The Bulls saw a stroke of lottery fortune favor them Thursday night, when they cashed in 8.5 percent odds to jump from their No. 7 pre-lottery slot to the No. 4 overall pick.
Who should (or will) they take? It’s difficult to fully gauge the new front office at this point, but executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas has repeatedly stressed that talent will be the ultimate determinant of who’s selected. Need has no bearing.
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“I don’t think you address needs at the 4. You get the best talent,” Karnišovas said in a post-lottery conference call. “That’s what we’re going to be looking for with the highest upside player.”
In past comments, Karnišovas has also described his preferred style of play as being high-paced, ball-movement-oriented and read-and-react-styled.
With all that in mind — but without reading too far into anything — here’s a preliminary, post-lottery board of potential prospects the Bulls could consider at No. 4. Not a ranking, necessarily, but a tiered breakdown of the guys that could be there, and what they bring.
LaMelo Ball, G, Illawarra Hawks
The top of your draft board is for swings. This is a doctrine Karnišovas appears to live by, and rightfully so.
Well, Ball is the biggest swing in the class, and he boasts the highest upside. 6-foot-8 lead guards with voluminous dribble packages, transcendent passing ability (especially on the fastbreak) and uncoachable feel for the game come around on a generational basis, not a yearly one.
Does all that make him perfect? Of course not. No such prospect exists, especially in this class. His improvement areas — perimeter shooting, defense, finishing at the rim through NBA competition — should concern any team.
But in the Bulls’ position, the pitch would be: Snag him for the upside, coach shoddy shot selection out of him (deep, contested pull-ups 3s permeate his tape), and hope his length and activity help keep him afloat on the defensive end while he packs on muscle. He’ll need that for the finishing aspect, too, though he does have a crafty layup arsenal. Even with shaky stats, opting to play professionally in the NBL should help his NBA preparedness, not hurt.
Ball’s playmaking chops at his size is a package tailor-made for the modern NBA. Over time, it could help pull the Bulls offense from the basement.
Anthony Edwards, G/F, Georgia
This is a draft that lacks consensus among analysts and NBA teams alike. But most seem to agree Edwards is one of the guys with true superstar potential.
It’s easy to see why. Cast season-long shooting percentages aside for a moment, and Edwards’ three-level scoring ability jumps off the screen. He’s comfortable pulling up from 3, makes tough shots, and gets to the cup (69.4% rim shooting) and free-throw line (.339 FTr). His 6-3, 225-pound-frame — with a wingspan reportedly in the 6-8/6-9 range — and explosive athleticism combine to paint the picture of a player who will punish NBA defenses from Day 1.
Those shooting percentages (40.2% FG, 29.4% 3P) do highlight decision-making concerns that rest atop the list of improvement areas for Edwards, even if they can be partly attributed to a less-than-ideal team situation at Georgia. Lapses in focus on the defensive end are up there, too, but his physical tools can make him impactful on both ends if he applies himself. It would be a surprise if he slipped to No. 4.
Deni Avdija, F, Maccabi Tel Aviv
If you’re sick of this term, apologies. But Avdija is a unicorn-ish prospect. At 6-foot-9, he’s graceful on the fastbreak, a pinpoint pick-and-roll and post passer, and solid ball handler. A bonafide point-forward that plugs holes for any team. He impacts the game in multiple facets, and could elevate key pieces on the Bulls’ roster with his playmaking and IQ — two qualities that will only be amplified by more wide-open spacing in the NBA.
But, speaking of spacing, Avdija’s outside shooting (33.3% from 3, 183 attempts in 2019-20) is his biggest NBA red flag, especially given a sub-60% success rate from the free-throw line. His form is organized, but he has a tendency to splay his legs and step out of his jumper instead of staying in his stance. As such, the misses feature some resoundingly-bricked rims.
Another overarching question for Deni: What position is he in the league, primarily defensively? As a small forward, he’d struggle to keep pace with quicker wings and guards. At power forward (more likely in this day and age), he should have the verticality to hang with most, but he often gets bumped off around by bruisers.
The talent is there, and so, it seems, is the drive. For the Bulls, nabbing him No. 4 would be a bet on the jumper panning out, his upside as a table-setter and his background, which features an Israeli League MVP in 2019-20. At 19, he’s the youngest player to earn that honor.
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James Wiseman, C, Memphis
Even with a deep crop of international prospects, Wiseman is among the greater unknown quantities in this year’s draft. He was the No. 1 player in his class coming out of high school, but played just three games at Memphis before losing his NCAA eligibility.
Now, he showed out in those contests — averaging 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and three blocks per game, and shooting 76.9% from the floor — but it was against soft, early-season competition. Without a year of tape to show strides as a decision-maker and defender in space, it’s tough to gauge where his game stands.
