No pressure, Marko Simonović.
That’s a light-hearted way to process Tuesday’s news, which featured Nikola Jokić becoming the lowest draft pick in NBA history to be named most valuable player.
When the Nuggets selected Jokić with the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Artūras Karnišovas served as the team’s assistant general manager under team president Tim Connelly. Karnišovas played a role in scouting and then helping the Serbian big man assimilate as he rose from unheralded second-round selection to dominant force.
Now, Karnišovas serves as the Chicago Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations, where he hired Tim’s brother, Pat, as vice president of player personnel. In Karnišovas’ first draft, the Bulls selected Patrick Williams fourth overall and Simonović, a native of Montenegro, with the 44th pick.
Just as nobody could have predicted Jokić’s rise, nobody is expecting Simonović to become an NBA MVP. Heck, becoming a rotation player or starter might suffice from such a deep selection.
But the larger point is this: Karnišovas arrived at his job after working for franchises where drafting well led to unlikely success stories. Nuggets point guard Monte Morris is another second-round example.
“I think building through the draft and developing your players is the key to get better every year,” Karnišovas said during his introductory news conference with the Bulls in April 2020.
Of course, Karnišovas cashed in draft capital in his bold move to acquire All-Star center Nikola Vučević at the March trade deadline. Surrendering two lightly protected, first-round picks in the package to land Vučević will place an even greater premium on hitting on the picks the Bulls do use in the future.
The Bulls need to cash in a 20.3 percent chance to land in the top four of the June 22 draft lottery to keep this year’s pick or else it conveys to the Orlando Magic.
In Karnišovas’ first draft while working for the Nuggets, Denver actually engaged with the Bulls in a draft-day trade that netted them the rights to Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkić in exchange for the rights to Doug McDermott. Jokić arrived the same year from the second round.
Karnišovas developed strong bonds with many people during his Nuggets’ tenure. Jokić is certainly one of them. When the Bulls and Nuggets played in March, Jokić acknowledged as much and addressed Karnišovas' new role.
“I just have a long relationship with him. He’s from Europe so (we) have a similar mindset. He’s a great guy to have," Jokić said. "This is a new challenge for him. I’m looking forward to see what he’s going to do. They have an All-Star this year [Zach LaVine] so that’s a good thing. I wish him all the best."
Williams actually represented the highest selection for a draft that Karnišovas worked. In Denver, the Nuggets cashed in the seventh overall pick in 2016 by selecting Jamal Murray. The same spot the previous year yielded a minor whiff in Emmanuel Mudiay.
Williams reaching Murray’s level is more feasible than Simonović reaching Jokić’s. Tuesday marked historic stuff, a process in which Karnišovas played a part.