Bulls

Draft lessons from Karnišovas, Eversley’s past NBA stops

Bulls

The NBA draft is coming.

It’s unclear exactly when, as word trickled out Tuesday night that it will be pushed back from its Oct. 16 date. It’s unclear exactly how, as plans for a virtual combine continue to take shape.

But at some point, it’s coming. And for the Bulls, a new managerial regime will place its first personnel fingerprints on the roster in the forms of the No. 4 and No. 44 overall picks.

That is, unless Artūras Karnišovas, Marc Eversley and company decide to trade up. Or trade down. Or trade out. The possibilities are endless. Even for two executives in Karnišovas and Eversley who possess draft experience working with five combined franchises in various roles, this year’s process is uncharted territory. 

So, too, are the positions each inhabit with the Bulls. No matter how big or small a voice Karnišovas held in Denver — first as assistant GM, and later GM — in each of its draft decisions, Tim Connelly sat above him on the masthead. Same for Eversley, who reported first to Bryan Colangelo, and then Elton Brand, in Philadelphia.

Nevertheless, those teams’ drafts when both executives worked there are worth analyzing. Particularly since it’s been widely reported that Karnišovas was instrumental in the Nuggets landing Nikola Jokić, and that Eversley was high on both Matisse Thybulle (thumbs up) and Markelle Fultz (thumbs down) as a key voice in the predraft process.

 

Beyond the banner moves, it's admittedly difficult to peg exactly how much a hand either had in their teams’ draft decisions on a case-by-case basis. Especially in Denver, where the collaborative front-office environment under Connelly is well-documented

But a close examination of the two franchise’s overall records is at least somewhat illustrative of the divergent backgrounds from which each hails. Ask Karnišovas, and that dynamic is an advantageous one for the Bulls.

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As for recurrent themes? For both, big swings and trades in every direction abound. On the Nuggets side, an unabashed commitment to the “best talent available” approach Karnišovas preached on lottery night does too.

With that said, here’s how it all breaks down:

Denver Nuggets

2014 — Karnišovas hired as assistant GM the previous offseason

The Haul: Jusuf Nurkić (No. 16 overall), Gary Harris (No. 19), Nikola Jokić (No. 41), Arron Afflalo (via trade)

Transactions: 

  • Morning of: Traded the No. 56 overall pick (which became Devyn Marble) and Evan Fournier to the Orlando Magic for Afflalo 
  • Draft night: Traded the rights of Doug McDermott (No. 11) to the Bulls for the rights of Nurkić and Harris

The Assessment: Bulls fans are familiar with the McDermott trade. In a savvy move, the Nuggets turned a mid-lottery pick into two selections just outside of the top 14, and snagged a pair of high-upside prospects to bolster their depth at the outset of a rebuild. Harris’ first six seasons have been lined with injuries — and some shooting regression —  but he’s been a starter on a competitive-to-contending team for most of his career, and is making a major impact in the 2020 playoffs as we speak. After Nikola Jokić’s emergence, Nurkić left town in a 2017 trade with the Portland Trail Blazers that landed current backup center Mason Plumlee — a deal Denver lost — but the front office’s evaluation of Nurkić as a talent has been justified. And there was no opportunity cost in parting with McDermott, who’s on his fifth team in seven seasons. An A+ move.

The Afflalo deal looked great in the moment — swapping a late second-rounder and a relative unknown in Fournier for a guy that had just averaged 18.2 points and shot 42.7 percent from 3 seemed a slam dunk — but after the Nuggets limped out of the gates to start the 2014-15 season, Afflalo became the center of a deal with the Trail Blazers that brought Will Barton to Denver. There’s a win, even if Fournier has blossomed into an above-average starter in Orlando.

And the Jokić pick is, of course, a home run. One of the better late-draft finds in recent memory.

The Lesson: That the Nuggets selected Jokić 25 picks after taking Nurkić, and drafted Harris hours after netting Afflalo, proves Karnišovas speaks from experience when he talks about taking the “best talent available” for the Bulls at No. 4, regardless of roster makeup. He said as much in a recent interview with Bulls.com:

“From experience, even in the past when we (in Denver) selected Nikola (Jokić) or selected Nurk (Jusuf Nurkić) there were six or seven bigs on our roster,” he told Sam Smith. “The roster balance you can sort that out. You go after talent in that position.”

