of anyone in this draft. (Only the 7’3” Hasheem Thabeet was longer) “His wingspan was amazing, he’s long, he can block shots in the lane and he has a developing inside-outside game,” Forman said of Gibson on draft night.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

If there’s one position the Chicago Bulls don’t have a pressing need at, it’s point guard. The incumbent starter, Derrick Rose is the only player on the roster even remotely close to developing into a franchise player, and (SAT scandals and gang sign gestures aside) is the guy to build the team around. But the Bulls might see backup Kirk Hinrich move on soon and in today’s NBA, the “Golden Age of Point Guards” that we currently live in, it’s good to have two reliable point guards.

As former UCLA point guard and current draft prospect Darren Collison said at the NBA Draft Combine: “This is the draft you want to be in right now if you’re a point guard. Everyone’s getting so much credit, from Jonny Flynn, to me, to Eric Maynor right on down the list because everyone knows they need point guards to win ballgames, to take that next step. And teams need a first string and a second string the whole game to be solid, and all the point guards in this draft have the potential to do that.”

For teams currently needing a point guard, this crop of prospects is deeper than any draft this decade, possibly all-time. It could produce a couple players with the same impact as current young NBA floor generals Rose, Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

On Tuesday, the Bulls looked at (among others) Maynor, Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague, Greece’s Nick Calathes, St. Joseph’s Tasheed Carr, the 5’6” David Holston from Chicago State and Bryan Mullins from Southern Illinois via Downers Grove High School.

UCLA’s second, and more hyped point guard prospect, Jrue Holiday has also met with the team and expressed a strong interest to join the team at combine media day. However, he should be long picked by the time the Bulls are on the board.

bullscourt

Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn, one of the hottest point guard prospects around, figures to likely be gone by the time the Bulls pick at #16 on June 25th, and long gone when the Bulls pick again at #26. However, he worked out for the Bulls, met with the front office and was extremely vocal about his desire to play for the Bulls at the NBA Draft Combine. Flynn told the media how much he enjoys the Bulls up-tempo system and their young nucleus. He also described his game:

“I think I have some characteristics of Chris Paul. His tenacity, he’s hard as nails, fiery, fires his teammates up, he really knows how to get his teammates in position to where they can score, where they don’t have to do much to score. Look at David West and Tyson Chandler; where would they be without Chris Paul?”

As much as the Bulls need a scoring big, as much as point guard is the team’s strongest position, they have needs at guard- especially someone to be a backup running the point and/or provide scoring at the off guard position given the (increasingly likely) case that Ben Gordon departs.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

The Big Ten has history (both recent and long term). Over the last five years, the Big Ten has sent four teams to the Final Four, tying the Big East for the most teams playing on the final weekend. It’s also one of only two conferences (Big East) to advance five different programs to the Final Four this decade. The Big Ten has accumulated a record 40 Final Four appearances, tying the ACC for the national lead. They were second in conference RPI and had the second most teams in the tourney field last season. On top of all that, the league once again led the nation in attendance for the 33rd consecutive year. So with all this strong tradition, what’s with the lack of representation this draft?

The answer lies in the 2010 draft where five Big Ten players are projected to be taken, including Ohio State’s Evan Turner being a top ten prospect. That number could grow if players like Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas (the conference player of the year) or Durrell Summers, or perhaps Turner’s teammate William Buford decides to leave school early. It was simply a sophomore dominated conference last winter.nbadraft

The one guy from the main Midwestern conference who will hear his name called on draft night is B.J. Mullens. And he’s making a mistake. The highly-touted Ohio State freshman seven-footer declared for the NBA Draft after one year in Columbus in which he didn’t even hold the starting job (though he was named the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year.) While he has the athleticism and potential to be a quality big man at the next level, he is nowhere near ready to contribute anytime soon and should get used to sitting on the bench even more often than he did this past season.

His skill set is still very raw and he would have been better served returning to the Buckeyes to further develop his game, become more physical, and learn how to dominate a game in the paint. A solid sophomore campaign likely would have secured his status as a sure-fire lottery pick in 2010. Instead, Mullens is projected to be drafted in the mid teens/early twenties later this month. When asked about who his game can be compared to Mullens said: “I don’t care myself to one certain person, I can pinpoint certain moves that I do. There are moves that Kevin Garnett does that I like a lot, moves that Dirk Nowitzki does that I like a lot, so I try to work on those moves and try to get them down a lot.”

This draft, the conference’s theme song could be U2’s “One.” I don’t agree with Mullens’ decision, and I think these lyrics from that ballad apply to his mistake. “Well it’s too late. Tonight to drag the past out into the light…One love. One blood. One life. You got to do what you should.”

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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 Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team The word “domination” doesn’t do justice to the level of damage Blake Griffin inflicted upon opposing teams this past season. The National Player of the Year averaged 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds per game while shooting a ridiculous 65% from the field, most of those baskets coming on dunks, lay-ups, or putbacks since few defenders matched his combination of athleticism and strength underneath the basket.

Griffin is to double-doubles what Jay-z is to rhyming. He recorded at least ten points and ten boards in 30 of his 35 games played, (and you can discount the game against Texas when Griffin suffered a concussion and only played 11 minutes).

He’s built like a truck with shoulders wider than the gap between Paris Hilton’s ears, but he also possesses the athletic ability and explosiveness of the league’s top wing players. Those attributes are why he often draws comparisons to Phoenix Suns forward Amare Stoudemire.

At the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago Griffin was asked who he models his game on, Amare was actually the first name to come up. “I really like how Amare Stoudemire came into the league and I feel like we were in the same position. He really liked to use his athleticism and dunk all the time and slowly he developed his jump shot. So hopefully, I can be in that category,” the future #1 overall pick said. Later, he would mention that Shaq was one of his favorites to watch, but also said he doesn’t see himself emulating Shaquille’s game.

Interesting that he mentioned his jump shot as his weakness because if there is any flaw to Griffin’s game, it’s shooting. Due to his dominance in the paint at Oklahoma, Griffin rarely had to step out and show off his limited jumper. Building consistency with his mid-range game will be an area the former Sooner must improve upon to become an All-Star caliber player at the next level. “A lot of people think all I do is dunk, all I do is make lay-ups, so hopefully I can show them that I’m more versatile than that, that I can score a little from outside that I can dribble a little bit and that I’m not a one-dimensional player,” the future Clipper said

After the interview sessions, Griffin and Los Angeles Clippers General Manager/Head Coach Mike Dunleavy were spotted hanging out in the bar/restaurant downstairs. So what does Griffin think about Dunleavy publicly saying he’s definitely going to draft Griffin first overall? “As possibly one of my next coaches, I believe him, but anything can happen, and that’s how I’m looking at it,” Griffin said.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times, Walter Football.com and The Sports Bank

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team 

When the NBA Draft Combine rolled through Chicago this week, you could have mistaken the Second City for Beverly Hills. Strolling through Michigan Avenue’s Westin Hotel where the draft combine’s media activities were held, we encountered some of basketball’s heaviest hitters, including the entire Chicago Bulls front office, Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars, NBA coaches Mike D’Antoni and Mike Dunleavy, legendary talk show host Larry King (twice) and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. And that was just the first hour.

During the actual interview sessions, a draft combine reporter gets up close and personal with every former college basketball star soon to be drafted in a couple weeks. Each player gets his own table in the conference room and journalists rotate like speed daters to obtain quality face time with everyone. Conversation is much more in-depth than post-game press conferences. It’s about the big picture here — no time to waste on the boringly banal queries from newspaper beat writers.

Click here to read the rest of this post on NBCChicago.com.

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