The dust has settled on a disappointing night at the NBA Draft Lottery in which the Bulls fell three spots to No. 7. Assuming they don’t move the pick, they’ll draft in the same slot for the third consecutive offseason, hoping lightning will strike a third time after they hit on Lauri Markkanen in 2017 and Wendell Carter Jr. in 2018.
Their situation this time around is a little different. Though they won just 22 games last season – in large part because of significant injuries to seven core players – the foundation is in place for the Bulls to be selective about who they draft.
In 2017, Markkanen was the best player available and the Bulls had added a shooting guard in Zach LaVine and a point guard in Kris Dunn in the Jimmy Butler deal. They opted for Carter in 2018, who was also seen as the top prospect on the board in what many considered a six-player draft (Ayton, Bagley, Doncic, Young, Jackson, Bamba). The Bulls had Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis when they took Markkanen, and Robin Lopez was coming off a career year in 2018 when they drafted Carter.
But the rebuild is beginning to take shape – as difficult as that may be to believe – and the Bulls have what they believe are foundation pieces at 2 (LaVine), 3 (Otto Porter), 4 (Markkanen) and 5 (Carter). Granted, the Bulls have one of the shallowest and worst benches in the NBA, so drafting a player at 7 who begins his career as a reserve wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Still, VP John Paxson addressed the point guard situation – as he did in April, saying the Bulls needed to get better at the position – and admitted the organization may not take the same approach in 2019 as they have in years’ past.
If that’s the case, there are two point guards who could be available when the Bulls go on the clock on June 20th in Brooklyn.
Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland enters draft season as one of the true enigmas in the class. A five-star prospect rated by ESPN as the 16th best prospect – ahead of Duke’s Tre Jones and North Carolina’s Coby White – Garland suffered a torn left meniscus in November and missed all but five games before declaring for the NBA Draft.
The injury won’t affect his draft stock and there’s nothing to suggest he’s injury-prone – something all Bulls fans want to know when asking about a point guard and his knees.
Garland is a point guard in name but can also play off the ball. He’s a terrific shooter both from beyond the arc and on pull-up jumpers. He’s a smart player in pick-and-roll action and attacks the basket well. He’s drawn comparisons from this author to Kemba Walker given the skill set listed above.
Zach LaVine had the ball in his hands plenty last season – more out of necessity than strategy – and if the Bulls choose to go that route again in 2020, Garland is capable of playing from the wing without the ball.
Like any young point guard, Garland will need to improve his decision making and work through an offense rather than trying to take over too much, especially at the pro level. His scorer’s mentality got him into trouble at times in his brief Vanderbilt career but he has all the makings of a point guard in today’s NBA. Consider the four point guards remaining in the NBA Playoffs – Curry, Lillard, Lowry and Bledsoe, all of whom averaged at least 1.6 triples per game in the regular season.
The issue with the Bulls picking seventh, of course, is that other teams are aware of the skill set Garland possesses. Just because he played five games doesn’t mean NBA scouts haven’t known about him for years. He’s not going to sneak up on any draft boards simply because he missed essentially his entire freshman season.
He’s the consensus No. 2 point guard in the class behind Ja Morant at this point in the pre-draft process. Assuming Zion Williamson, Morant and R.J. Barrett go 1-2-3, the Lakers at No. 4 and Suns at No. 6 could certainly be landing spots for Garland. The former may move on from Lonzo Ball in the offseason, while the latter has the NBA’s worst need for stability at the point and hasn’t drafted one in the first round since Tyler Ennis in 2014.
If Garland is off the board – for now that seems likely – and the Bulls stay at No. 7, they could shift their attention to North Carolina’s Coby White. He ran the point for the Tar Heels but at 6-foot-5 is more of a combo guard with a streaky outside shot and ability to run in transition.
North Carolina ran early and often, and White usually led that charge, but he committed turnovers on 19.1% of his transition possessions – compared to just 15% in halfcourt sets. White was an excellent jump shooter and finished well around the rim, averaging 1.286 points per possession on those attempts – for reference, Jamal Murray averaged 1.284 PPP around the rim during his freshman season at Kentucky.
The Bulls were among the slowest teams in basketball under Jim Boylen, but White would give them an opportunity to run. He’s got off-ball potential like Garland, too, giving the Bulls more options as an attacking offense. His pick-and-roll numbers left plenty to be desired – 0.756 points on 127 possessions, 52nd percentile – but at 18 years old he’s got room and time to improve.
There’s a good chance White isn’t technically the best prospect available when the Bulls go on the clock at No. 7. Guys like Jarrett Culver or De’Andre Hunter showed more in their freshman seasons and project as solid wing contributors. But again, this draft could be different for the Bulls. With four positions locked down, they could opt to go away from their past strategy and go grab a player at a position of need. Plus, the players in the 4-10 range are pretty clumped together at this stage. It wouldn’t be all that big of a reach, especially at No. 7 when the odds of finding a star are more limited.