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NBA PM: Rondo Leading an Improbable Bulls Run

Rajon Rondo is powering the Chicago Bulls’ surprising 2-0 series lead over the Boston Celtics.

Cody Taylor

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Dwyane Wade hated playing against Rajon Rondo when the Miami HEAT and Boston Celtics would meet in the playoffs.

Given Rondo’s recent resurgence, it’s safe to say that Wade is glad the two are now teammates.

Rondo has played a major role in the Chicago Bulls’ improbable 2-0 series lead over the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Boston Celtics. Rondo recorded 11 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds and five steals to lead the Bulls to an 111-97 win on Tuesday night.

Rondo joined Michael Jordan as the only players in Bulls playoff history to put up 10 assists and five steals in a postseason game and he finished just one rebound shy of the first Bulls postseason triple-double since Scottie Pippen in 1997.

“(Rondo) was the key early in the game,” Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He got us good shots early to get us some confidence. That rubs off on all the other guys. He has been in big moments.”

Rondo’s play during the first two games of this series has been reminiscent of how he played with the Celtics years ago. Wade saw that firsthand and has been impressed with his recent performances.

“When we played against Boston back in the day, Rondo knew all of the plays,” Wade said. “He messes up your first option and then he knows the second option. We were just good enough to have a third option, but he was that good. I think for myself and Jimmy [Butler] to have someone who is so locked in that gives us a different voice. Fred gives us a voice and Rondo gives us another voice.

“He’s so locked in. We know we can go to him and ask him anything because he’s watching film all of the time. It’s key. When you have a point guard like him, that controls the whole game, you just got to play. Our job was easy. We just had to play. As I told him, ‘Way to run your team.’ He did an amazing job with that.”

His resurgence in two games against his former team has been surprising. Earlier this season, Rondo was benched for lackluster play and his future with the team was even in question. There were many times throughout the season that the Bulls’ front office was criticized for signing Rondo in the first place.

The point guard’s play for the Bulls has been uneven throughout most of the year. Rondo appeared in 69 games this season and started 42 of those outings, while Michael Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant also earned starts as well. While they have played inconsistently at times this season, and have battled through adversity on and off of the court, the Bulls seem to be peaking at the right time.

Despite all of the drama that has followed Rondo throughout the year, he appears to have put it behind him.

“I just stayed in the gym and worked,” Rondo said. “I don’t think it’s nothing I’ve done as far as the mindset. I’ve been a little bit more aggressive offensively, but before the game, Jimmy and D-Wade kept telling me to shoot the ball and stay aggressive. With them telling me that, I just try to go out there and do what I need to do for my teammates; lead by example with my voice. I know I got a tough task chasing [Isaiah Thomas] all over the court so I just try to go out there and do the intangibles for my team.”

Watching the Bulls jump out to a 2-0 series lead over the Celtics seems even more shocking given their drama-filled season. Of course, there was the infamous spat Rondo had with Wade and Butler where he questioned their leadership skills and effort in a post on his Instagram account. There were some that have even questioned whether or not Hoiberg was the right choice to lead this Bulls team. Then, Butler emerged in trade conversations leading up to the trade deadline with this very Celtics team they hold a 2-0 series lead over. Sure, teams go through their fair share of drama and adversity, but the Bulls seemed like anything but a playoff team at times this season.

“One thing I learned about this team is through adverse situations, this team sticks together,” Wade said. “We had adversity throughout this year as every team has and that’s the thing that’s made us closer and stronger together. The credit for this team sticking together through injuries and everything to put ourselves into position to make the playoffs it goes to everyone from the coaching staff to the leaders to the young guys. Everyone did it together.”

While Rondo has been outstanding thus far against the Celtics, it’s been a team effort that has allowed the Bulls to play well during the first two games of this series. The Bulls outrebounded the Celtics by 21 in Game 1 and did so for most of Game 2 before the Celtics were able to even it up near the end of the game.

They have received great contributions from the starters, as well as Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser off of the bench. Of course, having Jimmy Butler play at an All-Star level has been the biggest factor for the Bulls. He has totaled 52 points, 17 rebounds, 11 assists, five steals and three blocks so far this series. When Butler can receive help from other players on the team, the Bulls have proven to be a tough opponent.

