Tomorrow is the day. It's the day we've been waiting for since Derrick Rose clutched his knee in Portland and sent us all spiraling down a dark and gloomy Rainbow Road. It's the day we've been waiting for since the Bulls made their own kind of White Flag Trade, sending Luol Deng to Cleveland for what might not amount to anything more than second round picks and (more importantly) money saved in ownership's pockets. It's what we've been waiting for since Kirk Hinrich missed two free throws in overtime of Game 2 that would have tied the score; what we've been waiting for since the Bulls came out as flat as a three-day old Pepsi in Game 4 even with Nene suspended.
I think I've mentioned it a few times before, but yeah: tomorrow has been a long time coming. There's been an expectation tomorrow is the day something big happens, whatever that move may be. But as we've inched towards this day, our expectations have had to be recalibrated.
Carmelo Anthony opted out of his contract and won't be dealt tomorrow. The latest report from Sean Deveney has the Timberwolves keen on waiting until MeloDrama II is resolved before deciding what to do with Kevin Love. That last bit is undoubtedly good news for the Bulls, but it's also something to be aware of so your spirit isn't crushed when the Bulls end tomorrow night with neither Melo or Love. This always is and always was going to be a slow burner. Meet me back here in two weeks, maybe we'll have something cool to talk about.
That's not to say that the Bulls are resigned to inactivity tomorrow. Having two first round picks always rules; it's even better in a draft as deep and talented as this one. Maybe it's the type of Stockholm Syndrome that hits every year around this time, but I do think there's lots of rotation players in this year's class. The Bulls will either swing for two of them, or they will package their picks to move up for a player they really want.
I am typically in favor of moving up in the draft, I think, but I'm not sure I love the idea this year. Simply put, I would rather have two good players than one. There will be good players available at No. 16 and No. 19 because there are every single year. The Bulls just have to find them.
With that said, the Bulls have not been shy about a desire to trade up. I won't kill them for it. If the front office thinks Doug McDermott or Gary Harris or Nik Staukas can be a major contributor, they might as well pull the trigger.
The beauty of the NBA draft, I think, is two-folded: a) this is absolutely the best way to go about building a squadbecause rookie scale contracts are so team friendly, and b) no one really knows anything. I took over the college basketball side of SB Nation earlier this year and have always been a huge fan of the draft, so I have opinions on things. I'm sure you do, too.
What follows is my personal evaluation of the prospects the Bulls could potentially select on Thursday, with some tough omissions. I like Jusuf Nurkic and Dario Saric, I suppose, but I'm not going to pretend like I've seen anything more than YouTube highlight packages. I have been a big Jordan Adams fan since the college season, and he's a hard guy to cut here. I'm also not including Marcus Smart, even though there's been chatter about the No. 8 pick and there's a chance he could be there. If Marcus Smart is available when the Bulls are on the clock, they should run that card up to the podium as fast as they can.
Alright, so: draft! Here's who I would like to see the Bulls get, ranked.
10. James Young
I went long on Young already. I don't think he would play much for Thibodeau next season, but I like him as a long-term bet. The draft ain't about getting the best rookie; it's about finding the best player when these dudes reach their prime. Young has the tools, the pedigree and impressive enough college production. I think he's a better prospect than Snell, and I like Snell as a bench guy.
9. Rodney Hood
Hood is thought to have a high floor and a low ceiling. I'm not sure that's true. Fact is, Hood shot out of his mind from beyond the three-point line last year at 42 percent on a high volume of attempts. If he falls down to around a 35 percent shooter, his ultimate value will depend on his defense and his ability to get to the rim. He's not considered good at either of those aspects at the moment, but I think he can get there.
I like his size, particularly if he's played as a two-guard. I watched him lock up T.J. Warren in the ACC Tournament in a way no one was able to do all season. I think his purported defensive deficiencies might be related to Duke's entire defense being trash last year. I don't know if Hood has the high floor everyone thinks he has; that will depend on his shooting. But there's a chance he could be an excellent 3-and-D type, and those are always valuable.
8. Shabazz Napier
Shabazz is such a warrior. I can't imagine a more impressive college resume than the one he put up, carrying UConn to two NCAA titles while hitting some incredibly clutch shots and speaking out against the NCAA along the way. I'm on board with all of that. The problem is he's a backup point guard if Rose stays healthy-ish, and there are a million backup point guards. My buddy Jon Tjarks compared them to running backs in the NFL: if you're not Adrian Peterson, you don't want to waste a big asset (ie: a first round pick) on them because they are typically easy to find elsewhere.
The Bulls did well with Nate Robinson, D.J. Augustin and even John Lucas III. Do you really want to spend a first rounder on Napier when it seems like they can keep unearthing decent point guards forever? I will say Napier is better than all of those guys, and it would be nice to have him grow in the system with Thibodeau. I think Thibs would love him, and would actually give him minutes as a rookie. I just adore Shabazz so much that I would be happy with this pick, everything else be damned.
7. Gary Harris
Gary Harris might end up being really good. I wouldn't be surprised at all. But not every prospect is good. There are always a ton of busts. To me, Harris seems like he might be one of those guys.
I'll talk myself into him the moment he's drafted by the Bulls, sure. But at this point, I don't love him. I've already written a bunch about him.