 

2015

The Haul: Emmanuel Mudiay (No. 7 overall), Nikola Radičević (No. 57)

Transactions: N/A

The Assessment: Mudiay proved a whiff at No. 7 overall, which is tied for the highest position the Nuggets picked during Karnišovas’ tenure. The once highly-touted lead guard lasted two-and-a-half seasons in Denver before losing the franchise’s point guard of the future spot to 2016 draftee Jamal Murray and being shipped to the New York Knicks in 2018. He’s now a viable reserve with the Utah Jazz.

Radičević, a draft-and-stash play, participated in Summer League for the Nuggets in 2017, but has yet to make it all the way over to the NBA.

The Lesson: Mudiay was a top-five recruit coming out of high school, but opted to forego college ball for a year playing in China, presumably due to NCAA eligibility issues. A big-swing prospect with a number of red flags (injuries overseas, subpar 3-point and free-throw shooting, etc.) but drafted for his high ceiling. Again, it’s impossible to know exactly how much a role Karnišovas had in these decisions — or how much of the philosophy behind them he’ll employ moving forward — but echoes of the “best talent available” approach continue to ring throughout the organization in which he spent a large chunk of his professional career.

2016

The Haul: Jamal Murray (No. 7), Juan Hernangómez (No. 15), Malik Beasley (No. 19), Petr Cornelie (No. 53) 

Transactions:

  • Traded the draft rights to Daniel Hamilton (No. 56) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for cash considerations (oh no)

The Assessment: The Nuggets nailed the Murray pick. If it wasn’t evident from his breakout third and (to a lesser extent) fourth seasons, his torrid play in the 2020 playoffs cinches it.

Hernangómez and Beasley at one time looked to figure prominently into Denver’s future, but, unable to sustainably break through the Nuggets’ overflowing rotation, exited stage left at the 2020 deadline as part of the famed 12-player trade centered around Clint Capela and Robert Covington. Cornelie marks another un-utilized draft-and-stash snag. No busts there, necessarily, but no gold-strikes either.

The Lesson: When Karnišovas said on Aug. 21 that he was happy to “break recent tradition” by ascending out of the Bulls’ pre-lottery No. 7 slot, he spoke from the heart. The Nuggets made good on their second No. 7 overall selection in as many years with Murray in 2016, and, again, ignored any potential roster balance concerns with respect to Mudiay. Then, after Murray established himself, the Nuggets spared no expense to extend him long-term. Whatever you think of the contract itself — five years, $170 million — the move was in keeping with the Nuggets’ apparent ‘Identify → Develop → Retain’ approach to talent accrual and team building. Jokić’s trajectory does too.

 

2017 — Karnišovas promoted to GM eight days before draft

The Haul: Tyler Lydon (No. 24), Vlatko Čančar (No. 49), Monte Morris (No. 51), Trey Lyles (via trade)

Transactions:

  • Traded the draft rights to Donovan Mitchell (No. 13) to the Utah Jazz for Trey Lyles and the draft rights to Tyler Lydon (No. 24)

The Assessment: The same philosophy that helped the Nuggets win the 2014 draft bit them in 2017. Trading out of the chance to take Mitchell looks ugly in retrospect, especially given the lackluster return. Both Lydon and Lyles were gone from Denver within two seasons. A value assessment that misfired. 

The bright side: A bunch of other teams missed on Mitchell too, and Monte Morris marks another solid second-round find. Čančar, now 23, spent two seasons in Spain after being drafted before oscillating between the G League and a marginal role with the Nuggets in 2019-20. Hard to muster a take.

The Lesson: The draft is hard. First-round trade-backs were something of a pattern in Denver during Karnišovas’ time there, but probably not enough from which to take anything meaningful away.

