As you all know by now, the Bulls didn’t win the lottery. A full season dedicated to losing, in hopes of a top-three pick, has materialized with the Bulls instead falling back in the draft. They may have only moved down one slot, but in this scenario, after putting up with engineered losses and horrid basketball which our collective memory can’t erase, moving from six to seven hurts.
Sure, picking No. 7 isn’t a terrible position to be in; it worked out last year for the Bulls when they took Lauri Markkanen. And hell, Steph Curry was once the 7th overall pick, too. And at least we don’t have to play with lottery simulators anymore. These are the things we can tell ourselves over the next month until any lottery disappointment fades. The Bulls will be fine…maybe.
Who the Bulls will have atop of their draft board remains unclear, but it does seem like a perimeter player is the most likely solution, according to Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson, who said as much at his end of season press conference.
“I think we need to look at the wing position. That would be an ideal spot. Size and length at the wing as a shooting component, a defensive component, would be something that, if you’re looking at an area we would like to improve, that would be it.”
For several seasons now, the Bulls have been slow to adapt to league trends and the modernization of perimeter-based offenses. To hear they’re interested in drafting a wing is progress of sorts. To close the gap, the team needs perimeter players. Lots of them.
The trouble, of course, is very few wings will be available at the Bulls’ draft slot. In a big-man heavy draft, Jaren Jackson Jr., Mohamed Bamba, Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter Jr. are realistic options. Oklahoma guard Trae Young could also be there, too.
So what should they do if they want a wing?
Swing on Michael Porter Jr.
This is the most obvious solution, and likely the most welcome by many fans. A large and vocal faction of the Bulls fan base has already taken a keen interest in Porter Jr. – likely due to existing social media cues of the Missouri freshman wearing and repping Bulls gear. More importantly, he fills an obvious need. Assuming he can defend small forwards, Porter would be a starter from opening night. Standing 6’10” and possessing an ability to create his own offense from a range of positions the floor, Porter Jr. will be the most intriguing wing option outside of Luka Doncic.
Objectively speaking, Porter Jr. may be the biggest unknown of all options available to the Bulls at No. 7. He was once a star recruit and touted as a potential No. 1 pick. But that was prior to a back injury which forced him to miss virtually all of his freshman season. With combine and individual workouts to commence in the coming weeks, until we learn more about Porter Jr. recovery from the injury – and his medical records are made known to teams – it’s hard to truly gauge just how good Porter Jr. can be.
A more conservative and measured approach may be best, and it’s a method the Bulls have typically employed in almost all facets of team building. But swinging big on player with the most upside is an avenue the Bulls should seriously consider. They need top-level talent, and Porter Jr. may be the best bet for that at No. 7.
Take Mikal Bridges at No. 7
Hailing from a big and successful program with multiple years of experience in college, Villanova junior Mikal Bridges would be the reliable and typical pick we’ve come to expect from the Bulls. The safety in choosing Bridges is that his floor as a player is high; it’s unlikely that his career will be anything less than valuable role player. And if the Bulls intend on residing at the bottom of the standings for only one season, making a sure bet in this draft would point them towards Bridges over the more fancied Porter Jr.
Bridges will be a fine pro, but he’s not the ace many had hoped for prior to the rebuild. If shooting, defense and athleticism are what the Bulls are chasing, Bridges ticks all three boxes. He will also turn 22 in August which fits in another existing narrative that the Bulls like themselves older heads. They were enamored with Kris Dunn, someone who was seen to be a ‘readymade’ rookie. Valentine was meant to be that guy, too. So was Doug McDermott. Bridges isn’t those players, and his skills should translate well to the NBA, but it would be hard to ignore the Bulls choosing another seasoned prospect whilst those around them opt for youth.
Trade Down for Bridges
I’m not convinced this idea is a good one, but it should at least be considered as a possible option.
Let’s imagine a scenario where the Bulls are fully invested in Porter Jr. but he’s off the board. Bridges is available as the backup solution. The Bulls could easily select him 7th overall, but could he be had later in the draft? If so, it’s worth exploring the possibility of trading down several slots in an attempt to land their guy whilst collecting an additional asset or two from a team looking to move up.
Paxson referenced the Philadelphia 76ers as the model he wanted the Bulls to follow. Though he didn’t go into complete detail of what that means, and we can’t be sure he even knows what that means (especially since ‘The Process’ famously involved being awful for multiple seasons), but: if the Sixers truly are the model, moving one asset for multiple is something Sam Hinkie would do.
In the 2014 draft, having already selected Joel Embiid at No.3, the Sixers were on the clock again at No. 10. Despite point guard and then Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams existing on the roster, Hinkie drafted another point guard in Elfrid Payton and traded down a few slots to the Magic, also receiving future draft picks. Hinkie making this move was a calculated risk. He gambled on the Magic needing and wanting Payton, and used that to his advantage. If it’s at all possible, the Bulls should at least consider doing the same.
As an example, let’s imagine the Knicks are heavily invested in Trae Young, and the Bulls get wind of it. Knowing this, if the Bulls were to draft Young at No. 7, they could then dangle him in front of New York for pick No. 9 and future draft concessions. Such a plan would only work if the Bulls are confident Bridges would still be available at No. 9., but a move like this could prove as fruitful as it is devious.
Trading down also helps alleviate the perception problem with using a high lottery pick to draft someone like Mikal Bridges. The entire point of trading Jimmy Butler and manufacturing a losing season was to walk away from one year of terrible basketball with a potential star. Ultimately, though, the Bulls shouldn’t concern themselves with the optics of any decision they do make if they believe it to be the correct one. Despite his age and perceived limitations of his ceiling, if Bridges is the best available talent, take him.