Bulls

With the Madness about to start, here are the players the Bulls need to watch

A certain realization hit the Bulls on Wednesday, hours before boarding the team flight for Memphis minus Lauri Markkanen (back spasms): They just aren’t adept at tanking.

Well, at least not to this season’s historic standards.

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Now the Grizzlies? That’s tanking. Losers of 18 in a row, Memphis has been doing all it can to make sure it has the most lottery balls in the hopper.

That doesn’t mean the start of the NCAA Tournament won’t have the full attention of general manager Gar Forman, who has been on the scouting trail most of the season.

Almost every player mentioned as a potential lottery pick in June will be swimming in March Madness, and with the Bulls having the NBA’s eighth-worst record at 23-44, here are the top eight bracket prospects to keep an eye on:

1. DeAndre Ayton, Arizona: The 7-1 big man is finally dominating. With a 7-5 wingspan, three-point flashes and the ability to get up and down the floor like a wing when he wants to, Ayton can make March his own personal playground and cement himself as the No. 1 pick.

The likelihood of Ayton becoming a Bull is miniscule at best, with the Bulls having a 2.8 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick, but then again, they had a 1.7 percent chance to land Derrick Rose in the 2008 lottery.

2. Marvin Bagley III, Duke: The 6-11 freshman can do just about everything, and Bulls personnel people believe he’d match up best with Markkanen. Bagley, who has a high motor to fit coach Fred Hoiberg’s pace and an ability to spread the floor for Hoiberg’s space, will be a must-watch the next few weeks.

3. Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: Considered the No. 1 prospect in the preseason, Porter, a forward, is coming off back surgery and played his first full game in the SEC tournament last week. All eyes will be on him Friday against Florida State. The Bulls are hoping teams will be scared off because of the injury concerns.

4. Trae Young, Oklahoma: The Bulls need Young to go off in the early stages of the tournament, with the hope that one of the seven possible teams in front of them jumps on the point guard and allows a wing to fall down a spot.

5. Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State: Jackson’s stock has steadily climbed, and a big showing in the tourney for the versatile 6-11 forward might bump him into the top five. Not ideal for the Bulls, who have scouted him closely.

6. Mohamed Bamba, Texas: His 7-9 wingspan and presence around the rim would instantly help Hoiberg’s defense, but his offensive skills are raw, and he would be a serious project offensively.

7. Collin Sexton, Alabama: He outplayed Young in their regular-season meeting and was dominant at times in the SEC tournament. Sexton has a Russell Westbrook edge to him, but the Bulls likely won’t be shopping for a point guard this early.

8. Wendell Carter Jr., Duke: Don’t just look at the numbers for Carter. Obviously, he’s a poor man’s Bagley, but at 6-10, he’s a great rim protector and has a high motor on the offensive boards. He wouldn’t be the sexy pick for the Bulls in June, but he might be the smartest in a season in which tanking became an art form, and the Bulls were left finger-painting.

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Email: jcowley@suntimes.com