2018

The Haul: Michael Porter Jr. (No. 14), Jarred Vanderbilt (No. 41), Thomas Welsh (No. 58)

Transactions:

  • Traded the rights of Justin Jackson (No. 43) and a 2019 second-round pick to the Orlando Magic for the rights to Jarred Vanderbilt (No. 41)

The Assessment: The full jury is still out on Porter who, even setting aside persistent injury questions, has acres of room to improve defensively and as a playmaker for others. But, man, are the scoring flashes there, and packaged along with elite athleticism and positional size to boot. Many teams — including the Bulls — were justifiably spooked by his medical history coming out of Missouri, but wherever his career goes from here he’s proven a worthy swing at No. 14. No one ever doubted he was a top-five talent.

Vanderbilt, meanwhile, played 110 total minutes for the Nuggets before also being included in the aforementioned 12-player trade at the 2020 deadline.

The Lesson: Best. Talent. Available. That’s obviously mostly a reference to Porter, but Vanderbilt, too, qualifies as a highly-lauded high school prospect with tantalizing tools whose stock slipped due to injury concerns in his freshman year at a notorious program (in his case, Kentucky). The Nuggets front office wasn’t afraid to push a few chips forward to take their swing.

2019

The Haul: Bol Bol (No. 44)

Transactions:

  • Traded a 2022 second-round pick (less favorable of 76ers/Nuggets) and cash to the Miami Heat for the rights of Bol Bol No. 44

The Assessment: The Nuggets didn’t own any picks in the 2019 draft, but traded into Miami’s second-round slot to nab the unicorn-ish Bol Bol out of Oregon. NBA bubble scrimmage play hype has melted over time, but the combination of offensive creation, ball handling, outside shooting and shot blocking potential he’s already displayed — and at 7-foot-2! — makes this another savvy second-round snag.

The Lesson: Karnišovas also said on lottery night to not overlook the No. 44 overall pick the Bulls own in the 2020 draft. Believe him. One thing that feels safe to take away from the Nuggets’ draft patterns is that they highly coveted bites at the apple in the second round during Karnišovas’ time there — enough to trade up/into the 40s multiple times. Expect that philosophy to carry over.

 

Philadelphia 76ers

2016 — Eversley hired just under two months before draft

The Haul: Ben Simmons (No. 1), Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot (No. 24), Furkan Korkmaz (No. 26)

The Assessment: Simmons was a no-brainer at No. 1 overall, and for all his oft-discussed faults, he’s proven to be well worth it — in the elite tier of the league’s perimeter defenders, a fastbreak terror and a generally awesome basketball player. Luwawu-Cabarrot seems to have found his footing in Brooklyn, but never caught on in Philadelphia. Korkmaz, as far as this Bulls writer is concerned, is a walking, breathing ball of molten magma.

The Lesson: Sam Hinkie officially resigned from his position atop the 76ers basketball operations tree on April 6, 2016. Bryan Colangelo was installed in his place within days, and Eversley was hired on May 5. The draft was on June 23. This exercise is already precarious enough; we’re not going to read too much into this draft, though it was a general success.

2017

The Haul: Markelle Fultz (No. 1), Jonah Bolden (No. 36), Mathias Lessort (No. 50)

Transactions:

  • Predraft: Traded the No. 3 overall pick (which turned into Jayson Tatum) and a protected 2018 first-round pick (conveyed as No. 14 overall in 2019) to the Boston Celtics for the No. 1 overall pick

The Assessment: Valuing Fultz over Tatum was a brutal misfire — especially given that it cost the 76ers a future first-rounder too. It’s perhaps the single decision most central to the implosion of The Process.

Bolden, meanwhile, spent 2017-18 overseas, looked like a serviceable deep-bench energy big for Philly in 2018-19, and was waived midway through the 2019-20 season. He signed a 10-day contract with Phoenix in February that wasn’t prolonged. Lessort, now 24, remains overseas.

The Lesson: This one, we can hold Eversley’s feet to the fire a tad. He reportedly lobbied for the organization to move up and snag Fultz, a saga that ended with Fultz being traded to the Orlando Magic for Jonathan Simmons (who’s 2019-20 season consisted of five G League appearances for the San Antonio Spurs’ affiliate) and a few second-round picks. The Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler acquisitions, both of which backfired in their own way, dovetailed from that miss as the 76ers sought perimeter creation to augment Simmons and Joel Embiid.