6. Kyle Anderson
I wrote a long feature on Anderson today for SB Nation. There's a lot to like about him. He has a great mind for the game. He's versatile. He has terrific size and length. He shot 48 percent on a low volume of threes last year. He seems like he shouldn't be good defensively, but he racked up tons of steals and blocks last year. He is, more than anything, the type of change-of-pace player who can help get an offense going. Those Boris Diaw comps aren't incorrect.
The knock against Anderson is that he's not a very good athlete and he doesn't fit into the purity of any position. He played point guard for UCLA and was amazing at it. He might be a stretch four in the NBA. I think it's a good problem to have. Guys this size that see the floor and pass as well as Anderson does always have a spot in the league. I think he's underrated.
5. T.J. Warren
You know what the Bulls' trash offense could really use? A dude who can get buckets at will like Warren. Warren has an ugly-looking three-point stroke, doesn't play much defense and is stuck as a tweener between a three and a four. Who cares. His touch from midrange is incredible, either on his automatic floater or knock down jumper. He goes hard all the time, and made a ton of things happen in transition and semi-transition opportunities this year. Warren is, more than anything, just a completely relentless scorer.
It's tough to see how he fit in with the Bulls, but I'd trust he would figure it out. On a second unit where he can get shots up? I think he'd be a killer. The man has no true NBA comp and has a number of legitimate flaws, but you don't find guys who can score as easily as Warren can every year. I'd take him in a heartbeat if they're sticking at No. 16 and No. 19.
4. Doug McDermott
You can't put up the type of numbers McDermott did in college without everyone doubting your ability to translate to the pros. It's impossible. If McDermott was really that good, he wouldn't have stayed in school four years. No one does. But because he was such a historic all-around scorer at the college level, I think people might overlook the fact that he's an incredible pure shooter, too.
There will be concerns about his defense. There will be concerns over whether he can rack up more assists than he did in college. There will be concerns over if that incredible offensive versatility he showed in college will work against bigger and more athletic players in the NBA. I think McDermott sticks around the league for a long time, though. He's not Adam Morrison. Morrison was good for one season. He smoked cigs and played Halo all day. McDermott has a body of work that is basically beyond compare. I think he can play.
3. Adreian Payne
Adreian Payne is older than Kawhi Leonard. That might be disconcerting, but he's not as old as Taj Gibson was when he entered the NBA. Gorgui Dieng and Mason Plumlee were old rookies last year, too, and they look like two of the best players in that class so far. Really, age would be a bigger factor with Payne if he wasn't so damn good.
Payne is a 42 percent three-point shooter (on over three attempts per game) at 6'10 with a 7'3 wingspan. He's a perfect stretch four. He's not exactly "Taj Gibson with a three-pointer" as some think because look at Taj's college block stats (three per game) compared to Payne's (not even one per game), but his length gives him a chance to develop there. This is another rookie I could see Thibs giving minutes to early, which is nice.
Basically, tall guys who can shoot like Payne can help every team. He can help the Bulls, too. If he was 20 years old, he'd be a consensus top nine pick.
2. Nik Stauskas
I thought Stauskas looked like a dude who could be drinking cheap beer on my couch even before he showed up to the combine with 11 percent body fat. Now I'm envisioning him falling over at that awful, no good Wrigleyville-wide Christmas bar crawl. A pro strength and conditioning program should help him, though, even if he's never even an average defender. Fact is, Stauskas' offensive game would be a perfect fit for the Bulls from day one. If you think he's only a shooter, you didn't watch him last season.
Without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. in Ann Arbor, Stauksas took on greater responsibility as a ball handler and playmaker. He was pretty great in pick-and-rolls, at reading defenses and deciding when to pull up and when to fire the ball to an open teammate. He can handle the ball better than Jimmy Butler or Mike Dunleavy Jr. can. It would be nice to have two guys who can dribble. He's still an ace three-point shooter too, every bit as good as McDermott. I get nervous trading up for guys who aren't big athletes, but Stauskas is good enough everywhere else offensively that I would be cool with it.
1. Zach LaVine
Ohhhhhh, yeah. My favorite LaVine stat, the one I bring up every time, is that he scored 11 points in his last five college games combined. Good thing we're not drafting the best college players. LaVine was never in a good situation at UCLA, losing minutes to his coach's (vastly inferior) son and never really working his way back onto the court. From a tools perspective, though, LaVine has as much star-power as Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Dante Exum. I really believe that.
The comparison I like for LaVine, as absurd as it is, is Jamal Crawford with Russell Westbrook's athleticism. The man can straight up fly, both up-and-down the court and then off of it. His hops are unrivaled. He can shoot threes. He's been a point guard his entire life -- whether he sticks there or not, it's a sign that he's comfortable handling the ball. Put him in space and there are very few NBA defenders who are going to be able to stay in front of this kid. It'll take time and patience, and we all know Thibs isn't great at that. What I can't get over, though, is sense of regret you'll have if the Bulls pass on him and he turns into a stud.
Stars still rule the NBA, even after the Spurs' title. LaVine has that type of potential. It'll be a slow burn, but who cares. I'm not comfortable planning the roster around Rose five years from now. LaVine has All-NBA talent. To me, that's good enough to gamble on. I went long on him after the combine.
* * *
The draft is tomorrow. Do yourself a favor and purchase two great draft guides for under $10. One from is from Jonathan Tjarks. One is from Kevin O'Connor. I have been reading and enjoying both, and you will too.