NBA Draft

Bulls' interest in Michael Porter Jr. promises to make draft night an eventful one—again

Bulls' interest in Michael Porter Jr. promises to make draft night an eventful one—again

Draft night has been accompanied by much speculation with the Bulls the last two seasons and Thursday is shaping up to fall right in line with recent history, as many believe the franchise has its eyes set on Missouri swingman Michael Porter, Jr.

According to several league sources the Bulls have inquired about moving up from the seventh spot in the draft to either the third or fourth spot, positions currently occupied by the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively.

Team sources tell NBCSportsChicago.com there’s no truth to the speculation, nor would they entertain the notion of such efforts geared toward selecting Porter Jr., who only played three games this past season at Missouri, sandwiched between back surgery in mid-November.

Things haven’t quite settled with the teams above the Bulls, as most teams have been engaged in some form of trade talk as the draft is a little over 48 hours away. The Bulls were firmly engaged with teams the last two seasons as teams were interested in Jimmy Butler. The Bulls held back on trading him in 2016 before kickstarting their rebuild last June, sending him to Minnesota. 

Depending on who you believe, the Bulls are either engaging in similar conversation to move up for Porter--they were told weeks ago Porter wouldn't last to the seventh spot. But there appears to be a scenario where Porter Jr. could fall to them--a risky but not impossible proposition if Porter Jr. is truly their man. 

Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton appears to be a lock for the Phoenix Suns with the first pick, and Duke big man Marvin Bagley III looks headed for Sacramento, although Bagley isn’t a shoo-in. There’s a segment of the Sacramento front office that’s enamored with Porter Jr, sources tell NBCSportsChicago.com, and things could get tricky over the next couple days.

Dallas, selecting fifth, likes Porter Jr. as well but it seems unlikely it’ll pass on Real Madrid star Luka Doncic if he slips past Atlanta and Memphis. If that happens, there’s a path for the Bulls to stand pat and get a player with star potential without having to sacrifice an asset already on the roster or their second first-round pick, which they acquired in the Nikola Mirotic deal this past season.

Oklahoma point guard Trae Young has been in Chicago for a workout, along with the likes of big men Mohamed Bamba from Texas and Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. Villanova’s Mikal Bridges also made a visit and each spoke to media following their workouts.

Porter Jr. has been in Chicago preparing for the draft for the last several weeks. His agent, Mark Bartlestein of Priority Sports, is based in Chicago and has a working relationship with the Bulls.

The Bulls medical staff was the lone NBA team to evaluate Porter Jr. before distributing the results to the other teams, ramping up speculation of a potential marriage between Porter Jr. and the Bulls.

Bulls executive-vice president John Paxson has said the team would look for the best player available as opposed to need, but Porter Jr.—if completely healthy—checks off multiple boxes for the franchise should the speculation have truth behind it.

The Bulls, with everything they obviously did with their lineups to finish the season to not-so-subtly position themselves to take a star, could be tempted to take Porter Jr. if he’s there, even with the question marks.

Before the college season began and his subsequent injury took him out of the conversation, Porter Jr. was mentioned as a top pick in a talent-laden draft. A swingman with a smooth stroke, it was believed he would dominate the college season before taking the next step.

The injury understandably splashed cold water on those prognostications and Porter Jr. has been careful in his rehab, even suffering a minor setback with hip spams right before a second “pro day” was to take place in Chicago last week.

“I saw him in the first workout,” a personnel man for a western conference team said. “He moved good but what he didn’t have was balance. He was dunking but didn’t explode off the floor. The second half, he shot the ball really well. Floaters, off the dribble, spot-ups, he was hitting everything. That’s when I saw what everybody was talking about. His athleticism has to come back and they say it will.”

The workout was important for Porter Jr. to establish fluidity of movement following his back injury as well as reminding those who had only seen him against prep competition or at the Adidas Nations showcase in Houston last August about his skill set.

“He’s a natural scorer,” a general manager in attendance for Porter Jr.’s showing in Houston and Chicago. “He’s not a super athlete, more long than anything. He knows how to score. He’s not KD (Kevin Durant), he’s more like (Boston Celtics forward) Jayson Tatum. Tatum got drafted into the right environment. It’s all about fit.”

Ideally, Porter Jr. could fit next to Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine as a primary scorer, giving the Bulls dynamic, versatile scorers at the toughest positions to gameplan for in the NBA.

Tatum was thrust into the spotlight for the Celtics due to Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury on opening night, and had even more responsibility after Kyrie Irving’s late-season injury, performing admirably as the Celtics advanced to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tatum is one of the finalists for the rookie of the year, which will be announced next Monday. Porter Jr. is three inches taller than Tatum, at 6-foot-11, but he’ll also have to adjust to the physicality of the league relative to his most recent consistent competition.

His back injury is still cause for pause for a few franchises, though, despite the clean bill of health.

“I don’t know if it would deter me from taking him but if anyone says it’s not a factor in your thinking is lying,” the general manager told NBCSportsChicago.com.

