I've always enjoyed the hell out of the NCAA Tournament, but I'm especially intrigued by the tournament this year because the Bulls are currently in line to have two first-round picks in the upcoming draft and there are numerous players participating in the tourney that could be on their radar.
First, just a little bit about the Bulls' draft situation. The Bulls' own pick is currently slated at No. 19, and with the Bobcats in the playoff picture, that pick (top-10 protected) is at No. 16. Both picks could obviously fluctuate from now until the rest of the year, but I'm operating under the assumption the Bulls will indeed have the rights to both at the end of the season.
Of course, that doesn't mean the Bulls will keep both picks, or actually draft two players that are on the roster next season. A draft and stash could certainly be in order, for a couple of reasons. One, that would open up a bit more cap space for the summer. And two, at least one of those rookies would probably barely see the floor next season. Tony Snell barely plays right now, and he'll be in line for a minutes increase (maybe?). Toss in the possible signing of Nikola Mirotic and others, and it's not hard to envision one of the two rookies (or both) rarely seeing the floor.
There's always the possibility of a trade as well, but I won't get into that right now.
But if the Bulls actually do keep both picks and draft college players, my ideal targets are a wing and a big, possibly a point guard because of the question marks surrounding Derrick Rose. So I want to take a look, region-by-region, at some of the Bulls' potential draft targets (in no particular order). I also will list some potential second-round picks/other prospects per Draft Express, although I'm sure I'll miss some, so feel free to suggest more names.
Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Stauskas has made great strides as an overall scorer after a stellar freshman campaign. The Big 10 Player of the Year saw small gains in both his two-point and three-point shooting percentages despite higher usage, and he also is getting to the line nearly six times a game. Stauskas has also shown an improved ability as a playmaker, tallying 3.3 assists per game. While NBA defenses would provide a stiffer challenge, Stauskas could be a nice floor spacer at the 2 next to Rose, and his ballhandling could make him more than just a one-dimensional threat.
Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
Jabari Parker gets most of the headlines for Duke, leaving Hood to fly a bit under the radar. Hood has had an excellent sophomore campaign, averaging 16.4 points and shooting 42.1 percent from three on nearly five attempts per game. The 21-year-old isn't regarded as a great defender, but he has the size to effectively guard both wing positions.
Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
Cauley-Stein will probably be a lottery pick because he's one of the few true centers in the draft. Cauley-Stein is a legit 7-footer, and if you're looking for a backup to Noah, this could be your guy. While he's very raw offensively, he's a terror on the defensive end, averaging 3.0 blocks on the year. An athletic 7-footer certainly sounds like a dream for Thibs' system. I don't expect the big man to be around when the Bulls pick, but his stock has dropped a bit this year, so you never know.
James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky
Young was part of the much-hyped Kentucky recruiting class, and while the potential is there, the results have been a bit erratic. Young is barely shooting over 40 percent on the season and 34 percent from three. The freshman is getting to the line nearly five times a game, but he's only at 68.6 percent on those attempts. Nevertheless, he has ideal size for a wing and has plenty of room to grow.
Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville
Harrell is undersized for his position, but he makes up for that with superb athleticism, strength and a 7'3 wingspan. The sophomore is rather raw offensively, doing most of his work down low. He's a beast on the boards and brings a ton of toughness to the court, which would be a fit with the Bulls' blue-collar culture.
T.J. Warren, SF/PF, N.C. State
Warren is a big-time scorer, averaging 24.8 points on 52.5 percent shooting en route to the ACC Player of the Year award. The sophomore can score both inside and out, although he utilizes more of a mid-range game than deep shooting. He's a bit of a tweener and not the greatest athlete, so there are some concerns there, but a guy with his natural ability should be able to stick around in the league a bit.
Other players to watch
Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan
Russ Smith, PG, Louisville
Alex Poythress, SF/PF, Kentucky
Aaron Harrison, SG, Kentucky
Andrew Harrison, PG/SG, Kentucky
Jahii Carson, PG, Arizona St.
Jordan Bachynski, C, Arizona St.
Cleanthony Early, PF, Wichita St.
Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Jordan McRae, SG, Tennessee
Zach LaVine, SG, UCLA
LaVine just turned 19 and has a ton of potential, although his freshman year has been marred by inconsistency. LaVine killed it during the non-conference season and was solid at the outset of conference play before a major lull in the middle of the season. The youngster could probably stand to stay in school another year, but while he's still raw, he does have the skills and God-given ability to potentially blossom into a dangerous threat next to Rose.
Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
One of the more versatile players in the draft, Anderson can be described as a point-forward, as he can shoot, rebound and dish the rock. The 6'8 sophomore is averaging 14.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists on the year, which shows his versatility. The big knock on Anderson is that he's not really an NBA-level athlete, but his skills may be able to make up for that.
Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
Ennis is the third best point-guard prospect in the draft behind Dante Exum and Marcus Smart. The 19-year-old hasn't had the most efficient season, but his numbers are pretty impressive nonetheless for a freshman point guard. Specifically, his 5.6 assists per game show his potential as a guy who can run a team at the next level.
Jerami Grant, SF Syracuse
Grant is the nephew of Horace Grant, so there's a Bulls connection there. The 20-year-old is a long, rangy player who could probably be a terror of a defensive player under Thibs. Grant has a wing span just under 7'3 and is an explosive athlete, which is ideal for defending the better wings in the league. However, the sophomore isn't really a threat from outside, as he's just 0-of-5 from three on the year.
Wayne Selden, SG, Kansas
Selden has the tools to be a solid NBA player, but he has been somewhat underwhelming this season, especially as a shooter. The freshman is shooting just 33.6 percent from three and 63.5 percent from the charity stripe. Still, like many of these younger players, there's intriguing potential there.
Others to watch
Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA
Chris Walker, SF/PF, Florida
Patric Young, C, Florida
LaQuinton Ross, SF, Ohio St.
Aaron Craft, PG, Ohio St.
Dwight Powell, PF, Stanford
Lamar Patterson, SG, Pittsburgh
C.J. Fair, SF/PF, Syracuse
Juvonte Reddic, PF, VCU
Gary Harris, SG, Michigan St.
I was a big fan of Harris coming into this year after he averaged 12.9 points and shot 41.1 percent from three as a freshman at MSU. Harris' scoring average went up to 17.1 points per game this year, but his efficiency numbers took quite a hit. Once a lottery lock, there's a chance the sophomore could fall to Chicago. Despite his inconsistency, he could be a nice fit at the 2 guard. The jumper is deadly at times, he can really D up and he has shown some real flashes of explosive athleticism.
Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan St.
A potential backup to Noah, although Payne is "just" 6'9 and projects more as a 4 in the NBA. Still, I don't see why Payne couldn't play some minutes at the 5. When healthy, Payne has been extremely productive, averaging nearly 16 points and a shade over seven rebounds. The 23-year-old has a solid motor, and I like his ability to get out and run the floor. The big man also boasts a pretty solid jumper, as he's shooting 42.0 percent from three on the year.
Others to watch
Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
Keith Appling, PG, Michigan St.
Branden Dawson, SF, Michigan St.
Brice Johnson, PF, North Carolina
James McAdoo, PF, North Carolina
Shaq Goodwin, PF, Memphis
Joe Harris, SF, Virginia
Doug McDermott, SF/PF, Creighton
I have little reason to expect McDermott will fall to the Bulls, but I'm including him anyway because he's pretty awesome and I wanted to write "Dougie McBuckets." McDermott is pretty much a lock for the Wooden Award, boasting averages of 26.9 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 52.5 percent overall and 45.4 percent from three. It's easy to think of Kyle Korver, a former Bluejay, when thinking of McDermott, but the senior is a bit bigger and more versatile. Both clearly can shoot the heck out of the ball.
Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin
Dekker has had an up-and-down sophomore season after a generally excellent freshman campaign. While Dekker's overall shooting percentage has gone down just a tick despite a higher usage, his three-point shooting has dropped nearly seven percent. Even so, Dekker is a versatile forward who can do a bit of everything.
Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
Payton is a totally under the radar guy. Payton is a 6'4 point-guard who can really fill up the stat sheet. The junior is averaging 19.1 points, 6.0 assists and 5.9 rebounds on the year while shooting 51.1 percent overall. He doesn't do much from long range, but there's always the opportunity to improve.
Others to watch
Nick Johnson, SG, Arizona
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona
Kaleb Tarczewski, C, Arizona
Markel Brown, SG, Oklahoma St.
Le'Bryan Nash, SF, Oklahoma St.
Isaiah Austin, C, Baylor
Cory Jefferson, PF, Baylor
Przemek Karnowski, C, Gonzaga