The Chicago Bulls dropped to 21-53 with an ugly 114-83 loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night. Before the game, the Bulls announced that rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison will not return this season from their respective injuries, and Otto Porter Jr. might also be out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury and other nagging issues. Furthermore, Zach LaVine is dealing with thigh and knee injuries, while Kris Dunn played through a back problem against Utah.
Bulls head coach Jim Boylen wants his team to maintain their “competitive spirit” to finish out the season, but the fact is they’re just playing out the string and hoping there are no other serious injuries. The Bulls should be as cautious as possible with all these players because there’s no reason to push them.
Most Bulls fans at this point are looking at the lottery order and focusing on the top draft prospects in the NCAA Tournament. With Chicago’s latest loss and the Atlanta Hawks’ buzzer-beating victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, there are five games separating the fourth-worst Bulls and fifth-worst Hawks in the standings. With just eight games remaining for both teams, it’s just about impossible for Chicago to catch Atlanta.
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Meanwhile, the Bulls are two games ahead of the 19-55 Cleveland Cavaliers. Finishing in the bottom three and getting that 14.0% chance at the No. 1 pick isn’t out of the question, especially with Chicago so banged up, but the Cavaliers have a brutal closing schedule.
So, the way it stands, it looks like the Bulls are going to enter the lottery with the fourth-worst record and a 12.5% chance at the top pick. They will have a 48.1% chance at a top-four pick if things play out this way, compared to a 52.1% chance if they somehow wind up in the bottom three. No. 8 is the lowest they could fall.
With all this mind mind, let’s take a quick look at how some of the top prospects fared in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Zion Williamson: Williamson continues to show why he’s the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft, and it really shouldn’t be close. Williamson put up an easy 25 points on 12-of-16 shooting in an 85-62 blowout win over North Dakota State, and then the Duke behemoth had 32 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in the 77-76 thriller over UCF.
Zion is one of the best prospects in recent memory. His athleticism and skill level at 6-foot-7, 285 pounds is incredibly unique, and he projects to be a positionless game-changer on both ends of the floor. While his jumper is a work in progress, that shouldn’t stop anybody from taking him first overall, including Chicago. The Bulls would have some interesting lineup decisions to make with Williamson, but they’d be glad to have the opportunity to figure things out.
R.J. Barrett: Barrett shrugged off a sluggish start to the tournament to finish with 26 points and 14 rebounds against North Dakota State. The freshman was rather quiet in the second half against UCF, but he scored the game-winning bucket on a putback after Zion missed a free throw to tie the game. Barrett had 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists while shooting 6-of-15 from the field.
Barrett is putting up huge averages of 22.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game this season, but there are some questions about his shooting (31.3% on 3-pointers and 66.2% on free throws), decision-making and defense. Still, it’s hard to dismiss that kind of production as a freshman, and he has potential to be a great pro.
Cam Reddish: Reddish has been an enigma all season after entering his freshman campaign with a bunch of hype. While he’s 6-foot-9 with a pretty shooting stroke, his actual production has been poor. He’s only shooting 35.8% overall and 33.3% from 3-land, and he has really struggled to finish around the rim.
Reddish didn’t do much in Duke’s first-round win, but he had a nice shooting game against UCF with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting and 3-of-4 on 3-pointers, with one of those triples a clutch one in the final two minutes with the Blue Devils down four points. He could really help himself as the tournament goes on, but no matter what happens, he looks like one of the draft’s biggest boom-or-bust prospects.
Ja Morant: Morant put up huge numbers all season, but he did so in relative obscurity at Murray State. The sophomore point guard took the nation by storm with his 17-point, 16-assist, 11-rebound triple-double in the Racers’ 83-64 destruction of Marquette in the first round. Morant followed that up with 28 points (five triples), five rebounds and four assists against Florida State, but he only went 3-of-15 inside the arc against the long and athletic Seminoles in a 90-62 loss.
There are questions about Morant’s size, shooting and defense, but what he showed on the big stage is only going to add to the hype of him potentially going No. 2 behind Zion. The point guard is an explosive scorer with incredible passing ability, something the Bulls could use at the position, though a Morant-LaVine backcourt could bleed points.
Jarrett Culver: Culver may not have quite the star power of some of these other prospects, but he projects to be a terrific two-way player at the next level. The 6-foot-6 Texas Tech wing showed out with 29 points (10-of-17 shooting), eight rebounds and seven assists in a 72-57 win over Northern Kentucky, and he followed that up with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a 78-58 blowout over Buffalo.
Culver does a lot of things well on both sides of the ball, which is something the Bulls need. His shooting is a question mark, but even if he never improves that, he should be a valuable pro for a long time.
De’Andre Hunter: Hunter wouldn’t be an exciting pick for the Bulls, but he has a high floor as a 3-and-D prospect. He’s a versatile defender who can guard multiple positions, and while his 3-point volume hasn’t been all that high this season, he’s still knocking down 44.6% from deep on 2.7 attempts per game.
Hunter got his tournament off to a great start in Virginia’s 71-56 win over Gardner-Webb, going for 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting. He had 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting before fouling out in a 63-51 victory over Oklahoma.
Brandon Clarke: It would be a surprise if the Bulls took Clarke, but he’s only helping his draft stock so far in this tournament. After notching 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in an 87-49 thrashing of Fairleigh Dickinson, Clarke went for a monstrous 36 points (15-of-18 shooting), eight rebounds, five blocks, three assists and two steals in an 83-71 win over Baylor.
Clarke is a shot-blocking menace who has been outstanding in his one season at Gonzaga after transferring from San Jose State. The 6-foot-8 big man is averaging 17.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks while shooting 69.9% from the field this season.
Coby White: Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland is widely viewed as the second-best point guard prospect in the draft, but North Carolina’s Coby White is rising up draft boards. White is an explosive scorer and budding playmaker who might just be playing his way into the top 10.
White struggled with his shooting (10 points on 4-of-14 from the field) in the Tar Heels’ 88-73 victory over Iona, but he bounced back with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting overall and 4-of-7 from 3 in an 81-59 win over Washington.