For the Chicago Bulls, the 2016 NBA Draft offers the salvation of moving forward from the franchise's most disappointing campaign in eight years. The Bulls bet the roster they assembled ahead of the 2014-15 season would vault into serious contention with a change at head coach, and that bet proved to be equal parts wrong and delusional.
After the missing the playoffs, there's no question the Bulls need to shake things up. The draft presents their first opportunity to do so. The team will almost certainly be picking No. 14 overall, and that's not a bad place to be.
You will hear many people say this isn't a particularly strong class in the run-up to the draft, and that is true. LSU's Ben Simmons and Duke's Brandon Ingram are fine choices at the very top, but it gets dicey after that. There's going to be a lot of debate over how the rest of the lottery unfolds, but the Bulls should find themselves with plenty of appealing options if they decide to stick at the No. 14 pick.
You can make the argument that it's better to be picking at No. 14 than No. 4 in this draft. That's because the top of the draft is typically reserved for the one-and-done freshmen, but the national high school recruiting class of 2015 was considered among the weakest in recent memory.
Fortunately for the Bulls, what this draft lacks in no-brainer freshmen from a year ago like Stanley Johnson (No. 8), Justise Winslow (No. 10), Myles Turner (No. 11), Trey Lyles (No. 12) and Devin Booker (No. 13) can be made up with solid veteran college players and a couple of intriguing Euros. There are a bunch of players in this draft who would help the Bulls. Before I head off to cover the NBA Draft Combine over the next two days, here are some names to be familiar with.
6. PG Demetrius Jackson - Notre Dame
It is an open secret the Bulls are looking for point guard help in this draft, and Jackson is considered one of the top prospects at the position. Given John Paxson's ties to Notre Dame, it would make sense if he's someone they are seriously considering.
Jackson is not very big at 6'1, 195 pounds, but he is strong and athletic. For a little guy, the dude has no problem finishing above the rim:
Jackson helped lead Notre Dame to back-to-back Elite Eights. He led the team in scoring (15.8 per game) and assists (4.7) this year without Jerian Grant next to him in the backcourt. It was, all things considered, a successful year for the junior. There are a few reasons he's only No. 6 on this list, though.
At ND, he typically played in a four-guard spread pick-and-roll offense Fred Hoiberg can only dream about recreating. Jackson had an ocean of space to work in, and that has a way of inflating the draft stock of a prospect when a similar environment isn't found in the pros. Just ask Trey Burke. Jackson doesn't look like the most natural playmaker, and that's a concern in halfcourt sets for an undersized point guard.
The NBA is all about switching on defense right now, and Jackson's size means he will likely only be able to defend point guards. His three-point stroke also fell off a bit this season, from 42.9 percent as a sophomore to 33.1 percent as a junior. Maybe that's simply a symptom of the bigger offensive burden he was asked to carry without Grant.
5. C Domantas Sabonis - Gonzaga
(James Snook-USA TODAY Sports)
The Bulls need to get tougher inside. They need to improve on the glass. Domantas Sabonis will immediately provide both.
Sabonis is something of a throwback center at 6'11, 240 pounds. He was No. 14 in the country in defensive rebound rate rate (28.2 percent) this season. He does his best work in close to the hoop, where he shot 61.5 percent on two-pointers. He doesn't have much of an outside jumper to this point, but he is a 76 percent free throw shooter and did hit five of his 14 attempts from three this year.
The concern with Sabonis is length. He only has a 6'11 wingspan, which means he'll be at a disadvantage even in the small ball NBA. It's tough to project him as a rim protector with such short arms, and his 2.7 block rate in college offers even more evidence in that regard.
Still: his feet are quick enough to guard on the perimeter, there might not be a better rebounder in this draft and he's a creative finisher and passer in tight spaces. Anyone who saw the way he dominated projected top 10 pick Jakob Poeltl in the NCAA Tournament knows how good he can be.
This would feel like something of a safe pick for the Bulls, and one that would definitely fill a need with Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah headed for free agency.
4. SG Furkan Korkmaz, Turkey
Korkmaz has great size for a shooting guard at 6'8, above-average quickness and athleticism and a nice three-point stroke. At 18 years old, he's also the second youngest player in this draft behind Ingram. He's been playing against professionals the last two seasons, but hasn't seen a lot of playing time. As such, there isn't much known about Korkmaz at this point beyond the scouting reports.
One thing we do know? The kid won a dunk contest dressed as Darth Vader.
Debate over. Draft him.
You're looking at a young player who has consistently shot over 40 percent from three-point range, a player who has the hops to win a dunk contest and a player who has ideal size for his position. That's a lot to like. So why is he likely to still be available at No. 14?
