There's levels to mediocrity, and the Chicago Bulls have spent this hard luck season vacillating between them. On some days, the Bulls' resilience is undoubtedly impressive. On others, it feels like we would all be better served to spend our leisure time face down in the snow crying.
Whether you're the sort of person who sees the cup half-full or half-empty doesn't really matter: we can all agree this figurative cup of water (booze?) is holding steady at the midway point. The Bulls are 24-24 through 48 games with the second best defense and third worst offense in the NBA. They're an open book. If the season ended today, the Bulls would be the No. 6 seed in the East, set for a date with the Toronto Raptors. If the season ended today, the Bulls would own the No. 15 and No. 17 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft.
I always prefer to think big picture, because as fun as it is to see Jimmy Butler crippled by a triple-overtime win against the star-crossed Magic, we know this season amounts of minutia so far as the team's long-term goals go. Things will different next season, when Derrick Rose is introduced back into the mix once again. He'll possibly have another major piece next to him, whether it's Nikola Mirotic or Carmelo Anthony or someone less exciting and expensive. He'll also be joined by these two rookies.
Make no mistake, the 2014 draft class is very good. I think there could be eight or nine players at the top of the draft who project as future All-Stars, as wishful as that may sound. Joel Embiid is the truth, and in my mind, the no-brainer No. 1 overall player. It isn't particularly close. Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have near mirror-opposite games, but both should be very good. Aaron Gordon is going to be a great two-way player for a long time, Dante Exum is as exciting of an international prospect as there has been the last few years, Julius Randle and his T-Rex arms should put up numbers even if they're intrinsically hollow.
This draft is deep at the top, to be sure, but that doesn't exactly help the Bulls. Who could be available in the middle of the first round and how would they fit in with this roster? With college basketball season approaching money time, here's a quick and dirty rundown of some players to watch over the next month and a half.
SG Zach LaVine - UCLA
To put it simply: Zach LaVine can do some crazy-ass shit on a basketball court.
This guy is going to win a dunk contest someday. He has that type of athleticism. LaVine is as explosive as any player in the 2014 draft this side of Andrew Wiggins. He can casually elevate for windmills, 360s and under-the-leg dunks. LaVine has got range, too, shooting 42.7 percent on 3.7 attempts from three-point territory this season. He has ideal size (6'5, 180 lbs.) and athleticism for an NBA two-guard. Think J.R. Smith as an NBA comp, only without all of the premonitions about his character.
The problem with LaVine is that he's been inconsistent and he's stuck behind another NBA prospect in Jordan Adams. In his last three games, LaVine has scored a total of 11 points while playing about 23 minutes per game. He's had plenty of good games as well, like the 19 points he dropped on Arizona State or the 21 he put up against Nevada.
I think LaVine will probably be off the board by the time the Bulls' first pick rolls around. Maybe they'll think about packaging both picks to move in the draft for him? If the Bulls were going to trade up, the targets would likely be LaVine, Noah Vonleh or the next player...
C Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
If the Bulls are going to have two picks in this draft they need to go big with at least one of them. For as good as Tony Snell has looked at times this season, I'm still not sure he was the right pick over Gorgui Dieng, if only because you can find wings anywhere (look at the Griz with James Johnson), but you sure as hell aren't pulling a useful center out of the D-League or Europe.
The problem is that there are hardly any bigs in this draft. That's why even someone as offensively raw as Cauley-Stein is worth a lottery pick and likely won't be available when the Bulls pick. If he was there, though, I think the Bulls would have to take him.
Cauley-Stein has a ways to go offensively, but he's huge (7-foot, 245 lbs.), athletic and has incredible shot blocking instincts. He's essentially blocking as many shots at UK as Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel did. The Bulls would be in position to groom him behind Noah for a couple years as a 15-minutes per game backup before seeing what they eventually have in him.
Again, because of the dearth of big men available, this is probably wishful thinking barring a trade.
There's a bunch of these guys here, so let's go through them quickly.
SG Nik Stauskas - Michigan and SG Gary Harris - Michigan State
Jonathan Tjarks wrote something good breaking down these two players. Both should be available when it's the Bulls' turn to pick.
F Doug McDermott - Creighton
Dougie McBuckets can shoot and score, we know that. He's averaging 25 points per game this season on 50 percent shooting from the field and 43.9 percent shooting on 5.9 attempts from three. He also lacks the athleticism to be a plus NBA defender and is averaging more turnovers than assists.
I've seen Twitter reports of GarPax being in the gym to watch McDermott play, and his shooting ability and size (6'8, 225 lbs.) are certainly appealing. Think of him filling the Kyle Korver or Mike Dunleavy role for the Bulls. He's going to be good, but do you really need to use a mid-first round pick on a guy whose skills can be replicated for cheap on the veteran free agent market?
F T.J. Warren - N.C. State
Warren is something of a ridiculous pure scorer. He's averaged 22.4 points per game and is making 63.2 percent of his two-pointers this year. At 6'8, 215 lbs. he's a classic tweener forward with good rebounding instincts. Tjarks told me Warren reminds him of young Antwan Jamison. Not a bad player to grab in the middle of the first round.
C/PF Adreian Payne - Michigan State
Here's your other big man. Payne can really shoot, knocking down 43.9 percent of his 2.7 attempts from three-point range per game. He's also a senior, which means he's doing it against players a few years younger than he is. At 6'10, 245 lbs., there's a lot to like about Payne. He will likely never develop into a rim protector, but there's value in an offensive, floor-stretching big man.
SF Rodney Hood - Duke
Hood is solid at everything, seemingly spectacular at nothing. He has good size for an NBA small foward (6'8, 215 lbs.) and is putting up solid numbers (16.9 points on 50 percent shooting, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists) next to Jabari Parker for the Blue Devils. He's also been a killer three-point shooter this year, hitting 44.9 percent of 4.7 attempts.
He doesn't have elite athleticism, and Tjarks thinks he's a little overrated. On the surface, he sure looks like a nice fit at the three for the Bulls.
PG Jordan Clarkson - Missouri
Clarkson is a combo guard who has been terrific in the SEC this season. He just hung 28 on Kentucky and posted 21-6-4 against UCLA earlier this year. It would be nice to have another guy with playmaking skills next to D. Rose, and both are big enough for cross-matchups when the situation calls for it.
There are plenty of other guys who could be considered here. Who are your favorites?