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.