The personnel man agrees.

“It does (worry me), a bit,” he said. “But because he’s so big and so freaking talented, I’d consider taking him. If you can go in a situation where it isn’t career threatening, you gotta roll with him. You get a few months to get his strength back, you bring him along slowly to make sure everything’s in working order by the time the season starts.”

That’s a question the Bulls will have to answer if their affection for Porter Jr. is as real as it seems.

“At some point he becomes worth the risk, right? Chicago can’t pass him up, can they?”- the personnel man queried.

That’s the question Chicago has been trying to figure out for weeks now, and the answer will soon be revealed.

DiVincenzo, Holiday, Hutchinson: Five options for the Bulls at No. 22

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DiVincenzo, Holiday, Hutchinson: Five options for the Bulls at No. 22

Pick No. 7 is clearly the big draw for the Bulls when the 2018 NBA Draft begins next week. A top-10 lottery pick in a deep draft like this means a potential All-Star if the right player falls out of the top 5.

But pick No. 22 in the first round is also an important piece for the franchise's future. It's possible that pick No. 22 is packaged with something else in a trade on, or before, draft night. If the Bulls opt to keep the pick, however, they should have an intriguing group of players to pick from in a deep draft.

And with pick No. 22 holding a very favorable cap number on the NBA's rookie pay scale, hitting correctly on that pick could accelerate the Bulls rebuild while making the franchise a more attractive option for potential free agents.

Here's a look at five players the Bulls should be targeting at No. 22.

These five players were selected based on the probability of being available at pick No. 22 while also being a need and/or good fit for Fred Hoiberg's system. Also be sure to check out five players the Bulls should avoid at No. 22.

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova: After a monster NCAA tournament in which he helped Villanova capture the national championship, the 6-foot-5 DiVincenzo became one of the darlings of the NBA Draft Combine by showcasing versatility, a competitive edge and a combine-leading 42-inch max vertical.

Possessing deep range on his jumper and the ability to play multiple perimeter spots, DiVincenzo's toughness, skill level and potential two-way ability have made him a virtual lock first rounder. Some mock drafts even have him in the late teens. If DiVincenzo falls to the Bulls at No. 22, they shouldn't be afraid to snatch him up. It also doesn't hurt that DiVincenzo worked out with former Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich before the Combine, as Hinrich gave the Villanova product some strong reviews.

Keita Bates-Diop, SF, Ohio State: The former Buckeye will have some local name recognition as he thrived during his high school career at downstate Normal U-High and with the famed Illinois Wolves AAU program. A bit of a late bloomer, in part because of injuries suffered at Ohio State, Bates-Diop eventually became the Big Ten Player of the Year by showing impressive potential as a two-way forward.

At 6-foot-7 with a ridiculous 7-foot-2 wingspan, Bates-Diop passes the look test. He also improved his perimeter jumper (35.9 percent from deep) and overall ball skills during his college career. Not many draft prospects averaged over a block per game (1.6 bpg) while shooting as well from the perimeter as Bates-Diop has. Bates-Diop is especially enticing as a draft prospect because of his ability to play as a four or a five in small-ball lineups.

Troy Brown Jr., SG, Oregon: Most of the players on this list are college veterans. Brown opted to be a one-and-done after an up-and-down freshman campaign with the Ducks. Luckily for Brown, he has been on the NBA radar since he dominated high school seniors, including Jalen Brunson, at the LeBron James Skills Academy when he was only 14 years old.

One of the youngest players in the draft (he turns 19 in late July) the Las Vegas native can play multiple spots on the floor. At 6-foot-7, Brown is a converted former point guard who eventually found his calling on the wing. Capable of doing all of the little things, Brown rebounds, provides secondary ball handling and can operate with the ball in his hands out of high ball screens. Perimeter shooting and adding strength are the two major long-term questions for Brown. But he's a high-character person with a strong work ethic who should carve out a long career in the NBA.

Aaron Holiday, G, UCLA: This potential pick would already have ties to the Bulls as Aaron's older brother, Justin, is currently on the roster. After three stellar seasons with the Bruins, Aaron is now hoping to become the third Holiday brother in the NBA (brother Jrue is with the Pelicans).

Smaller than his older brothers at 6-foot-1, Aaron makes up for his smaller size at the point with an absurd 6-foot-7.5 wingspan that enables him to play bigger on the defensive end. A talented perimeter shooter who never shot below 41 percent from 3-point range during his three years in Westwood, Holiday has shown that he can run a team on the ball or play as a shooter off of the ball. It should also be pointed out that Holiday was a selfless teammates at UCLA. Opting to come off the bench his sophomore season so Lonzo Ball could start, Holiday was great as both a starter and a sixth man during his college career.

Chandler Hutchison, SF, Boise State: The Bulls have already been linked to Hutchison during the NBA Draft process as he would be a natural fit on the wing. A classic late bloomer who developed during his final two seasons at Boise State, the 6-foot-7 Hutchison sports a solid 7-foot wingspan to go along with a much-improved scoring package.

