4. Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin
It's easy enough to talk yourself into Sam Dekker. The NBA is becoming a wing's league, and Dekker has the size and offensive versatility to give a coach a lot of different options. He can put the ball on the floor, hit an open jump shot and finish at the rim. When Dekker is cooking, he can carry an offense for an entire evening. That's exactly what happened in the NCAA Tournament.
Dekker played the best basketball of his career when it mattered most. He set a career-high with 23 points against UNC in the Sweet 16, then bested it the next game by dropping dagger after dagger to bury Arizona in the Elite Eight.
Dekker was pretty great against Kentucky in the Final Four and just couldn't hit a three-pointer (0-for-6) to save his life in the national title game against Duke. Still: it's possible only Justise Winslow made himself more money during March Madness than Sam Dekker. So, why are we talking about him still being available with the No. 22 pick?
It's true that most people expect Dekker to be long gone by the time the Bulls are on the clock, but I have a sneaking suspicion he might fall. It's because Dekker isn't a great pure athlete, doesn't project as a plus defender and proved himself to be one of the most inconsistent players in the country over the last two years.
Watching Dekker throughout last season, I compared him to Luol Deng without the high-level defensive ability. I liked Kevin O'Conner's Jeff Green comparison even better. Whether or not you view those comps as complimentary or an insult is probably a matter of perspective, but at the 22nd pick, you can do worse than someone like Jeff Green.
The other thing: if Jeff Green is your fourth best wing, you're probably going to have a pretty good team. I do think Dekker has the type of frame and enough NBA skills to be successful in the right situation. Fans too often view past draft picks as absolute successes or failures when circumstance and context ultimately plays a crucial role in both a player's development and how they're judged.
Do I think Sam Dekker is a great NBA prospect? Not really. But he's definitely an NBA-caliber wing, and there's at least a decent chance he figured something out towards of the end of last season that had been missing since the start of his career at Wisconsin. Does he need to turn into a better three-point shooter after only hitting 32- and 33 percent his last two seasons of college? Of course. Can he be an adequate defender under Hoiberg? Who knows. But as a reserve wing, I think he has a high enough ceiling and a high enough floor to make him worth it at pick No. 22. (note: even though I put Rondae Hollis-Jefferson No. 5 on this list, I would probably take him over Dekker. Being a fake draft scout is hard sometimes)
3. Delon Wright, PG, Utah
In the two seasons before Delon Wright arrived at Utah as a junior college transfer, the Utes went 21-43. In their two seasons with Wright, Utah went 47-21. That isn't a coincidence. Wright was legitimately one of the best two-way players in the country last season, and the type of talent capable of single-handedly changing the fortunes of a program.
Wright has a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses as Arizona's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, only time from the lead guard position. He has great size for a point guard, measuring 6'5.5 at the combine. He's a terrific pressure defender, where he's able to use his athleticism and incredible sense of anticipation to get steals both on the ball and in the passing lanes. He's fantastic at drawing fouls, and he hit over 83 percent of his free throws last season.
No, Wright isn't in Hollis-Jefferson zip code as a pure athlete, but no one is. He does have a much better (and really, advanced) feel for the game. The main knock on both players is their purported lack of a jump shot, but Wright showed enough improvement in that department this past season to believe he can continue to get better with the proper tutelage.
If you watched Wright in college, it was easy to hand out empty platitudes like "he's just a basketball player". What that really means is he's an intelligent player with NBA-ready tools who should be able to come in and contribute as a 23-year-old rookie. His ceiling might not be as high as other players available at No. 22, but his floor is higher, too.
You don't finish top 50 in steal rate two years in a row in all of D1 by accident. This might not be the most exciting pick, but it could be the most practical.
2. Justin Anderson, SF, Virginia
With the 22nd pick in the first round, it stands to reason the Bulls are going to be looking at a lot of players with at least one major flaw. Rozier, Wright and Hollis-Jefferson are shaky outside shooters. Hunter might have to be hidden on defense and isn't great at creating his own offense. Dekker seems like he should be better than his numbers, but had a college career defined by inconsistency.
That's a big reason why I like Virginia's Justin Anderson so much. He's ready to contribute at the NBA level immediately by doing a few things really well while taking nothing totally off the table.
Anderson is a 6'6 wing with a 7-foot wingspan who looks more like a football player than a basketball player. Basketball players are inherently skinny dudes. The majority of players in this draft are going to have to hit the weight room hard for a year before an NBA coach gives them a fair chance. That's not the case with Anderson. He has NBA size, length, strength and balance already. He can be a lockdown wing defender who can slide up or down a position depending on the matchup. If we're talking about the modern NBA as a wing's league that places a premium on versatility, Justin Anderson should be a really valuable player.
The Bulls have taken a wing in the last two drafts, but to me Anderson is a better prospect than Tony Snell or Doug McDermott entering the NBA. I still think Snell and McDermott are both going to be useful players for the Bulls as soon as next year, but Anderson has the type of well-rounded game that might make him a more viable option as a starter next to Jimmy Butler long-term.
