Bulls

1 statistical need each top draft prospect fills for Bulls

Bulls
USA Today

In a stroke of good fortune, the Bulls’ leapt from their pre-lottery slot of No. 7 to secure the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft back in August.

That opened up a world of possibilities for the team’s new front office regime. Of course, whichever way the team goes, Artūras Karnišovas’ strategy is clear: Nab the best talent available.

But regardless of how that philosophy manifests in Karnišovas’ first major roster decision as executive vice president, the Bulls’ 2020 first-round pick will still have a chance to help assuage any of a number of needs for the team. 

So, in a reprisal of our old pal Mark Strotman’s 2019 piece, here’s one statistical area (give or take) each of the top-10 prospects in this year’s draft can help with.

Luckily, for a team coming off a 22-43 season, there’s no shortage:

LaMelo Ball, G, Illawarra Hawks

The Stat: 1.08 points per possession in transition (24th in NBA)

How Ball helps: While the Bulls were middle-of-the-road in PACE in 2019-20, they actually got out on the break a fair amount. Their 17.7 transition possessions per game, many generated by way of forcing a league-leading 18.3 opponent turnovers per game, ranked 11th in the NBA, and was a marked step up from when they ranked 24th in that category in 2018-19. 

However, as was the story of this season’s Bulls, they were inefficient in those chances, scoring 1.08 points per possession (24th in the NBA) and committing turnovers at a higher rate (13.5%, 24th) than they got to the foul line (11.2%, 26th).

 

It doesn’t take a bevy of advanced stats or frame-by-frame analysis of Ball’s tape to see how he could help the Bulls in this regard. His passing creativity on the fast break is one of his most tantalizing skills, especially given his potential as a rebounding guard standing at 6-foot-8 (he averaged 7.9 boards and 6.8 assists per night, via Real GM, for the Illawara Hawks of the NBL last season). That could open a world of possibilities for a Bulls offense that found itself stuck in the mud for long stretches of last season.

Imagine this pinpoint brand of long-range hit-ahead or overhand outlet to a streaking Zach LaVine or Lauri Markkanen — even off opponent makes.

 Anthony Edwards, G, Georgia

The Stat: 20.5 free-throw attempts per game (27th in NBA)

How Edwards helps: The Bulls ranked 27th in the NBA in free-throw attempts per game in 2019-20. Only Zach LaVine averaged more than five charity tries per night.

While Edwards’ volume-scorer archetype might seem redundant on this roster, his ability to get downhill, absorb contact and leverage his NBA-ready frame (Draft Express has him at 6-3, 225 lbs, but reports vary) and athleticism into fouls would be something of a salve for a team that got to the rim as well as any group last season, but struggled converting those chances — and, for that matter, often starved for any mode of easy offense. In that respect, Edwards’ 0.339 free throw rate and 69.4 percent rim shooting at Georgia — as a wing! — bodes well.

Obi Toppin, F, Dayton

The Stat: 60.2% restricted area FG% (29th in NBA)

How Toppin helps: Speaking of rim shooting… Among a season defined by divergent expectation and reality, the Bulls’ finishing at the basket was the most stark. By design, they led the league in restricted area field goal attempts per game (33.0). By accident, they ranked 29th field goal percentage on those tries (60.2%), leading only the Charlotte Hornets.

Enter Obi Toppin, the high-flying, rim-shattering forward from Dayton that parlayed a 31-game highlight reel of a sophomore season into every national player of the year award under the sun. And perhaps most pertinently for the Bulls: Embedded in Toppin’s 63.3% season-long shooting from the field was 69.8% shooting from 2-point range and 82.8% at the rim, where he took over half his shots. In transition, pick-and-roll, as a cutter, you name it, Toppin would add an element of interior force the Bulls currently lack on the offensive end.

James Wiseman, C, Memphis

The Stat: 48.1% rebounding rate (28th)

How Wiseman helps: Wiseman’s freshman season at Memphis only left us three games to analyze. But in them, he pulled down 10.7 rebounds per game and 26.5% of opponent misses — albeit against lukewarm early-season competition. The Bulls finished in the bottom ten in both defensive and total rebound rate in 2019-20. There, in addition to as a roll-threat and shot-blocker, the 7-1 Wiseman could lend a hand. Or two.

 

Deni Avdija, F, Maccabi Tel Aviv

The Stat: 38.3 bench points per game (13th in NBA), 43.3% FG (26th)

How Avdija helps: This isn’t to insinuate Avdija would come off the bench should the Bulls select him No. 4 overall. But his playmaking chops could be useful co-leading Bulls reserve units staggered alongside Tomáš Satoranský, assuming Coby White retains his starting role in the event the Bulls draft Avdija and not a lead guard.

With Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Shaq Harrison all headed for unrestricted free agency, the Bulls’ currently-under-contract bench consists of Satoranský, Thad Young, Chandler Hutchison, Daniel Gafford, Luke Kornet, Ryan Arcidiacono and Cristiano Felício. Avdija’s jumper is suspect. But his ball handling, passing and ability to push pace would augment that group, which lacks perimeter creation, for spurts.