For his tools (7-foot-1 with a reported 7-5 wingspan, and sculpted) and the potential to combine elite shot-blocking and rim-running with a sprinkle of outside shooting down the line, he’s worth a look. Karnišovas preaches talent, and Wiseman oozes it.
Possible Best Player Available Options
Onyeka Okongwu, F/C, USC
On the defensive end, Okongwu is widely lauded for his versatility, both guarding at the rim and in space. He swatted 3.5 shots per 40 minutes in his freshman year even slightly undersized at 6-foot-9 — springboard bounce and a reported 7-1 wingspan are two of his greatest tools. He’s the prototype of the modern defensive center, and a force on the roll and catching lobs on the offensive end.
Wendell Carter Jr. brings a lot of the same defensive attributes at the center spot, and, provided opportunity, room to grow as a facilitator and shooter on offense. Karnišovas likely wouldn’t let that possible redundancy stop him from taking the 19-year-old from USC if the Bulls’ board has him as the best talent available when they pick. But it would certainly create an interesting logjam in the frontcourt between Okongwu, Carter and Markkanen. As would Wiseman.
Obi Toppin, F, Dayton
Toppin was immediately mocked to the Bulls on the ESPN Draft Lottery broadcast, sparking widespread discussion among fans regarding the merits of his game. Let’s start by saying the Dayton product took home a litany of National Player of the Year awards in 2019-20 for a reason. In averaging 20 points per game on 63.3% shooting in his sophomore season, he flashed scoring proficiency in every facet imaginable: Soaring to the rim for sense-defying jams, flying out in transition, burrowing in the post, rolling in PnR and even stepping out beyond the arc (39% 3P on 82 total attempts).
There are also reasons he’s not a slam-dunk prospect. For one, he’ll turn 23 in March. Questions also persist on the defensive end — both in terms of his lateral movement and situational awareness. Toppin is a certified baller that could help the Bulls in the scoring (and excitement) department tomorrow. Whether that translates to long-term value in the eyes of the front office remains to be seen.
Killian Hayes, G, Ulm
Hayes might even belong in the star swing section based on his playmaking potential — like Ball, he’s a big lead guard (6-foot-5) with an array of inventive passes at his disposal.
But, unlike Ball, shooting efficiency doesn’t seem to register as alarming a concern in Hayes’ case. Though he hit just 29.4% of his 3-point attempts across 33 games this season, he shot 48.2% from the field and made 87.6% of his free-throws this season while teasing shifty floater and pull-up games. The most common critique of his game is a lack of an off-hand. But all the other pieces appear to be there for Hayes to be a difference-maker in the NBA.
Karnišovas shot down a question of any needs — skill or position — that the Bulls will look to address in the draft. But, should the Bulls look to trade down from the No. 4 slot in an asset-stack type move, some high-ceiling names that also happen to fill holes on the roster.
Isaac Okoro, G/F, Auburn
Devin Vassell, F, Florida State
Flip a coin between Vassell and Okoro if you’re the Bulls. Both project as high-upside 3-and-D type wings, but both bring different virtues and drawbacks.
Okoro is an atomic athlete with a brick-wall-build — ready from Day 1 to slash and finish (with both hands) his way to buckets at the NBA level, even through contact. His tenacious on-ball defense has drawn Jimmy Butler comparisons. But he’s another one with questions about his jumper after shooting 28.6% from 3 and 67.2% from the charity stripe in his lone season at Auburn.
Vassell comes with a ready-made perimeter shot — he canned 41.5% of his 3-point looks (3.5 attempts per game) in 2019-20; his release is high and smooth — and boasts a bit more length. Evaluators rave about his unnatural IQ and quick instincts as a team defender, both of which are evidenced by the 4.2 “stocks” (steals plus blocks) per 40 minutes he racked up his sophomore season. But he’s not quite the athlete Okoro is.
Either offers a chance to plug the Bulls’ small forward of the future slot, and above-average starter potential. Both seem destined for the 5 – 15-pick range, along with…
Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa State
Another big lead guard, Haliburton stands at 6-foot-5 with a wingspan reported in the 6-7 to 6-8 range, and is one of the smoother pick-and-roll operators in the class. While there are questions about his stilted stroke, it’s hard to argue with a 41.9% mark from 3 (5.6 attempts per game) and 35-for-68 (51.5%) field goal shooting on spot-ups in 2019-20.
Halbiurton’s slim build has also raised eyebrows, but his length helped him produce 2.5 steals per game last season. He’s a Swiss Army Knife player that would slot straight into any role the Bulls might prescribe him. Like Ball, Avdija and Hayes, his distributing prowess is especially intriguing for a roster in need in that department.
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