Bulls strike out at NBA Draft Lottery but will have some options

Bulls strike out at NBA Draft Lottery but will have some options

So that didn’t exactly go according to plan.

The Bulls entered Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery with a 36.6 percent chance of landing a top-3 pick. It didn’t happen. It’s obviously a tough pill to swallow for a franchise that actually won last year’s tiebreaker with the Sacramento Kings, only to see the Kings move up to No. 2 in the draft while the Bulls slipped back to seventh. And where the Bulls weren’t exactly trying to tank this season, myriad injuries to key pieces resulted in a 22-win season and the fourth best odds in a Lottery that for the first time in years was as evened out as ever.

Dreams of Zion Williamson becoming the face of the franchise have been dashed, and Ja Morant won’t be running the point for a team in desperate need of someone with his exact skill set. Barring something unforeseen, the Bulls won’t have the ability to work with and untap the potential of R.J. Barrett, who is seen as the third best prospect in the class.

But all’s not lost. It’s certainly easy to feel that way after knowing what those famous 125 combinations could have brought the Bulls. Now it’s back to the drawing board for the Bulls, who will look to strike Lottery gold at the No. 7 spot for a third consecutive season.

They’ll certainly have their options. The realization that this is a three-player class (really it’s Zion + a two-player class) stings when considering the Bulls won’t be drafing any of them. But the silver lining is that the rest of the prospects who will go in the top-10 are on a pretty even playing field. The Bulls will see players on their big board rise and fall leading up to the draft on June 20, but there’s no clear-cut players in this group of players that they’ll necessarily miss out on.

They’ll have two options when they go on the clock in New York. The first option is addressing their point guard concerns. The Bulls have been an embarrassing carousel of below-average point guards since they traded Derrick Rose in 2016. They’ve had nine players start a game at the point since then: Rajon Rondo, Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, Isaiah Canaan, Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne, Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney and Walt Lemon. Not exactly point guards of the future, even if a few of them were labeled as such.

Those eight players – Canaan started a playoff game against Boston, if you care to jog your nightmare memories – combined to start 246 games the last three seasons. They averaged 28.6 minutes, 10.1 points, 5.4 assists and shot 41.4 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. They also averaged 1.66 free throw attempts per game.

The Bulls have a need at point guard. Like, a really big need. The good news is the post-Ja Morant big board includes Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White. The Bulls are high on Garland, though there’s not much of a collegiate sample size to analyze his game – he missed all but five games with a torn meniscus.

He’d give the Bulls a Kemba Walker-type scoring option at the point, something they’ve been missing dearly since Rose. Where Garland isn’t the kind of playmaker Morant is, he’s got outstanding range and makes defenses work. At the very least he’d keep the ball moving and attract attention to free up guys like Zach LaVine, Otto Porter and Lauri Markkanen on the wings.

White only got better as his freshman season with the Tar Heels went along. He’s a bit out of control in transition but has excellent size at 6-foot-5 and has a promising jump shot that would give the Bulls much-needed help on the perimeter. He also projects as a plus defender, something the Bulls could use in the backcourt to help mask some of LaVine’s shortcomings on that end.

There’s also a bevy of wings clustered in that range where the Bulls will be picking. Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver is probably the best two-way player in the class, and his ability to play downhill and get to the rim plays into what Jim Boylen instituted since taking over for Fred Hoiberg in December.

De’Andre Hunter is the best defensive wing in the class and was marksman from beyond the arc, making nearly 42 percent of his 160 3-point attempts in two seasons at Virginia. He’d be a high-floor, low-ceiling option for the Bulls if they decide not to swing for the fences in a draft class that’s sure to have more than a few busts.

If the Bulls do swing for the fences, they’ll have a few options. Duke’s Cam Reddish had a disappointing freshman season at Duke but is a few months removed from being a higher-rated prospect than Zion Williamson. He’s got all the potential in the world and could find the pace and space of the NBA more optimal for his game.

If the Bulls really want to get wild – and they’ll have that option after hitting on their last two draft picks – they need to consider France’s Sekou Doumbouya. The 6-foot-9 wing, who was born in Guinea, has excellent athleticism and projects as a plus defender at the next level. He’s an absolute project who is more athlete than basketball player, but at this stage in the Bulls’ rebuild he’d have plenty of time to reverse that.

It’s not where the Bulls wanted to be. It’s a punch to the gut that last year’s 22-win campaign didn’t result in better draft positioning. But there are still options out there for the Bulls to improve. Though they won’t have the options they initially desired at the top of the draft, they still have options nonetheless.

The next chapter of the rebuild begins with identifying which of these players grouped together in a fuzzy draft class fit the best and will get the Bulls one step closer to contention.

Even in victory, Bulls know they can be more consistent

USA Today

Even in victory, Bulls know they can be more consistent

The Bulls authored their 106-99 victory over the Grizzlies Wednesday night in quintessential 2019-20 Bulls fashion.

They started scalding hot — scoring 13 of the game’s first 15 points. Then, a lull: They led only 24-20 with 1.5 seconds left in the first quarter before a Ryan Arcidiacono three pushed that advantage to seven.

The bench rode that wave to a 16-4 burst to open the second, and the lead soon ballooned to 50-28 — a 22-point advantage. Ahead 50-35 at the half, the Bulls were 19-for-41 (46.3%) from the field and 8-for-18 (44.4%) from 3-point range. The Grizzlies: 14-for-49 (28.6%) shooting and a mind-bending (for 2019, at least) 0-for-15 on 3-pointers.

For a team in the Bulls that’s six games below .500 and still underperforming relative to expectations, these types of spurts aren’t foreign. Nor are extended stretches of sound, swarming defense that drive opponents to stagnation.

