Come the Nov. 18 NBA Draft, will the Bulls try and trade up? Slide back? Stay put at No. 4, and see how the chips fall?
No one seems to know for sure. New executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas and his trusty cohorts are playing matters close to the vest -- as has become a theme early in his tenure.
Still, rumors of all stripes have billowed and a number of intriguing trade options have emerged from fans and experts across the NBA universe. One, from The Athletic’s John Hollinger, piqued our interest, as well as our friends from the Bay.
The deal: The Bulls ship Wendell Carter Jr. and the No. 4 pick to the Golden State Warriors for Kevon Looney and the No. 2 pick. There’s logic to the swap. The Warriors fill a hole at the center spot, and in Hollinger’s scenario, nab point guard help with Tyrese Haliburton at No. 4. The Bulls slide up two spots, take LaMelo Ball -- the deal only works if Karnišovas and Co. see building-block potential in Ball -- and get a stopgap center to fill the void while they continue to retool the roster.
For the Warriors, it’s a massive win. But it’s ultimately, in this writer’s estimation, a wince-worthy move from the Bulls’ perspective.
Yes, due to injury, Carter has only taken the floor for 87 of a possible 147 games after two NBA seasons. He fouls too much. And despite his defensive impact being supported by both the eye-test and numbers, the ancillary components of his game (see: shooting, passing) that would vault him to the next level have not yet bloomed.
Still, it’s not nearly time for the Bulls to pull the plug on their promising young big -- and especially not to slide up two spots in an uncertain draft.
Centers of Carter’s skill set are a rare breed. His sophomore season saw steps back in most every shot-blocking metric, but playing in a system that demanded persistent blitzing, he showed an improved aptitude for sliding his feet on the perimeter and advanced IQ rotating to fill gaps. As the NBA continues to speed up and size down, both attributes are invaluable at the center spot. And he’s still improving.
Is he undersized? At 6-foot-9… Yeah, a bit. But his 7-5 wingspan and smarts compensate. According to Cleaning the Glass, which factors out garbage time, the Bulls’ defense was 5.3 points per 100 possessions better (85th percentile for his position) and held opponents to an effective field goal percentage 2.9 points lower (88th percentile) with Carter on the floor rather than off of it in 2019-20. His presence impacted opponents’ rim frequency and accuracy at 88th and 74th percentile rates. And, on top of it all, he nearly averaged a double-double (11.3 points, 9.8 rebounds) last year, with a gaudy 10.7% offensive rebounding rate (79th percentile) to boot.
Moreover, the Bulls owe it to themselves -- and Carter -- to give him at least one more season, empowered under a new coaching staff, to realize his offensive potential. Especially given Billy Donovan's acumen for working with slick-passing, defensive-minded centers in the past in Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Steven Adams.
Seriously, how many centers can dribble and pass like this?
Or make this type of incisive, borderline artistic read on the short roll?
There’s something seriously untapped there. Carter’s touches basically stagnated between his first and second seasons, increasing from 39.8 in 2018-19 to just 40.5 per game (7th on the team) in 2019-20.
And though his 41.3 percent 3-point shooting from his lone season at Duke hasn’t translated to the next level (he’s hit 19.7 percent of 61 total attempts in the NBA), he also hasn’t yet been fully empowered to take long-range looks. There are some indicators (solid form, a 76.1 percent career free-throw mark) that suggest that wrinkle can one day be added to his game.
We should, of course, mention that vaulting into the top two of any draft is an appealing proposition. But the Bulls are well-positioned at No. 4. Any of the popular names (outside of the consensus top three) that have been linked to the team in recent weeks -- Deni Avdija, Tyrese Haliburton, Isaac Okoro, Killian Hayes, you name it -- can step in and help push the rebuild forward without needing to part with one of the team’s most promising pieces.
All of the above applies across draft-day trade proposals that involve Carter. But, in reference to the Warriors idea, specifically: Looney has certainly had productive moments in his young career. But he brings injury concerns of his own, and doesn’t have nearly the upside of Carter.
Again, if Karnišovas sees Ball -- or any particular prospect -- as the Bulls’ potential savior, and trading up is the only way to secure him, then so be it. He’s a smarter man than I. Forgive a bit of bullishness on the Bulls’ starting center, but this feels like a draft day trade Chicago should avoid.