“When I’m open, I normally shoot the ball,” Butler said. “Sometimes when I’m not open I also shoot the ball. But the majority of the time, I pass it to the open guy and when they’re making shots, my job is a lot easier. People can’t load up on me and then on top of everything else, [Rondo and Wade] do a lot of that as well — when they’re attacking, they’re being aggressive and they’re getting everybody else involved and especially when we’re getting stops… Man, when we’re getting stops, we’re pretty tough.”

Although they’re up 2-0 in this series, the Bulls know there is still a lot of work left to be done. Teams have come back from 3-1 series leads before to win a series, so they know there is a long way to go. Game 3 will be their biggest game of the season and their biggest test yet.

A wild season looks to have a few more twists and turns in store for this Bulls squad.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA

Trae Young Believes He’s NBA Ready

Trae Young has exceeded expectations since his freshman year of college, and he believes he will continue to do so in the NBA

Matt John

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Before the collegiate season started, many believed that the best players in the upcoming NBA draft were going to be bigs. DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, and Michael Porter Jr., all of whom were 6’10’’ or taller, were considered to be among the top prospects coming out of the NCAA, but Trae Young had something to say about that.

Coming out of high school, Young was regarded as one of the better incoming freshmen, but not among the best of the best. Young ranked no. 23 in ESPN’s top 100 in 2017 and was ranked third among point guards, behind Collin Sexton and Jaylen Hands, which led to low expectations for him. Young proved right out of the gate that he was much better than the scouts had rated him.

Young tore up college ball as an Oklahoma Sooner, as he averaged 27.2 points and 8.7 assists while shooting 42 percent from the field including 36 percent from three. While Young’s play made him stand out among his peers, it didn’t translate into much success on the court. The Sooners went 18-14 on the season and were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Now that the season is over, Young is shifting his focus to his next stop: the NBA. With the draft coming up in just a little over a month, only one word comes to mind when describing Young’s current mindset: Confidence.

“I bring a lot of things to the next level. I think I would bring an immediate impact off the court as much as I do on the court,” Young said at the NBA combine. “I can space out the defense. I can attack defenders in multiple ways, get my teammates involved. I think I can pretty much do it all for a team and I’m looking forward to whichever team I go to and making a huge impact.”

While Young is not expected to be picked in the top five, he should be picked between the six to ten range. Any player who is selected in that range has to work his absolute hardest to live up to the lengthy expectations that he will certainly face once he enters the NBA. Young luckily sounds like he is up to the task.

“I prepared extremely hard coming into the college season and making a huge impact right away, and I’m working two times as hard this summer preparing to get into the NBA level,” Young said. “I want to make a huge impact right away.”

Young is expected to be a high lottery pick, but he doesn’t care much for where he is selected as much as he cares about going to the team that suits him best.

“My main focus is going to the right team. It’s not about going one, two, three or 30. You see a lot of guys going in the second round in certain years that make big impacts for teams,” Young said. “It’s all about the fit for me. Whether that’s one or whether that’s whatever it is, I’m going to be happy and I’m going to be ready to make an impact.”

Young’s expected high draft position stems from his electrifying play as a scorer in college. Young’s performance for Oklahoma his freshman year was impressive enough to draw comparisons to NBA megastar Stephen Curry. While Young is flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as Curry, he takes pride in being his own player.

“He’s a two-time MVP and a champion. I mean, I love the comparison but I feel like I bring a lot of different things from different players’ games to the table,” Young said. “I’m just trying to be the best version of Trae Young. That’s all that matters to me. I’m just getting started in this thing so hopefully I can achieve some of those things.”

Young’s skillset may remind fans of Curry, but Young prides himself on modeling his game after his favorite player of all time: Steve Nash.

“With his size and my size, we’re pretty similar,” Young said. “He is very cerebral. He can score on all three levels and he knows how to get his teammates involved. He’s a winner so I feel like a lot of his characteristics match with mine.”

Those who have watched Young know of his offensive repertoire, but skeptics have pointed to his defensive shortcomings as a red flag. Young, however, believes his play at the combine will show that he can be a positive on the other side of the ball.

“I’m excited about having the opportunity to show people that I can play defense, and I’m excited to show that from day one,”

When all is said and done, Young may very well wind up being the most prolific scorer to come out of what many believe is a loaded draft, but Young has much bigger ambitions in mind for his career.

“I think I’m the best overall player in this draft, but my main focus isn’t necessarily to be the best player in this draft,” Young said. “My goal is to be the best player in the NBA. That’s what I’m focusing on each and every day.”

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Hands Makes Good Showing at the NBA Combine

Jaylen Hands made a good showing at the NBA Combine by displaying his offensive skills and defensive intensity.