Isaac Okoro, G/F, Auburn

The Stat: 43.8% FG on drives (27th in NBA), 1.23 points per possession on cuts (26th)

How Okoro helps: Okoro’s tenacious on-ball defense is his top-billed strength as a prospect. But, even in spite of poor percentages shooting from 3-point range and the free-throw line, he was a pretty impactful offensive player at Auburn as well. 

Near the top of reasons why was his ability as a slasher, both with and without the ball. According to Synergy, Okoro finished his freshman season a 97th percentile scorer in isolation (1.217 ppp), and 92nd off cuts (1.476 ppp) thanks to his explosive athleticism and ability to finish with either hand. He shot 67.8% at the basket and averaged 6.1 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes in his freshman year.

Outside of the painted area, things got hairier, but you don’t have to be a 40% 3-point shooter to bend defenses. Stagnation was a habit for the Bulls’ offense last season, and adding an uber-athletic wing that cuts, drives and finishes effectively would inject a necessary bit of juice. (Plus, if Dunn walks, he’d provide much-needed intensity on the defensive side). 

Tyrese Haliburton, G, Iowa State

The Stat: 34.8% 3P (22nd in NBA)

How Halibuton helps: Haliburton could help plug quite a few holes for the Bulls, including their paltry team-wide 1.50 assist-to-turnover ratio. But let’s take the low-hanging fruit on this one. Haliburton hit 42.6% of his 3s in two years at Iowa State, including 41.9% on a superb 5.6 attempts per game in his sophomore season. And he scored 1.431 points per possession on spot ups (99th percentile in all of college basketball), a playtype in which the Bulls were the eighth-least efficient team in the NBA this season.

The Bulls taking more 3s (35.1 attempts per game, 11th) in 2019-20 was well-intentioned. Now, they need to fill the middle-to-back end of the rotation with guys that can reliably hit them. Say what you will about Haliburton’s form, he’s shown he can do that.

 

Killian Hayes, G, Ulm

The Stat: 58.7% assist rate (20th in NBA), 1.50 assist-to-turnover ratio (26th)

How Hayes helps: A willing, gifted and instinctive passer unlike any currently on the roster, Hayes would give the Bulls the type of ball handling and playmaking boon that could go a long way towards organizing their half-court offense, which rated second-to-last in the NBA in 2019-20. 

Hayes taking on the lion’s share of on-ball responsibilities would not only lessen the playmaking burden on score-first guards like LaVine and White, it would also free them up to roam off-ball, where their shooting and slashing abilities (the latter more so for LaVine) could be utilized. And that’s without mentioning the benefits Hayes could sow for Markkanen, who’s at his most assertive in transition and attacking closeouts. 

The Bulls passed more this season, but need to make them count. If asked to assume full lead guard duties at 19 years old, there would be growing pains in the turnover department for Hayes. But in the short and long-term, he’d make the Bulls offense more fluid and hopefully set the table for some of the team's play-finishers.

Devin Vassell, F, Florida State

The Stat: Small forward production (bad)

How Vassell helps: There’s not really one stat that encapsulates this, but you don’t need a Synergy subscription to know the Bulls got next-to-no production from their small forwards this season (Otto Porter Jr., a free agent in 2021, and Chandler Hutchison combined to appear in just 42 games of a possible 130) — a development made even more brutal by the emerging league wide trend towards versatile, two-way wings as offensive engines and defensive boons (see: Jaylen Brown-Jayson Tatum, OG Anunoby-Pascal Siakam, Kawhi Leonard-Paul George and on and on). 

Vassell is a splendid team defender and 3-point shooter with a plus wingspan — nearly a prototypical 3-and-D wing that can toggle between forward positions and fill gaps on both sides of the ball. His 1.4-steal, 1-block averages as a sophomore illustrate his knack for swatting shots and disrupting passing lanes, and his 41.5% 3-point success rate (3.5 attempts per game) projects to allow him to impact NBA games offensively even without the ball.

Onyeka Okongwu, F/C, USC

The Stat: 4.1 blocks per game (26th in NBA), 65.6% opponent restricted area FG% (23rd)

How Okongwu helps: Okongwu was one of the best rim protectors in all of college basketball last season, blocking a whopping 2.7 shots per game (3.5 per 40 minutes). He’s bouncy, powerful and supremely versatile. The Bulls, meanwhile, hemorrhaged field goal attempts (and makes) in the restricted area. Their 4.1 blocked shots per game in 2019-20 ranked 26th, their 31.3 restricted area field goal attempts allowed per game also 26th, and their 65.6% restricted area field goal percentage allowed 23rd.

 

The natural counterpoint there is that the team’s relentless blitzing in pick-and-roll coverage pulled their bigs away from the rim and, in essence, traded forcing a mind-bending number of turnovers for sacrificing layups and corner 3s on the back end when rotations were foiled — a dynamic that also hurt their rebounding. Perhaps a philosophy shift — and re-centering Wendell Carter Jr. as an anchor — would help those figures normalize. Okongwu’s defensive malleability as a slightly undersized, but sufficiently long, center is actually reminiscent of Carter.