Four first round NCAA Tournament games to watch for Chicago Bulls prospects

RICHMOND, KY - FEBRUARY 16: Ja Morant #12 of the Murray State Racers brings the ball up court during the game against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels at CFSB Center on February 16, 2019 in Murray, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
RICHMOND, KY - FEBRUARY 16: Ja Morant #12 of the Murray State Racers brings the ball up court during the game against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels at CFSB Center on February 16, 2019 in Murray, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

1. Friday at 6:10 p.m: Duke vs North Dakota State/North Carolina Central

Prospect to watch: Zion Williamson, forward, Duke

Projected draft position: 1 (Tankathon), 1 (The Athletic), 1 (Draft Site)

If you’re going to watch any games for draft purposes, Duke is the team to follow. Leading the intrigue for the Blue Devils is freshman phenom Zion Williamson.

Williamson is the best college basketball player we’ve seen in years, and his otherworldly athleticism has helped make him the most fun player to watch this season.

With his ability to get to the rack, Williamson will be able to score a ton at an absurdly high efficiency in the NBA and will be a matchup nightmare for most teams. He averages 22 points per game shooting around 70% from the field, and gets most of his buckets going hard at the rim.

Try to take note of just how hard Williamson plays the entire game because players this good aren’t supposed to have motors like his. His attitude and effort are complete outliers and make him an easy person to tie your franchise’s fate to. The downside that comes with his energetic style of play are valid concerns about how his body holds up against the grind of multiple NBA seasons.

He’s proven that he can handle the ball and make plays himself, and has flashed the makings of a point forward with his passing.

The biggest hitch in his game is shooting. But there is some room for hope that he can improve in that regard, and if he can become even a below-average shooter, he’ll become unguardable. Even if he doesn’t, a team like Chicago is ready-made to surround him with shooters and let him go to work.

Defensively, Williamson still has to room to get better, but it’s clear the type of potential he has. He can make plays nobody else on the court can, and covers ground in ways offensive players will dread. There’s no reason to think he can’t become an elite perimeter and great interior defender, even if he skews more weak side help defender than rim protector.

Zion is the pick if you’re sitting with the first spot and Chicago will surely draft him if the lottery balls fall their way. Whether they decide to play him at the three or bench Wendell Carter Jr. and slide Lauri Markkanen to the five, Williamson would make the Bulls must-watch TV.

(Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Prospect to watch: R.J. Barrett, wing, Duke

Projected draft position: 3 (Tankathon), 3 (The Athletic), 3 (Draft Site)

R.J. Barrett was considered by many to be the clear choice for first overall before this season began, but the results have been mixed so far in college play. He’s averaging just under 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game, but hasn’t been doing so at high percentages. The 6’7” freshman wing’s play style sure looks the part of a future star, but will his inefficiency and decision making hold him back?

Above all else, Barrett is going to try and get to the rim, and he’ll only get better as he develops his body. He can already finish well through contact and has a developing array of moves in the lane. Barrett is always going to try and get a mismatch he can abuse, and he loves working in the middle of the floor.

His shot is still developing, although it’d be surprising if he didn’t at least become serviceable from deep. The issue is whether or not it will become good enough off the dribble to let him reach his full potential as a scorer.

The question mark around Barrett’s playmaking in the half court could make or break his supposed superstardom. He has struggled this year with his choices against set defenses and hasn’t flashed a lot of on-the-fly decision making.

Keep your eyes peeled for moments when Barrett takes a difficult or questionable shot, and try to see what kind of defensive looks he’s shooting against. There are qualms that he frequently decides what he’s going to do before he does it, and that type of play style could make him an inefficient black hole in the NBA. It’s worth noting, however, that Barrett could thrive in a team with NBA spacing, as Duke is a terrible three-point shooting team.

On defense, the biggest strike against him is effort. It seems likely he can become average on that end, but he likely won’t be a major force outside of gambles.

The question with Barrett will always come down to his decision making and efficiency. If he’s a bonafide superstar that’s great, but if he’s not, can he change his game to suit a narrower role?

Barrett and the Bulls could be a tough fit together, especially early on. But if Chicago really thinks he has superstar potential, there’s little reason to pass on him.

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Prospect to watch: Cam Reddish, wing, Duke

Projected draft position: 5 (Tankathon), 5 (The Athletic), 4 (Draft Site)

The third banana of Duke’s trio is Cam Reddish, the 6’8” wing averaging almost 14 points, four rebounds and two assists per game.

There’s the argument that Reddish has been left out to dry among Duke’s big three, and that he hasn’t been able to showcase who he is as a prospect because of Barrett and Williamson. Duke’s lack of spacing doesn’t provide many easy catch-and-shoot opportunities for Reddish, and he hasn’t developed his handle much in their congested offense.

But there’s also the argument that Reddish has been unimpressive when he has had chances. His inefficiency as a third option is concerning, especially for somebody billed with NBA range on his jumper. And his handle very well could just be bad as there haven’t been many signs of progress.

All these issues make Reddish more of a swing than teams thought he’d be heading into this season, especially for the Bulls if they get a top pick. But his long wingspan and potential to become a multi-positional defender still make him a valuable prospect. His potential for superstardom might seem dimmed, but his value as a three and D guy is still there.

As streaky as he is, Reddish’s jump shot should benefit from more consistent involvement in an offense. At the very least, the spacious, drive-and-kick happy NBA will give him plenty of open looks and opportunities to get comfortable. If he can become the dead eye shooter he’s projected to be, his playmaking should be given some more room to develop as well.

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Try to keep track of how long Reddish goes without being involved in Duke’s offense during dry stretches. His passive play has been a concern all year long, but if he can avoid disappearing in the tournament, he might be able to raise his stock and nab himself a spot on the Bulls’ roster.

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