For last night’s draft, the Bulls opted for the typical approach. It’s one we’ve come to expect over the years: Investing in high character prospects from a quality collegiate program, who project to have a high floor and great two-way potential.
Finding an elite, two-way perimeter threat was atop of any draft day wishes. Michael Porter Jr. was meant to be that player, but the Bulls and a surprising 13 other teams deemed it was too great a risk to take.
Instead, Wendell Carter Jr., a 6-foot-10-inch center from Duke University, looks like a Bulls draftee. He represents the majority of draft selections made throughout Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson’s tenure: A conservative, steady pick.
Depending on perspective, that may seem like faint praise, but it isn’t.
For a rebuilding team like the Bulls, with more open-ended questions than confirmed answers, taking the safe and proven route may not parse as an inspiring decision, but it is a logical one.
No, Carter isn’t what many – including the management – had hoped for. He will never be a dominant perimeter scorer, capable of shooting from distance and playing both ends of the floor. Though true, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a seamless fit.
Unlike many others taken in the lottery – who need a high usage and ball dominance to justify their worth – an established offensive system doesn’t need to be reconfigured to account for the newest Bull. The shot distribution hierarchy won’t become unbalanced. Not with someone like Carter, who has already proven during his lone college season he can willingly make way for a dominant frontcourt teammate.
Carter’s Duke teammate Marvin Bagley was the offensive centerpiece for that team, and that’s the hope for Lauri Markkanen in Chicago. The parallel in both scenarios is Carter Jr., who’s willingness to play behind a dominant offensive weapon can enable his teammate and the broader offense to thrive.
In that sense, the long-term pairing of Carter and Markkanen represents a more mobile, modernized version of current day starting unit that features veteran Robin Lopez. That may seem unflattering to Carter, to compare him to a lumbering, veteran best suited to a slow-paced offense. And given the concerns about his lateral quickness and ability to guard in space, it does give some credence to any comparison made between the two. But more than that, building a frontcourt around consecutive No. 7 picks represents a perfect blend of two-way basketball.
Where Lopez helped bring the best out of Markkanen during his rookie campaign, Carter will do the same for the next 10 seasons. By his side, protecting the rim and finishing defensive possessions with strong work on the glass, Carter will allow Markkanen to expend more of his energy on offense whilst his bigger partner controls the defense. On offense, utilising his great passing instincts, Carter can also act as a high-low passing option to Markkanen, or as a central hub kicking out to shooters on the wing.
Similarly for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two perimeter players who need to lift their scoring efficiency next season, playing alongside a young center and using his readymade NBA body as screening wall, should make life easier attacking the basket. And if a good shot doesn’t present itself, as developing shooter, Carter can act as their release valve in pick-and-pop actions.
The fit makes immediate sense, even if long-term concerns have merit.
In a league hell bent on reducing the importance of traditional-sized big men, the modern NBA may eventually be done with the hulking beasts we’ve grown fond of. Current trends are pushing for move offensive spacing, leaving little room for classic bigs without a contemporary game. Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green is the prototype. Every team wants their own version of him. But until until the league sees an increase in supply of versatile, mobile big men, Green will remain an outlier.
For now, that bodes well for Carter Jr. and the Bulls. Existential concerns about the diminishment of players like him should be tempered. Over a long and arduous NBA season, teams are still in need of a burly big to man the middle and direct those around him. The Bulls have that now, and for that reason, fans should be excited about Carter’s potential as a defensive anchor.
And though the franchise couldn’t find an elite wing at the top of the draft, Chandler Hutchison, the second of the Bulls’ first-round picks, can find a way to somewhat fill that void.
Drafting Hutchison all but the confirmed the rumors: The Bulls were the team making a promise to the 22-year-old Boise State senior, after all. Making a guarantee to a late first-rounder is an odd practice, one teams should typically avoid. Whilst ignoring that process and focusing on the result, Hutchison has all the tools to be a well-rounded, versatile threat. The Bulls need exactly that.
Should things break right, adding a two-way center and multi-faceted wing is a competent way to continue the rebuild. Though the outcome of this draft, on the surface, appears to be a step in the correct direction, the plan moving forward should remain the same: Finding a way to land that elusive dominant scorer. Whether that comes in the form of free agency, future drafts or current players blossoming into stars, Chicago’s young core, though strengthened with the addition of Carter Jr. and Hutchison, still is far from complete.