As Mark stated in his analysis of the Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison picks, the Bulls took a very pragmatic approach to their 2018 draft. Carter and Hutchison are safe, versatile players who fit positions of need. They aren’t sexy and may not turn into stars, but they should be solid at the very least.
While the Bulls had a good draft, you do wonder if they could have done more in order to have a better chance at a star-level player. Taking Michael Porter Jr. at No. 7 was a popular option among fans, but clearly his medicals were awful and he fell all the way to No. 14. He might not even play next season.
There were other ways to go about the draft as well, but the Bulls stuck to their safe and patient approach. Let’s take a look at how the draft played out for the Bulls and also gaze into the future.
The effort to trade up
Reports came out before the draft that the Bulls were looking to trade up from No. 7. Porter got a mention several days before the draft, but on draft day the names of Mohamed Bamba and Marvin Bagley III were discussed as targets. K.C. Johnson added Jaren Jackson Jr. as a primary target after the fact, though surprisingly Luka Doncic was never mentioned. Even Trae Young got a mention as a possible target.
Doncic (No. 3) and Young (No. 5) wound up getting traded for each other, while Jackson went fourth to the Grizzlies. Here’s how Johnson described the Bulls’ efforts:
The Bulls held trade talks with the Hawks, who owned the third pick, and the Grizzlies, who owned the fourth. In both cases, they didn’t want to sacrifice the future first-round picks it would’ve cost to move up a few spots for Jackson or Trae Young ...
... With the Grizzlies, who drafted Jackson, the Bulls weren’t interested in swallowing the two years and $49 million remaining on Chandler Parsons’ contract. The Bulls liked Mo Bamba, who went to the Magic at No. 6, but didn't engage in attempts to move up for him.
I would’ve loved to have moved up for JJJ or Doncic (even though he wasn’t mentioned), and there’s certainly an argument to be made that the Bulls should’ve been willing to give up a future pick(s)/take on a bad contract like Parsons given all their payroll flexibility.
But I also understand not wanting to burn that draft capital, especially because the Bulls shouldn’t be all that good next season and could be in line for another high pick. I know some are thinking playoffs with this group, but it’s not realistic given what’s on the roster. With the lottery odds flattening out, next year’s pick should remain extremely valuable unless the Bulls are surprisingly good, and in that case that means the young guys are developing nicely.
Hutchison shut down his workouts in May and didn’t even attend the combine. Soon came rumors of a promise from the Bulls, though along the way there were other teams rumored to be making the commitment and Johnson denied it was the Bulls.
But once the Bulls made the pick at No. 22, the consensus was that the Bulls had kept their promise. John Paxson played coy when asked in the immediate aftermath:
John Paxson says the #Bulls liked Chandler Hutchison throughout this entire process. He was asked directly about the promise to Hutchison and didn't confirm or deny it, saying only there are lots of rumors.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) June 22, 2018
Gar Forman said it “dawned on us early” that Hutchison was a guy they really liked, even saying that they targeted him early in the college season. So, yeah, the Bulls made that promise.
Promising a player like Hutchison that early is kind of strange, and ESPN’s Jonathan Givony had some criticism for making that promise, calling it ‘bizarre’:
The Bulls promised Chandler Hutchison they would select him at No. 22 more than a month ago despite not being under much pressure of him possibly being picked higher. Encumbering their pick during the entire pre-draft process might have hurt their chances of moving up from the No. 7 pick, as like they attempted to do repeatedly with Atlanta and Memphis.
I’m not sure how much of an effect that promise really could’ve had on moving up to No. 3 or 4 (for one thing, it looks like the Hawks wanted Trae Young and thus needed #5 instead of #7), but perhaps they felt so content with Hutchison at 22 they didn’t look to make any other moves or consider anybody else? Gar talked on The Score afterward about how they like to “follow the script” on draft night after all their preparations leading up to it, even saying that once they get up in the draft room their work is essentially done when it comes to debate and they don’t want anything to surprise them. I do kind of get the general sentiment with this in terms of draft prep, but it feels like the Bulls played this one extra safe and were locked in on Hutchison a long time ago, for better or worse.
The Second Round
The Bulls got a ton of heat for trading out of the second round last season at the beginning of a rebuild, and that move apparently even had an effect on this year’s draft:
But have to say I am just as intrigued to see if the Warriors succeed in buying a second-round pick. They can offer up to $5.1 million but have met with a shortage of willing trade partners after all the heat Chicago took for selling them the Jordan Bell pick in 2017 for $3.5 mil https://t.co/Y3mCF1a29F— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 22, 2018
I thought the Bulls should have tried to buy a second-round pick this year, but instead Gar and Pax made their media availability at the tail end of the first round and throughout the entire second round.
This ultimately isn’t that big of a deal, but the optics of it weren’t great and there were some quality players who fell pretty deep into the second round who could have been snagged. De’Anthony Melton and Keita Bates-Diop come to mind, so it’s unfortunate that the Bulls didn’t make more of an effort to do this, even if these aren’t likely to be stars.
Since last draft, the Bulls have built a theoretical starting lineup of Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine (if they keep him?), Chandler Hutchison, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. They have some other solid young guys in Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine and David Nwaba (if he returns). This isn’t a bad start for a rebuild, but at this point it’s lacking a clear two-way impact superstar. Markkanen looks great, but he has his limitations and has a lot of work to do.
The Bulls won’t be getting that star this summer. The Bulls won’t be a player for the major free agents and they aren’t trading for Kawhi Leonard. At this point, the Bulls shouldn’t be looking to make waves in free agency at all. Use the cap space to gain more draft assets and/or take a chance on a young player or two.
Winning a lot of games shouldn’t be a priority in 2018-19. Tanking shouldn’t be a priority either, but as I mentioned before I still think the Bulls will be pretty bad because most young teams are bad. Even if the Bulls win only 30-some games next year, it would be successful if there’s quality internal development and another high pick at the end of it. That would give the Bulls more assets to make a play for a proven star and make them a more attractive destination in 2019 and beyond.
The good news is Paxson has continually stressed a patient, disciplined process. He laughed off a suggestion of the Bulls being a playoff team next season and noted how far away the team is from being a real threat. Here’s him on The Score last night:
“We’re still far away in a lot of ways, and we know that. You only win in this league at a high level by having superstars, at least a couple of them. Our hope is we’ve drafted some in the last couple years, and that we’re going to be able to increase our asset base to be opportunistic if something arises to get a player we really like.”
I’m not confident that the Bulls have multiple stars already in place, but the sentiment here is a good one. The Bulls’ rebuild was never going to be done overnight, and what happened Thursday is evidence of a team willing to be patient during this process as they build an asset base. While more could’ve been done last night, the Bulls still had a solid draft that has them pointing in the right direction. At some point, though, the Bulls will have to be aggressive and make some big moves.