Previously a mediocre perimeter shooter, Hutchison worked hard to become more consistent from distance his final two seasons with the Broncos. A fluid athlete who should also be able to grow into a solid perimeter defender, Hutchison is one of the more NBA-ready prospects who should available in the No. 22 range.

A history of Lottery teams trading down; Could the Bulls be next, and what would would it look like?

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A history of Lottery teams trading down; Could the Bulls be next, and what would would it look like?

John Paxson admitted at his end-of-year press conference in April that the Bulls’ rebuild was moving along quicker than expected, and that they didn’t plan to be in this position – a 27-win team ranked 28th in offense and defense – ever again. He’s not wrong. Lauri Markkanen has proved to be a promising young piece, Kris Dunn showed a pulse after a woeful rookie season and Zach LaVine, for better or worse, averaged 16.7 points and, most importantly, stayed healthy.

The Bulls are one of five teams with multiple first-round picks – Phoenix, Philadelphia and the Clippers have two and Atlanta has three – and ample cap space to be active in free agency. All that looks good on paper and is true. The Bulls have a solid foundation with which to enter Year 2 of the rebuild. The other reality is that the team is incredibly shallow on talent. Assuming David Nwaba (and LaVine) both re-sign, the Bulls really only have five players they could truly consider part of the future: Markkanen, Dunn, LaVine, Nwaba, Bobby Portis (and even Portis remains a question mark given the contract he’ll need in 13 months).

So it’s entirely feasible that the Bulls, sitting at No. 7 in this year’s draft, could look to move out of that slot if the first six picks go in an unfavorable order. We will safely assume in this scenario Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson and Mo Bamba are off the board. If the Bulls aren’t sold on Michael Porter’s medicals and Trae Young goes sixth, they may want to move out. Or, if they feel comfortable with Kris Dunn running the point and improving his jumper and Michael Porter goes sixth, they may want to move out instead of drafting Young.

Whatever the scenario, let’s say it plays out where the Bulls don’t like their options at No. 7 as much as they would like moving back in the draft, dealing with a team that loves Porter or Young.

The two most likely scenarios for moving back involve the Clippers and Suns. Beginning with Los Angeles, Doc Rivers’ group missed the postseason (one Lottery pick) after dealing Blake Griffin (for, among other assets, another Lottery pick) at the deadline. Depth has been an issue for them, but with a 31-year-old Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan entering a contract year (assuming he opts in) they aren’t exactly getting younger. Perhaps they want to make another run at the postseason and add a more ready Day 1 contributor. The proposed deal would be the Clippers packaging Nos. 12 and 13 for No. 7.

Phoenix holds the No. 1 pick in addition to the No. 16 pick they acquired from Miami as part of the Goran Dragic deal in 2015. Rumors are floating that they’re attempting to get back into the top half of the Lottery to make a run at Young, who obviously won’t be available at 16.

Phoenix could, in theory, package No. 16 and an unprotected first-round pick to the Bulls for No. 7. The Suns had the league’s worst record a year ago but would undoubtedly improve in a scenario where they added Ayton and Young to a core with Devin Booker, Marquese Criss and T.J. Warren. This wouldn’t make Phoenix a playoff threat – or, realistically, even a 33-win team – giving the Bulls a top-10 pick in next year’s draft. The Bulls would then pick at 16 and 22 this year.

Even if Phoenix put some kind of protections on the pick (it couldn’t be heavy considering they’re only getting adding the 16th pick in the deal) the Bulls are still looking at a top future pick from the Suns.

There is precedent for teams trading back in the top 10, though not with the No. 7 pick or better. Here’s are close as we could find in the last decade or so.

2017: Sacramento trades No. 10 to Portland for Nos. 15 and 20

2016: Sacramento trades No. 8 to Phoenix for Nos. 13 and 28 and Bojan Bogdanovic (+ 2020 2nd)

2014: Denver trades No. 11 to Chicago for Nos. 16 and 19

2013: Minnesota trades No. 9 to Utah for Nos. 14 and 21

Short-term it of course would be better for the Bulls to retain two picks in this year's Lottery, and have 12, 13 and 22. It's not so much overkill as it three opportunities to find a real player for the future. They've got 11 players under contract before re-signing Zach LaVine, David Nwaba and potentially Noah Vonleh. They could also cut Paul Zipser without much of a cap hit, so it's realistic for them to add three first-rounders to the roster. A lot depends on what Paxson and Gar Forman think of the players slotted to go at the end of the Lottery.

Long-term the Suns' offer probably makes more sense. Even a realistic outlook has the Bulls perhaps two years away from the postseason. That means receiving a 2019 Lottery pick from the Suns gives the Bulls two picks in that draft to go with a core of Markkanen/Dunn/LaVine/Portis/16th pick/22nd pick. That appears to be a better path to success in 2020, especially if the Suns struggle and convey a top-5 or top-7 pick to the Bulls. If they really believe Young is the real deal they'd be willing to give up a first-round pick next year.