NBA Draft Lottery

Why Jarrett Culver should be an option for the Bulls at No. 7

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USA TODAY

Why Jarrett Culver should be an option for the Bulls at No. 7

The phrase “getting downhill” became somewhat of a buzzword during Jim Bolyen’s first year at the helm. It may not have elicited the same reactions as his “soul and spirit” comments did, but the Bulls had clear instruction to blitz defenses by getting to spots and attacking the basket. The result was the Bulls leading the NBA in drives per game after Dec. 3, when Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg. They went from 41.9 last season, to 43.3 under Hoiberg this past season to a whopping 55.9 under Boylen.

Personnel certainly played a part, as Kris Dunn averaged 11.7 drives and played just two games for Hoiberg, while an aggressive Lauri Markkanen in February also helped the cause. No matter how you slice it, Boylen likes his guys attacking the rim. The hope is that it eventually leads to kickouts and open 3-pointers, but the Bulls aren’t quite there yet.

They led the NBA in drives per game but were just 15th in points percentage, netting points on just 55.7% of drives (15th best). Despite their pass percentage being 18th in the NBA (they passed after drives 36.4% of the time) they were 28th in assist percentage, with a drive resulting in an assist just 8.3% of the time.

One could surmise that the Bulls need shooters. Instead, we’ll argue today that they should continue to play the drives game. That means going after Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The sophomore put together an outstanding year in Lubbock, Tex., averaging 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals in 38 games. He led the Red Raiders to the NCAA championship game, where they lost in overtime to Virginia.

Culver excelled attacking the rim. Whether it’s using pick-and-rolls, cutting off the ball or using his length in post-up action, Culver was a beast around the rim. Per Synergy Sports, he shot almost 59 percent on 269 attempts around the rim. Though he settles for midrange jumpers at times, he’s got a strong dribble, does a nice job lowering his shoulder and finishes with contact. And again, he plays longer than his listed height. His wingspan will be interesting to see at the Combine as he seemingly hasn’t stopped growing over the last year.

Working in Culver’s favor as far as his NBA prospects are concerned is that he had an excellent season in pick-and-roll action. Though he played 84 percent of his minutes at shooting guard, Culver had 201 pick-and-roll actions. He scored 162 points on those – placing him in the 63rd percentile among all players – and his turnover rate of 14.4% was 18th among the 50 players with 200 or more PnR possessions.

In addition to his ability getting to the basket, Culver is an experienced player who can work off the likes of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. He’s an apt passer, too, averaging the 3.7 assists off the ball.

Then there’s his defense. Wingspan doesn’t equal good defender, but Culver uses it incredibly well. He’s arguably the second best wing defender in the class behind Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, but he projects as someone who would give the Bulls continued versatility to switch. A defense with Wendell Carter, Otto Porter and Culver is a large improvement from 12 months ago.

The Bulls need shooting. Badly. Culver’s outside numbers were ugly, but consider two facts: He shot 38.2 percent from deep as a freshman on nearly the same amount of attempts and his form isn’t broken. He had seven games with three or more 3-pointers, and shot 24 of 45 in those games (53.3%). He’s a smart player and can really get going when he feels it.

If you’ve read to this point, consider Jimmy Butler as an NBA comparison. Not overly fast or athletic, but gets to his spots, is strong attacking the rim, plays solid defense and can catch heat from deep from time to time. The Bulls could use Culver as a sixth man who staggers with Zach LaVine and Otto Porter and gives the Bulls someone to attack on the second unit – Shaq Harrison and Wayne Selden didn’t exactly cut it last season. He’d be a good complement to Chandler Hutchison, too, as another lengthy defender who can play multiple positions.

Culver doesn’t have the ceiling of a Zion, Ja or Barrett. But he’s also got perhaps the highest floor of anyone in the draft. His defense is going to translate and there’s room for a non-point guard who can run pick-and-roll action. He’ll keep the ball moving, which should have him at the top of the Bulls’ draft board. If his 3-point numbers get back to where he was as a freshman, he has All-Star potential. Defenses may sag in on him at the pro level, which could make attacking the rim more difficult. But even if that’s the case, he’ll still work well off the ball as a cutter.

His skills translate as someone who can play right away. That’s what the Bulls need after an injury-riddled 22-win campaign didn’t really move the rebuild forward. It’s time to take a step forward, and Culver gives them the best chance to do so if they aren’t lucky enough to move up in the Lottery. If he's available at 7, he should be their pick.

Bulls strike out at NBA Draft Lottery but will have some options

Bulls strike out at NBA Draft Lottery but will have some options

So that didn’t exactly go according to plan.

The Bulls entered Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery with a 36.6 percent chance of landing a top-3 pick. It didn’t happen. It’s obviously a tough pill to swallow for a franchise that actually won last year’s tiebreaker with the Sacramento Kings, only to see the Kings move up to No. 2 in the draft while the Bulls slipped back to seventh. And where the Bulls weren’t exactly trying to tank this season, myriad injuries to key pieces resulted in a 22-win season and the fourth best odds in a Lottery that for the first time in years was as evened out as ever.

Dreams of Zion Williamson becoming the face of the franchise have been dashed, and Ja Morant won’t be running the point for a team in desperate need of someone with his exact skill set. Barring something unforeseen, the Bulls won’t have the ability to work with and untap the potential of R.J. Barrett, who is seen as the third best prospect in the class.

