The Bulls want to upgrade at point guard. In fact, they need to upgrade at point guard. John Paxson made that known in February when discussing the Bulls trading for Otto Porter. He made that known in April at the team’s end-of-the-year press conference. He made it known again in May after the Bulls slipped to 7 on Lottery night.
This hasn’t been just motivation through the media to light a fire under Kris Dunn or posturing from the front office to make a point guard-needy team jump the Bulls on draft night. Paxson has been clear for months that, one year after saying he felt “really good” about Dunn and Cam Payne on the depth chart, the point guard position needs upgrading.
He's not wrong. And it also shouldn’t matter on Thursday night when the Bulls go on the clock.
Filling perceived positional needs should be the least of the their concerns heading into the draft. The Bulls need an upgrade at point guard. That much is true. Here’s what else is true: The Bulls won 22 games last season, had the second worst home net rating in the last 20 years and at one point in late March, played six former G-League players a total of 133 minutes in an NBA regular season game. The Bulls, by the way, lost that game by 23 points. It was only their eighth worst home loss, looking decent compared to the losses of 25, 25, 28, 29, 31, 39 and 56 they suffered at different points in the season.
Do you know what the Bulls need? Good basketball players.
Wayne Selden averaged 22.9 minutes. Ryan Arcidiacono averaged 24.2 minutes. Walt Lemon Jr. finished his season with the Windy City Bulls on March 27 and led the Chicago Bulls in scoring three days later. They’re all great stories of persistence. They’re also all part of a recipe that resulted in 22 wins and a lost season.
There’s no doubt injuries played a part. Only the Cavaliers lost more games to injury than the Bulls last season, and the post-Otto Porter trade Bulls were trending in the right direction with a promising stretch in February. But this team has so far to go until they’re in contention even for a playoff spot in a weak East that “team needs” can’t be part of the discussion.
To Paxson’s and Gar Forman’s credit, it hasn’t come into play the last two drafts. The Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen in 2017 despite having Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis entrenched at power forward. In 2018, they opted for Wendell Carter Jr. despite having Robin Lopez under contract and Cris Felicio committed for three more seasons. Neither of those picks were needs at the time. Had the Bulls drafted for need, they’d probably have Dennis Smith Jr. and Mikal Bridges right now.
Now isn’t the time to change course.
The Bulls need to stay true to their draft board and, in a class where picks 4 through 10 are pretty much on an even playing field, draft for upside. Remember, the Bulls are still playing for 2021. It’s not what fans want to hear about 49 combined wins the last two seasons, but it’s the reality of where they are. Drafting a player they believe will help them most down the line – and not necessarily in October 2019 – has to be not only a priority, but the only line of thinking.
Perhaps Paxson and Forman have North Carolina guard Coby White high on their draft board. Maybe Darius Garland, who they’ve been enamored with for quite some time, is worth moving up and sacrificing future assets. But if not, there’s no use in a short-term fix to sacrifice long-term gains.
It’s OK if the Bulls’ point guard situation isn’t resolved when the sun rises Friday morning.
This is also the deepest free agency class at point guard in some time. If the Bulls want to upgrade there for a short-term fix in free agency, go for it. Just don’t sacrifice the 7th pick to round out your starting lineup. It may seem counter-productive to draft a reserve in the top half of the Lottery, but it’s actually a good problem for the Bulls to have considering the strength of their 2 through 5 positions.
Maybe it really is Texas center Jaxson Hayes. Perhaps Cam Reddish's woeful freshman season at Duke hasn't scared off the Bulls. Maybe Sekou Doumbouya looks like a player who can improve the Bulls' defense and maybe contribute on the other end.
Outside of Zion Williamson, no player in this year’s Lottery is going to move the needle in Year 1. You’re drafting for 5-6 years down the line, not 5-6 months down the line.
Find the most talented prospect on your board at No. 7, consider how he’ll fit in to the structure, dynamic and schemes of the Bulls and figure out where his upside lies based on those factors. It’s all that should matter on draft night.