At the very least, though, the 76ers were unafraid to act on conviction in the context of predraft/draft-day trades. That’s worth noting.

2018

The Haul: Zhaire Smith (No. 16), Landry Shamet (No. 26), Shake Milton (No. 54)

Transactions:

  • Traded the draft rights to Mikal Bridges (No. 10 overall) to the Phoenix Suns for the rights to Zhaire Smith (No. 16 overall) and a 2021 first-round pick (originally from MIA)
  • Traded the draft rights of Ray Spalding (No. 56) and Kostas Antetokounmpo (No. 60) to the Dallas Mavericks for the rights of Shake Milton (No. 54)

The Assessment: The Bridges-Smith swap represents another suspect move. Bridges has turned into a prototypical 3-and-D wing with the Suns and is only getting better, while Smith has appeared in 13 games (11 minutes per) for Philadelphia over the course of his two professional seasons. That 2021 draft choice went to the Los Angeles Clippers in the deal that netted Tobias Harris. So did Landry Shamet, who the team shrewdly snagged with the No. 26 overall pick in this draft. 

 

Milton, though, did break out in 2019-20, seizing a starting role at the point guard spot before season’s end. He canned 43% of 135 3-point attempts on the year, and averaged 16.5 points in ten games between the All-Star break and the league suspending play due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A certified steal.

The Lesson: The. Draft. Is. Hard. And Philly makes a lot of trades (more to come on that front).

2019

The Haul: Matisse Thybulle (No. 20), Marial Shayok (No. 54)

Transactions:

  • Traded the draft rights to Ty Jerome (No. 24 overall) and Carsen Edwards (No. 33 overall) to the Boston Celtics for the rights to Matisse Thybulle (No. 20 overall)

The Assessment: In trading up for Thybulle, the 76ers got the best of Boston this time around — albeit on a smaller scale. The 23-year-old from Washington flashed All-Defense potential in Year 1, and shot a surprisingly solid 35.7 percent from 3 on low volume. He’s legit.

The Lesson: Just as Eversley was reported to have been instrumental in trading up for Fultz, he is reported to have been enamored with Thybulle. There’s a notch in his belt.

Second-Round Smorgasbord

In Eversley’s four-year run in the 76ers front office, the organization had 12 opportunities to select in the second round, all from 2017 - 2019. They traded out of nine of them. 

That marks a stark contrast from the Nuggets section but, really, it’s hard to take much of anything away from the flurry of moves, given that there are only 15 roster spots available to NBA clubs, and a handful of the picks were byproducts of the Hinkie era. Twelve second-rounders across three drafts is just ludicrous.

Nevertheless, here’s a table logging the 76ers history with second-rounders while Eversley worked there. Do with the information what you will.

Year

Pick

Player Selected

Traded?

Acquired

2017

No. 36

Jonah Bolden

Retained

n/a

2017

No. 39

Jawun Evans

To LAC

Cash

2017

No. 46

Sterling Brown

To MIL

Cash

2017

No. 50

Mathias Lessort

Retained (overseas)

n/a

2018

No. 38*

Khyri Thomas

To DET

2021 + 2023 2nd round picks

2018

No. 39*

Isaac Bonga

To LAL

2019 2nd round pick; Cash

2018

No. 56

Ray Spalding

To DAL

Shake Milton

2018

No. 60

Kostas Antetokounmpo

To DAL

Shake Milton

2019

No. 33

Carsen Edwards

To BOS

Matisse Thybulle

2019

No. 34**

Bruno Fernando

To ATL

Jordan Bone***; 2020 + 2023 2nd round picks

2019

No. 42*

Admiral Schofield

To WAS

Cash

2019

No. 54

Marial Shayok

Retained

n/a

* = Originally acquired by Sam Hinkine

** = Acquired in 2018 trade from LAL in exchange for Bonga

*** = Flipped for a 2024 second-round pick (+ cash) two days later

NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson contributed