But all’s not lost. It’s certainly easy to feel that way after knowing what those famous 125 combinations could have brought the Bulls. Now it’s back to the drawing board for the Bulls, who will look to strike Lottery gold at the No. 7 spot for a third consecutive season.

They’ll certainly have their options. The realization that this is a three-player class (really it’s Zion + a two-player class) stings when considering the Bulls won’t be drafing any of them. But the silver lining is that the rest of the prospects who will go in the top-10 are on a pretty even playing field. The Bulls will see players on their big board rise and fall leading up to the draft on June 20, but there’s no clear-cut players in this group of players that they’ll necessarily miss out on.

They’ll have two options when they go on the clock in New York. The first option is addressing their point guard concerns. The Bulls have been an embarrassing carousel of below-average point guards since they traded Derrick Rose in 2016. They’ve had nine players start a game at the point since then: Rajon Rondo, Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, Isaiah Canaan, Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne, Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney and Walt Lemon. Not exactly point guards of the future, even if a few of them were labeled as such.

Those eight players – Canaan started a playoff game against Boston, if you care to jog your nightmare memories – combined to start 246 games the last three seasons. They averaged 28.6 minutes, 10.1 points, 5.4 assists and shot 41.4 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. They also averaged 1.66 free throw attempts per game.

The Bulls have a need at point guard. Like, a really big need. The good news is the post-Ja Morant big board includes Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White. The Bulls are high on Garland, though there’s not much of a collegiate sample size to analyze his game – he missed all but five games with a torn meniscus.

He’d give the Bulls a Kemba Walker-type scoring option at the point, something they’ve been missing dearly since Rose. Where Garland isn’t the kind of playmaker Morant is, he’s got outstanding range and makes defenses work. At the very least he’d keep the ball moving and attract attention to free up guys like Zach LaVine, Otto Porter and Lauri Markkanen on the wings.

White only got better as his freshman season with the Tar Heels went along. He’s a bit out of control in transition but has excellent size at 6-foot-5 and has a promising jump shot that would give the Bulls much-needed help on the perimeter. He also projects as a plus defender, something the Bulls could use in the backcourt to help mask some of LaVine’s shortcomings on that end.

There’s also a bevy of wings clustered in that range where the Bulls will be picking. Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver is probably the best two-way player in the class, and his ability to play downhill and get to the rim plays into what Jim Boylen instituted since taking over for Fred Hoiberg in December.

De’Andre Hunter is the best defensive wing in the class and was marksman from beyond the arc, making nearly 42 percent of his 160 3-point attempts in two seasons at Virginia. He’d be a high-floor, low-ceiling option for the Bulls if they decide not to swing for the fences in a draft class that’s sure to have more than a few busts.

If the Bulls do swing for the fences, they’ll have a few options. Duke’s Cam Reddish had a disappointing freshman season at Duke but is a few months removed from being a higher-rated prospect than Zion Williamson. He’s got all the potential in the world and could find the pace and space of the NBA more optimal for his game.

If the Bulls really want to get wild – and they’ll have that option after hitting on their last two draft picks – they need to consider France’s Sekou Doumbouya. The 6-foot-9 wing, who was born in Guinea, has excellent athleticism and projects as a plus defender at the next level. He’s an absolute project who is more athlete than basketball player, but at this stage in the Bulls’ rebuild he’d have plenty of time to reverse that.

It’s not where the Bulls wanted to be. It’s a punch to the gut that last year’s 22-win campaign didn’t result in better draft positioning. But there are still options out there for the Bulls to improve. Though they won’t have the options they initially desired at the top of the draft, they still have options nonetheless.

The next chapter of the rebuild begins with identifying which of these players grouped together in a fuzzy draft class fit the best and will get the Bulls one step closer to contention.

When is the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery? Date, Time, TV Channel, Online Stream

When is the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery? Date, Time, TV Channel, Online Stream

The NBA Draft Lottery is tonight, and with it comes the much-anticipated answer to who will get to employ Zion Williamson. Duke teammate RJ Barrett and Murray State's Ja Morant are expected to round out the Top 3. After that is when it gets weird. Virginia's DeAndre Hunter, Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver, and UNC's Colby White and Nassir Little are all pegged to go somewhere after that. Darius Garland, Cam Reddish, and Bol Bol are a few other names to keep an eye on. 

Interested in some draft coverage? Convenient! We've got hella draft coverage:

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When is the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery?

Good question!  The Lottery takes place today, May 14, here in Chicago. ESPN will air the results live at 7:30 p.m. CT.

Where will the Bulls pick? 

Not quite sure! There are a lot of options on the table, including a 12.5% chance of nabbing the first overall pick. Here's how it breaks down (per Tankathon) after that: 

No. 2: 12.2%
No. 3: 11.9%
No. 4: 11.4%
No. 5: 7.2%
No. 6: 25.7%
No. 7: 16.8%
No. 8: 2.2%

You guys surely have a fun watch party planned, right?

Wow great guess! We're having a watch party, and it's going to be great. You can find all the details here, but we'll give you the Sparks Notes: 

- It's a a fun-filled evening featuring live Bulls/NBA Draft Lottery coverage programming, which includes a special appearance from Bulls guard Ryan Arcidiacono, along with special #AuthenticFan giveaways, a live Q&A session with NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls experts, a trivia contest, and much more!

- The fun starts at 5:30 p.m., at Public House Chicago, when we’ll play trivia for a chance to win tickets to the 2019 Bulls Home Opener