Of course the Bulls moved up in the draft lottery for the first time since winning the right to draft Derrick Rose in 2008.
Of course Artūras Karnišovas knew the Bulls broke “recent tradition” by not staying in the pre-draft lottery slot of 7.
If there’s one takeaway from Thursday’s let-the-good-times-roll vibe of cashing in 8.5 percent odds to move to No. 4 in the Oct. 16 NBA draft, it’s that the positive momentum started by Karnišovas’ hire as executive vice president of basketball operations continued.
It would be hyperbolic to say that Karnisovas can see the future, even if, as the Bulls’ virtual representative, he laughingly admitted to having a 15-second advantage over the TV broadcast delay and thus knew the franchise’s good fortune first.
But make no mistake. Speaking on a Zoom call with reporters following the Bulls’ breaking their three-year stranglehold on the seventh pick, Karnisovas confidently spoke about what the opportunity means.
“We know that moving up from 7 to 4 is a huge deal for our organization and for the city of Chicago and the fans of the Chicago Bulls. So we’re extremely happy,” Karnisovas said. “We’re going to select a player that’s going to help us next year and in the future for sure.
“Obviously, I’ve never picked that high as well. So I’ll let it always play out. We’re doing a bunch of rankings. By the time the draft comes, we’ll have our draft board and a lot of opinions. Then minimize the noise and pick the player that’s best available on the board. So that’s going to be the strategy. A bunch of things happen in the draft. You’re going to move up. You’re going to move down. Who knows? There’s going to be a lot of conversations with other teams. It’s an exciting time.”
Karnišovas worked with Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and their scouting staff to produce plenty of draft hits in recent years, including Nikola Jokić in the second round. Denver’s highest pick during Karnišovas’ tenure there was No. 7, twice. In 2017, Denver hit on Jamal Murray, but missed on Emmanuel Mudiay in 2015.
Picking at No. 4 opens myriad options, including trade possibilities. On paper, the Bulls’ biggest needs are a true point guard and wing- and big-man depth.
“I don’t think you address needs at the 4. You get the best talent,” Karnišovas said. “That’s what we’re going to be looking for with the highest upside player.”
And while some scouts call this a weaker draft and all league types agree the process will be made more challenging by COVID-19 making the combine a virtual one, Karnišovas sees only opportunity.
“I don’t think it will be better or worse,” Karnišovas said of the process. “I think there are opportunities there and we’re going to take advantage of them. There’s going to be variations of opinion. That creates opportunity. That’s the way I’m looking at it.”
Karnišovas, new general manager Marc Eversley, new vice president of player personnel Pat Connelly, new assistant general manager J.J. Polk and holdovers from the previous regime have already been hard at work. They’ve held Zoom calls with prospects and met consistently to start forming their draft board.
Karnišovas’ typical scouting philosophy of seeing a player at least twice in live game action got disrupted when COVID-19 canceled conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament. He’ll lean on not only his experience and expertise, but those around him.
While there appears to be little consensus atop draft boards this year, Karnišovas said the difference of opinions isn’t just from team to team but within the Bulls’ own room. That healthy debate then leads to a consensus about a week before the draft. The Bulls also own the No. 44 pick in the second round.
Beyond Jokić, the Nuggets scored a second-round steal in guard Monte Morris.
“The way I approach the draft is there’s a ton of opportunities. You’re going to take 100 calls and possibly nothing is going to happen and you’re going to stay at 4 and 44,” Karnišovas said. “It’s an exciting time to make your organization better that night.”