Unfortunately, neither is what came next.

It didn’t happen lineally. There was no pinpointable avalanche of jumpshots or careless turnovers that swung the game. The Grizzlies just chipped away, cutting their deficit to as few as six points in the third quarter, then to one point on the heels of a deliberate, nearly-eight minute long 23-9 fourth-quarter run. When Jae Crowder capped that tear with a 3-pointer to pull the Grizzlies within 88-87 with 4 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the game, the United Center let out a collective sigh — fans and players alike. It was familiar. 

To that point in the second half, the Bulls were shooting 10-for-31 (32.3%) from the field and 2-for-12 (16.7%) from three. The Grizzlies were 18-for-35 (51.4%), 5-for-10 (50%) from distance. In spite of the Bulls never trailing, it felt as though the contest had flipped completely on its head.

“I thought we started the game with the appropriate mindset, got off to a good start,” Jim Boylen said after the game. “What we're hoping to get is more consistency… We at times struggle with that. We play good basketball eight, twelve, fifteen minutes, and then we play five minutes of poor basketball and the game flips. Now, we gotta get back, re-engage, and play good basketball again. We're learning how to do that.”

Of course, the momentum eventually swung back in the Bulls’ favor permanently. Thank Zach LaVine for that. After the timeout that Boylen called following the Crowder three, LaVine was at least partially responsible — via made basket or assist — for the next 13 Bulls points. In the final four-and-a-half minutes of the game, the Bulls canned three triples and missed only one shot.

“We made big plays down the stretch, kept our composure,” LaVine said. “[Early on] we came out and played the right way, and then teams are gonna make their little runs here and there. I think we didn’t do a good job of keeping them down by 20… But we ended the game on a high note and that’s the best thing we can do.”

Forgive a moment of contrivance, but for the Bulls, this game felt microcosmic. The flashes were there of a crisp, movement-based offense and high-intensity, impact defense, but their inability to string 48 consistent minutes together will, to some, sour what was a solid overall performance. LaVine, an offensive revelation of late, rushing to the rescue was befitting, as well. 

It was the same story in Sacramento, where the Bulls led by as many as 19, but needed late-game heroics from LaVine and Lauri Markkanen to cling to a victory over a below-.500 team (missing its two best players). It happened — twice — in Charlotte, the first time resulting in a blown 10-point fourth quarter lead, the second an impossibly infernic comeback win that was as exhilarating as it was unsustainable.

“I don't feel a big-time shift, because I still know that we're in the right place,” LaVine said when asked if he feels the team’s energy or confidence wanes during dry spells, both offensively and defensively. “I just wish we could cut it off sooner. And we could make in-game adjustments better, and I'm not just saying coaching stuff, like, us too.” 

But what’s a team to do, then, when the lid on the basket closes? There are differing schools of thought, though no one in the locker room was resigned to a team-wide fate of perpetual inconsistency. LaVine offered something of a solution.

“I think getting to the foul line has been big, because that'll almost — not bail you out — but you can make an aggressive play,” LaVine, who has attempted 10 or more free throws in his last three games, said. “You still gotta stay aggressive, you still gotta take those shots if they're open. We gotta run our offense because at times it works really well.”

Thad Young was also candid, saying he thinks the Bulls’ current conundrum is in some ways a repercussion of attempting to blend into the break-neck paced, 3-point-happy style of play that’s en vogue in the NBA.

“When you're up 20 it's hard to win games, simply because of the fact that you have certain teams that just don't give up. And then you're trying to control pace as opposed to playing as fast as you were before. And sometimes that hurts you,” Young said. “When you're trying to slow it down, the other team tends to pick it up and gain confidence.

It stands to reason that the Bulls — notorious for generating turnovers and creating offense in transition — would be uniquely impacted by this. Boylen stressed that they’re continuing to learn and grow. 

"Just get back to what we were doing that got us to that point," Young said on the mentality of perservering through those tough stretches. Markkanen, among others, consistently preaches never getting too high or too low, in victory or defeat.

Bigger picture, the offensive metrics haven’t turned around yet (the Bulls remain 29th in offensive rating — 27th since LaVine’s 49-point outing in Charlotte — and a bottom-eight 3-point shooting team), but the win-loss record is beginning to. However, the Bulls are doing it, they’re winning, and that’s worth celebrating, for the time being. It allows the team to hone in on areas of inconsistency from a position of assurance.

“I don't feel a lack of energy or confidence,” LaVine said, on when times get the toughest. 

“We just gotta continue to be aggressive and put the ball in the right players' hands and make plays.”

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine closes out Bulls win vs Grizzlies Bulls Outsiders


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine closes out Bulls win vs Grizzlies Bulls Outsiders

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 106-99 win over the Grizzlies.

0:45 - On the Bulls first win streak of the season

2:20 - On Zach LaVine taking over as the team’s closer

5:25 - Viewer comment on Lauri Markkanen being on his way back; discussion on Lauri minutes

10:45 - On Denzel Valentine contributing in meaningful minutes

13:05 - Viewer comment with a different Portillos giveaway suggestion

13:50 - Viewer comment on Satoransky

16:20 - Thoughts on Bulls very blue city edition jerseys

18:30 - Our nightly ‘John makes Big Dave laugh really hard’ moment

19:25 - Viewer comment on concerns over Coby White

21:20 - Viewer comment on Matt breaking multiple mics

22:30 - Viewer comment on Dunn’s defense vs LaVine’s offense

24:15 - On Lebron James not getting called for an obvious travel

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders


Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.