Draft grading is tough, especially the day of the selection. You’re likely going to look stupid.
But while Michael Reinsdorf may believe his dad’s team’s draft record “speaks for itself”, some others try to do actual analysis of the matter.
Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux dedicated about an hour of their latest Dunc’d On Podcast to going through the last six NBA drafts and evaluating their previous evaluations of the prospects with the advantage of hindsight. They mentioned several Bulls players intermittently.
Obviously, Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen has looked to be better than most people thought on draft night. In the immediate fallout from the Jimmy Butler trade, not merely was Markkanen seen as an underwhelming selection but was the type of selection that was deemed too safe for a rebuilding team. This was something that both Leroux and Duncan acknowledged, though Duncan made clear he was higher on Markkanen than most.
In a short time in the NBA, Markkanen is already flourishing offensively and making progress on his college weaknesses—particularly rebounding. Many draft evaluators, including me, underrated Markkanen when he came out of Arizona, but it’s time to reevaluate; Markkanen can become the best player in his draft class.
The Bulls braintrust still doesn’t deserve much praise for making a consensus selection without research and getting lucky, but it’s undoubtedly been a better result than doing something more ‘risky’, like taking Dennis Smith Jr..
Wendell Carter, Jr.
ESPN draft insiders Kevin Pelton and Mike Schmitz have been doing all-too-quick redrafts as well, or at least ranking based on ‘superstar potential’. The 2017 version was done before Markkanen’s second-half surge, but even then he was still on both analysts’ top-5 from that class. Given Markkanen’s February in particular, he’s certainly ahead of Lonzo Ball now, though still debateable his standing amongst Jason Tatum, De’Aaron Fox, and Donovan Mitchell.
But the 2018 ‘re-draft’ was done more recently. The Bulls number 7 selection Wendell Carter Jr., had an injury-shortened season but still pops up in Schmitz’s top-10 list at...number 7.
While he had some highs and lows in 44 games prior to injury, I still think Carter will develop into an Al Horford-type in time with his defensive versatility, rebounding, offensive feel and inside-outside game.
Pelton had Carter out of his top-10, with the rationale of putting Mitchell Robinson over Carter being “I’d rather have a prospect do too much than produce less efficiently, despite their superior pedigree” (he left Mo Bamba off the list for the same reason)
Although it was Minnesota who selected Dunn with the fifth overall pick in 2016, the Bulls really liked him as a prospect during that draft and clearly was a target in the Butler trade a year later.
In regards to how Dunn has lived up to the expectations, Leroux and Duncan say what every Bulls fan already knows.
“I just didn’t like the theory of his game,” Leroux said. “It didn’t look like he could run an offense for me and his jump shot looked awful and guess what it is awful so guess what you have all of that running together. I did really like his defense but guess what you don’t take a guard defender in the top 10 if you don’t think they can do the other things that make a guard really important. I’d say overall Dunn has been better than anticipated but I was closer to right than a lot of the people including Minnesota who had him five.”
There’s a reason Forman and Paxson probably have bought property near Murray State at this point given how many times they’ve gone to see Ja Morant play. They are looking for Dunn’s replacement.
Finally, Duncan and Leroux bring up one of the Bulls worst draft missteps in recent years which also happened in 2014.
“The team that I gave the best draft grade to this year was the Denver Nuggets,” Leroux said. “I didn’t give the Denver Nuggets the best draft grade because of Nikola Jokic but it was because of the trade they made. They moved from 11 down to 16 and 19 taking Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris. That trade looks amazing for them even though Nurkic didn’t work out.”
Of course, it was the Bulls on the other end of that trade moving up several spots to draft Doug McDermott.
If you’re curious if 2014 Timberwolves draftee Zach LaVine was discussed, instead most of the rest of their time on that year was spent talking about Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.