There are questions about his lateral quickness and how that will affect his defense. The Bulls already have one non-defender on the wing in Doug McDermott. If they don't think Korkmaz can defend at an NBA-level, can they really afford to select another?
He's also just so young. It's hard to draft an 18-year-old and expect him to contribute in his first season. It might take until year three. He does have a manageable buyout with his European club and should be on an NBA roster next season, but it's probably best to think of Korkmaz as a developmental prospect rather than an instant impact one. Still, I love his upside.
3. SF Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
(Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)
Valentine was either the best or second best player in college basketball this season, depending on who you ask. He put up some downright historic numbers in his senior season for Michigan State, averaging 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game. Those numbers had never been matched in the history of college hoops.
Valentine was the de facto point guard for the Spartans this season, and he was terrific at orchestrating an offense loaded with shooters. He's also a pretty great shooter himself: he hit 44.4 percent of 7.5 attempts per game from deep this season. His three-point percentage rose every season of his career.
It is not easy to find a creator and shooter this skilled at 6'6 with a 6'10 wingspan. So why did he need to stay in college for four years? It's because he'll be one of the slowest wings in the NBA from the moment he enters the league.
Picking Valentine is a vote for skill over athleticism. He won't be a great transition scorer. He won't be a lockdown defender. With Doug McDermott already set as the Bulls slow, no-defense shooter on the wing, does Valentine really make sense?
If anything, Valentine's college production just puts in perspective how little McDermott contributes in other areas aside from scoring. While Doug had 194 assists in his four year college career, Valentine had 241 just this season. Doug had 34 career steals, Valentine had 32 as a senior, and that was the third lowest mark of his four-year career.
To me, Valentine is a perfect role player, someone who can run an offense on the second unit early in his career and will develop into a great fourth or fifth starter quickly. He might not be a home run pick, but he should be a solid double.
2. PG Wade Baldwin IV, Vanderbilt
Ideally, the Bulls want a young point guard who could both play alongside Derrick Rose next season and possibly replace him a year from now when he enters free agency. The ideal player for that job would be able to defend multiple positions and shoot threes. Vanderbilt sophomore Wade Baldwin IV seems like the perfect guy for the job.
Rarely do point guards get the "3&D" tag, but Baldwin deserves it. He's 6'3 with a ridiculous 6'10 wingspan, which will make him one of the longest point guards in the NBA from day one. To put that in perspective, the 6'8 Doug McDermott has a 6'9 wingspan. Baldwin gives you the length of a power forward with the skill of a point guard.
Baldwin wasn't a high-volume shooter at Vanderbilt, but he was accurate. He hit 40.6 percent of his 3.1 attempts per game from three-point range as a sophomore. As a freshman, he hit 43.9 percent on 2.8 attempts per game.
George Hill seems like a pretty apt comparison. With Baldwin, Jimmy Butler would be free to initiate the offense similar to the way James Harden does next to Patrick Beverley. Baldwin would serve as a spot-up shooter and solid defender on the other end. He isn't a playmaker as gifted as, say, Kentucky's Tyler Ulis (not included here because this is too long already), but Butler's talent as a one-on-one creator means that's not such a big deal.
If Baldwin is available, he seems like the obvious pick. I think there's only one guy I would take over him ...
1. SF Timothe Luwawu, France
The last "weak" draft was 2013. Giannis Antetokounmpo went No. 15 that year, Dennis Schroder went No. 17 and Rudy Gobert went No. 27. Those might be the three best players in that draft. They all fell because, even more than a decade after Dirk and Pau, it still feels like European players are a market inefficiency in the draft.
Given that this crop of college players is largely underwhelming, why not go for a Euro? I've been on the Luwawu bandwagon for a while, putting him at No. 3 in the rankings I tweeted on March 13. It feels like Luwawu could be starting to gain momentum as the draft nears .... but DraftExpress still has him falling to the Bulls at No. 14 in the mock they published yesterday. I still have hope!
Luwawu provides great athleticism, long arms and a solid three-point stroke on the wing. He's also 21 years old, so he should be more prepared to make an early impact than Korkmaz. He should be able to carve out a role defensively as a rookie and eventually grow into a capable offensive player.
Luwawu looks like everything NBA teams want in a wing these days. The Bulls swung and missed on Tony Snell, Mike Dunleavy is about to turn 36 years old and McDermott certainly looks like a one-way player up to this point. Wings rule the league right now, and pairing Luwawu with Butler, E'Twaun Moore and McDermott could give the Bulls a ton of versatility.
This is something of an idealist pick, but isn't the draft for thinking big? If he's still on the board, I think Luwawu would be a great fit in Chicago. He'd probably be a great fit anywhere.