Jesse Blancarte

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UCLA has produced a few of the NBA’s top point guards over the last decade or so, including Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday. Jrue’s younger brother, Aaron Holiday, has declared for this year’s draft and is projected by several NBA insiders to be selected with a first-round pick (likely in the 20-30 range). But Aaron Holiday isn’t the only UCLA point guard who may end up taking his talents to the NBA this offseason. Jaylen Hands, who is still just 19 years old and finished his freshman season, has also entered his name into this year’s draft.

While Hands has entered his name into the draft and participated in the NBA Combine, he has not hired an agent, which preserves his ability to return to college (Hands has until June 11 to make a final decision). Considering Hands’ young age and raw skill set, he isn’t projected by many insiders to hear his name called on draft night. But he certainly helped his cause in the Combine, showcasing his offensive talents, the muscle he has added to his slight frame since the end of his freshman season and aggressiveness on defense.

Basketball Insiders spoke with Hands at the Combine about his development, going through the pre-draft process, competing against familiar faces and more.

“It’s crazy, it’s crazy because when we were younger, they said the exact thing: ‘You guys are going to see each other forever.’” Hands said when asked about competing against many of the same players over the years and now at the Combine. “And you don’t really believe what they’re saying. But now you go through high school, you’re a senior, All-Star activities and you go to the Combine, you see the same people. It’s crazy.”

Hands has a notable skill set but is a raw prospect that many believe would be better served spending another year in college. While Hands needs to continue filling out his frame, he did register decent measurements at the Combine in relation to a top guard prospect – Trae Young of Oklahoma. Hands weighed in at 1.2 lbs heavier than Young, and outmatched Young in height (with and without shoes), standing reach and wingspan. Ironically, Hands has the smallest hands of all players that participated in the Combine. While these measurements don’t mean that he is currently a comparable prospect to Young, they could address some concerns about his current physical profile and how it may ultimately translate to the NBA.

Hands proved himself to be a confident and aggressive player in his freshman season at UCLA – something that he believes has led to misconceptions about his game.

“I’m not a point guard,” Hands said when asked about what misconceptions people have about his game.

I wouldn’t say it’s common, like it’s the main thing. But I’ve heard that I shoot first or something like that. I just feel like I attack a lot. I think I attack a lot and I’m of size to being a [two guard], so I think some people get it misconstrued. I just think I’m attack first, set my teammates up, get what I get.”

Hands is clearly aware of the common perceptions and current shortcomings in his game, which is why he is working hard to improve his overall skill set and is testing the NBA waters to get feedback from teams.

“Before I came here, just being more steady working on my shot, making good reads out of the pick and roll, finishing.” Hands said when asked about what parts of his game he was working on before coming to the Combine.

Hands was asked to clarify what he believes is his best strength at this point. Hands didn’t hesitate and pointed toward his ability to make plays off the dribble.

“My best strength is getting in the paint. So I get in the paint and make plays,” Hands said.

Hands is also clearly aware of UCLA’s history of producing quality point guards and has a chance to one day develop into a quality guard at the NBA level. However, with Holiday heading to the NBA and no major competition for the starting point guard position at UCLA next season, it may benefit Hands to hold off on turning pro for at least another year.

Whether he stays at UCLA or commits to this year’s draft, there’s no doubt that Hands is going to keep pushing to develop into a quality NBA player.

“I want to be the best player I can in the league,” Hands said. “That’s my goal.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 5/22/18

The final 2018 NBA Draft order is set and Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler offers up his latest 60-pick NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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Lots of Draft Movement

With the draft order now set for the 2018 NBA Draft, there is some sense of how the draft might play out.

The buzz coming out of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago is that a number of picks could be had in trade include all three of the top selections. Word is the initial asking price is very high and more of an indication to the San Antonio Spurs that if they do want to part with disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard, they are open for business.

It’s also worth noting that there is a growing sense that both the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawk may be far higher on some of the domestic bigs in the draft more so than euro sensation Luka Dončić. Both teams are expected to take a long look at Dončić, so their views on him could change as we get closer to the draft, but for now, Dončić may go lower.

Here is the latest 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft, reflecting the final draft order and the latest buzz, rumors, and intel from in and around the NBA:

Dates To Know:

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college. However, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

The 2018 NBA Draft is June 21.

The Pick Swaps:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. This pick will convey.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the final NBA standings.

The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick was lottery protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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