You can never have too many wings. After watching an NBA Finals series that had Draymond Green vs. LeBron James at center, I don't think it's crazy to think Butler could log some minutes at the five this year. The NBA has changed from a two-post league to a four-out league, and at this point you probably need five-out as an option, too. That's going to make a player like Anderson -- big, strong, 7-foot wingspan -- more valuable than ever. Slide him in at whatever spot you have available and it's likely he'll be able to defend his position while giving you something offensively.
High-level 3-and-D players are tough to find, and Anderson seems like a safe bet to be just that. His three-point percentage rose from 29.4 percent to 45.2 percent this season on four attempts per game. He has made 78 percent of his free throws. Many have noted that Anderson shot lights out in the first third of the season from deep and lost his touch as the year went on. That's fair as long as you acknowledge he also had a broken finger that kept him out for eight games before the NCAA Tournament.
Even if Anderson's three-point percentage is as inflated as many believe it to be, I don't think it's that big of a cause for concern. 45 percent from three is an absurd conversion rate on a sizable volume of attempts. If he's only a 40 percent three-point shooter, or a 38 percent three-point shooter, he should be just fine.
This is another player who, like Rozier, would also raise the Bulls' athletic elevator. Virginia threw him backdoor lobs all the time last season. He has the leaping ability to go up and finish over the top of someone at the rim:
If he's available, it would be very hard for me to pass on him. He reminds me quite a bit of Stanley Johnson, and I think I'd put Johnson No. 4 on my big board in this class (feel free to disagree with me there, everyone in the entire world). Maybe wing isn't the Bulls' most pressing need and maybe that three-point shot was always a bit of a mirage, but Anderson still brings enough to the table to make him both a safe pick and one with a lot of upside.
Thibodeau would have loved him .... in his second year, after Butler and Snell exited with injuries because Thibs ran them into the ground. I'm getting nostalgic just thinking about it.
1. Jerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame
Sometimes you just know. After talking to him at the combine last year and seeing reports throughout the college season that the Bulls front office had been spotted at Creighton games, I knew they wanted Doug McDermott. The same thing happened this season with Grant at Notre Dame. If he's still around at No. 22, I'm almost positive he'll be the pick.
It just makes sense. John Paxson went to Notre Dame, and he knows Jerian's uncle Horace from their time on the Bulls' first three-peat team in the early '90s. Grant is a veteran player who competed in big games throughout his career (Notre Dame-Kentucky in the Elite Eight was the best college game of the season), not unlike most of the Bulls' recent draft picks. He's one of the oldest players in this class, not unlike Taj Gibson or McDermott. It also helps that he fits the team's biggest need.
What would the Bulls be adding in Jerian Grant? A 6'4 point guard with NBA three-point range, a great feel for the game and the defensive versatility to defend 1s or 2s. He is also a player capable of doing this:
The Bulls' biggest need is a guard who can both backup Derrick Rose and play alongside him, and Grant projects to be that type of player. He's set to turn 23 years old before the season starts, which will scare a lot of teams off. It was the reason teams backed off Gibson in 2009, too. While I'm generally against the idea of taking a player in the draft because you believe he can help immediately, for the position the Bulls are in right now, it's not a bad option.
That's not to say I think Grant is going to be a great player. In a vacuum, I would take Anderson (and maybe Hollis-Jefferson) ahead of him. SI published an anonymous scout on Monday who compared him to O.J. Mayo. That would probably look like a pretty disappointing outcome for both Grant and the Bulls, but Mayo had some decent seasons early in his career and I think the Bulls would be able to put Grant in a better position to succeed.
Am I worried about Grant playing in a four- or five-out system at Notre Dame that essentially guaranteed him maximum space to drive? A bit. I'm less worried about his 31.8 percent three-point shooting. He was a 41 percent three-point shooter as a junior, back when he was mostly playing off the ball next to Erik Atkins. Opposing defenses were loading up against Grant on every possession this season, and sometimes that means taking inefficient shots. The same thing happened to R.J. Hunter.
Grant just hit so many big shots in big moments this past season that's it's hard to envision him completely failing. There was this bomb in a win over over Duke in January when he finished with 23 points, 12 assists and six rebounds ....
... and this deep three with the Irish trailing Kentucky by one with just over two minutes left in the Elite Eight.
Most people think Grant will be gone by No. 22, but I actually think his true talent level is much closer to the Bulls' pick than, say, the end of the lottery. The most recent Chad Ford mock has Grant at No. 21 to the Mavericks (imagine how excruciating this would be for GarPax ...); the last DX mock has him going No. 19 to the Wizards. It's going to be really, really close, I think.
There's plenty of other players I didn't get into here that I think could help the team, as well. I fully believe in Tyus Jones (if you watched college basketball this year, how could you not?) to figure it out at the NBA level, but I'm not sure the Bulls need another small point guard who doesn't play defense right now, especially not one that's 19 years old. I like Rashad Vaughn from UNLV. I think if the league continues to downshift, guys like Cliff Alexander and Montrezl Harrell could be much more effective as centers rather than power forwards. You can bet that, five years from now, you'll be able to look back at this draft and find useful players after pick No. 22.
So, that's what I've gone on this. What do you think? Leave your own preferred top five (or whatever) in the comments and vote in the poll below: