What is Duke forward Jalen Johnson’s ceiling? How about Tennessee shooting guard Keon Johnson’s? Or maybe Arkansas’ Moses Moody is the one that moves the needle.
Those are some of the names populating mock draft boards for the eighth pick, which, if the ping-pong balls hold in Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery and the Chicago Bulls hadn’t traded away their first-round pick, could have been headed to Chicago.
On a separate — but similar — note, Wendell Carter Jr. averaged 11.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 22 games for the Orlando Magic after the Bulls traded him.
This is a pause for perspective.
Yes, it would be better for the Bulls’ rebuild if they cash in 20.3 percent odds Tuesday night to move into the top four and keep their first-round pick. That would push the first of their two first-round picks owed the Magic to 2022.
And, sure, there’s a chance that management’s bold trade deadline move to acquire Nikola Vučević from the Magic for Carter, Otto Porter Jr. and those picks may not work.
Perhaps Vučević and Zach LaVine are too defensively challenged to form the foundation of a championship-contending team. Perhaps the timeline of Vučević, 30, doesn’t align with those of Patrick Williams and Coby White as the Bulls wait for those players to become what they will become.
But sacrificing draft capital is the price that franchises pay to acquire an All-Star, which Vučević is and projects to be in the coming seasons. After all, he averaged 21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists in his 26 games with the Bulls.
The Bulls have plenty of holes to fill. But Tuesday’s lottery and the inherent second-guessing that could accompany it should the Bulls not keep their pick overlooks something significant: You’re basically hoping a lottery pick becomes an All-Star.
And now the Bulls have two in Vučević and LaVine.
Is Carter, a 2018 lottery pick, on that path? Would one of names mocked to the Bulls if they hadn’t made the move at stayed at No. 8 be?
Artūras Karnišovas doesn’t strike many as one who looks backward. He saw an opportunity by acquiring Vučević and grabbed it. And now it’s his and his staff’s job to make the accompanying moves to improve the roster and complement Vučević and LaVine.
All front offices work on multiple plans simultaneously. So, sure, if lottery luck smiles upon the Bulls Tuesday night, that’s a nice asset to have. But if it doesn’t and the pick conveys to the Magic, Karnišovas has been active in plans for other potential target acquisitions.
Multiple rival executives believe Karnišovas will address point guard this offseason. Lonzo Ball, Dennis Schröder, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson are some of the situations to monitor either in free agency or potential trades.
The Bulls also need a defensive presence alongside Vučević, whether that’s Williams at power forward, or a re-signed Daniel Theis, or something else. Wing depth behind Williams and Troy Brown Jr. — who, along with Williams, must take a step forward — will be key. And you can never have enough shooting, particularly if Lauri Markkanen is playing elsewhere.
One of the main themes Karnišovas has voiced since arriving is returning the Bulls to relevancy. They’ve wandered in the wilderness since trading Jimmy Butler in 2017. And, yes, missing this season’s play-in tournament was a failure.
But this year’s draft lottery doesn’t carry the same feel of desperation with it. A plan is in place. Two All-Stars are the foundation.
Now, it’s on management to build out the roster, the young players to develop and the All-Stars to produce. That’s a lot, but so is counting on ping-pong ball combinations to produce a transcendent talent.