Another year, another loss and another seventh overall pick.
The Bulls were smack dab in the middle of Tuesday night’s NBA Draft mayhem that saw teams with the 7th, 8th and 11th best odds jump into the top-3 with the New York Knicks. The New Orleans Pelicans earned the first overall pick and the rights to Zion Williamson with just a 6 percent chance. The Memphis Grizzlies had the same odds and moved into the second slot, while the Knicks earned the third pick and the Lakers moved up from No. 11 to 4.
That meant the Bulls, who were slotted with the fourth best odds entering the night, were bumped three spots and will draft in the No. 7 spot a third consecutive year.
It was the same result as a year ago but in a different, more crushing capacity. Last season the Bulls entered Lottery night with the sixth best odds and only moved back one spot. But the Sacramento Kings, who shared the same odds with the Bulls, moved up four spots to No. 2 after initially losing a tiebreaker with Chicago. Had the Bulls lost the tiebreaker, ironically, they would have earned the second pick.
So the Bulls will pick at No. 7 once again after selecting Lauri Markkanen in 2017 as part of the draft-day trade involving Jimmy Butler, and Wendell Carter Jr. in 2018. While the Bulls have had success picking that far down in the draft each of the last two seasons, VP John Paxson admitted his disappointment at striking out once again.
“You always come into a situation like this hoping, and we got lucky years ago. It didn’t work out. But I’m very confident. I say this all the time. We got the seventh pick this year. We’re confident we will get a player we can add,” Paxson said. “Now obviously in this draft there’s a generational type of guy and New Orleans is better off for it, but this is about building a team and I’m always confident we’re going to find value where we draft.”
They’re not the ones they wanted, but at No. 7 the Bulls will have options. Williamson, Murray State point guard Ja Morant and Duke’s R.J. Barrett will certainly be off the board – likely in the top 3 picks – but picks 4 through 14 are cluttered and could mean someone the Bulls value higher than No. 7 falls to them at that spot.
Names include, but this early in the process are certainly not limited to, Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver, Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter and North Carolina point guard Coby White. It’s considered a weak draft class after Williamson, which is why falling to No. 7 stung more than it did perhaps a year ago.
But Paxson and his staff will now begin the process of identifying targets that they both like as fits in Chicago and believe will be there when they go on the clock.
“I’m not going to give away where we’ve slotted guys but we’ve gone on our board already and there’s more than seven (players) there that we like. I know that we’ll, again, we now get to go through the process of bringing guys in for workouts, getting to know them a little bit better, and that’s what this is all about. That’s the fun part for us and we’ll get at that right away.
“We do tier guys but now we have to get in to the process of getting to see them and know them and really dissect them. Our scouting department does a terrific job. It’s how we get to the point where we think we know who is in that next group. So we’ll just get to work now and we’ll get to have a lot of these young men into our building, get to know them. We’ll study them deeply and we’ll go from there.”
Whereas the pick would have been made for the Bulls had they received one of the top three picks – Williamson, Morant and Barrett are the consensus top-3 picks – the Bulls now may be able to steer away from simply taking the best player available. With so much parity in the range where the Bulls will be drafting, it’s possible they choose to address the point guard need that Paxson has publicly discussed.
It could open the door to the Bulls going after one of Garland or White, though Phoenix looming at No. 6 and also being in need of a point guard could muddy that situation. Still, Paxson didn’t denounce the possibility of going after a certain target if he addressed a need.
“I think if you’re looking at comparable guys in a tier, sometimes need takes precedent over (best player available),” Paxson said. “And I’ve talked to our entire group about keeping an open mind on things like that this year. There’s other things you can do with picks to get better. You can trade them, you can do a lot of different things. So again, now that we know where we’re at, thankful to know and we’ll get to work trying to find a way to make best use of it.”
Paxson put on a brave face when discussing the state of the rebuild, which just became a lot more difficult without the help of Williamson or Morant. The Bulls clearly still feel confident in the core group they have with Zach LaVine, Otto Porter, Markkanen and Carter.
“Who knows?” Paxson responded when asked if this pushes back the team’s rebuild timeline. “I do know that we made a trade at the trade deadline last year for Otto Porter. We feel that at the 2, 3, 4, 5 spot we’re really solid, and again, I’m confident we’ll find a player in this draft that fits us and suits us.
“We’re pretty disappointed, too, but there’s luck involved. We didn’t have the luck tonight. I stay committed, along with my staff, to get this right. Again, we’re going to add another good player in this draft, we’re gonna go out and try to spend some money in free agency, we’re gonna add some vets that can help our team."