Around this time last year I was truly excited about adding Denzel Valentine to our team. I found him to be a proven passer and defender, and an adept scorer that could be a solid rotation player to an exciting roster.
The words proven upperclassmen have defined the Bulls draft strategy for a number for years, and this has to change. Our team needs to invest in young talent, particularly freshmen and high upside sophomores. The last time the Bulls drafted a freshman in the first round, that player was Luol Deng.
In my 2017 NBA Draft Preview, I am going to go over a few groups of players that I believe the Bulls will take a look at drafting with the 16th pick: the usual suspects, the high upside sophomores, and the young big men. Then we’ll take a look at some prospects that the Bulls might look at if a trade happens.
The Usual Suspects
These are the prototypical GarPax draft picks. These players are exactly the type of players the bulls are used to picking: proven scorers or defenders on a successful college basketball team.
Luke Kennard, 6’6, SG Duke, Sophomore
Luke Kennard is a lights out shooter, something the Bulls sorely need. He lit it up during his sophomore year under Coach K, proving to be one of the go-to options on a very talented team. From beyond the arc, he is everything you look for in a draft prospect. Yet, his game reminds me a little too much of Doug McDermott in guard form, someone who is an extremely talented scorer and OK defender in college, but the fails to make the proper defensive adjustments to make stops at the next level. I wouldn’t be appalled if we drafted Kennard because I love his playmaking and he’s young enough where he can maybe develop as a defender, but I believe the 16th pick is way too high for a player like that.
Justin Jackson, 6’8, SF North Carolina, Junior
Justin Jackson to me is another Doug McDermott or Denzel Valentine. He is an unbelievable scorer, truly showing prowess from deep this past season for the first time in his college career. He was also a National Champion this past season under Roy Williams, where he essentially shared the role of top scoring option with Joel Berry II. He can put it in from anywhere, but once again, scouts are weary that his defensive potential, or rather his lack of it, will stunt his potential as an NBA player. He is not a great athlete by any means, and I don’t believe a player like Jackson is the best addition for the Bulls. We have seen too many players like him come and go through our system without making any lasting impact, and we’ve already seen what he can do.
High Upside Sophomores
Think Bobby Portis with these players. They’re more proven than many freshmen, but they have nearly as much upside.
Donovan Mitchell, 6’3, SG Louisville, Sophomore
One thing has overshadowed the rest of the talk about Mitchell: his height. While listed at 6’3, it has become known around league circles that Mitchell is truly 6’1 without shoes on. He projects as a 2-guard in the NBA, so this will be a major issue, right? For any other guy, probably, but Mitchell is a freak, boasting a 6’10 wingspan. As a sophomore at Louisville he really developed a knack for scoring and proved himself as one of teams top scoring options, averaging 15.6 points per game. Mitchell is also an incredibly gifted defender in no small part due to his arm length, averaging 2.7 steals per game. Mitchell was a stat sheet stuffer in college, and if he can fix some inconsistent shooting, he should continue to be that way in the NBA. A lot of scouts throw out the Dwyane Wade comparison, and I believe it is warranted. A season of playing under Wade would do wonders for the kid.
OG Anunoby, 6’8, SF Indiana, Sophomore
I am biased when it comes to this guy, because I got to watch him play so many times in college, but I absolutely love Anunoby. Yes, he’s coming off of an injury and hasn’t logged nearly as any minutes as other prospects, yet he is still considered a potential lottery pick. He screams NBA body, standing at 6’8 with a 7’2 wingspan and weighing in around 230 lbs. He is an elite defender who is developing quickly as a shooter. If OG can get past this injury, the sky is the limit for this young player. If the Bulls decide to take him, he could really learn a lot from Jimmy Butler.
Collins is probably the player who is most frequently projected to go to the bulls. He is athletic and has lot of length, and his motor truly does not stop. If he continues to work on his defense, his frame will allow him to become a really solid shot stopper in the NBA. He truly developed as a scoring option this past season, averaging 19.2 points to go along with 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. A lot of scouts liken his body to that of Taj Gibson’s, some even drawing comparisons in their playing style. If he has a little Taj in him, I am sure the fans will love him.
Young Big Men
With the Bulls currently sitting at 16 on the draft board, most of the upside remaining at that point will lie in young, developing first year big men. These players have very high upside, but their floor is lower relative to a lot of the previously mentioned prospects.
Justin Patton, 6’11, C Creighton, Freshman
Playing under Greg McDermott, Patton was a high efficiency player for Creighton. While averaging only 12.9 points per game, he did so shooting at a .676 rate, and over the course of the season developed a little bit of a three point shot. He really needs to bulk up and develop as a defender, but Patton has a lot of potential and would be a solid building block alongside Bobby Portis down low.
Jarrett Allen, 6’10, C Texas, Freshman
Allen is another high upside big man. He can play both at the 4 and the 5, boasting elite length with his 7’5 wingspan. He also excels as shot blocker and proved to be an excellent athlete. Allen definitely needs to put on some weight and strength to succeed in the league, but he has the potential to be a starting center in the NBA.
Harry Giles, 6’11, PF Duke, Freshman
The only way Harry Giles falls to the Bulls at 16 is if teams in the lottery are scared off by his injury history and decide to go a safer route. Giles has torn ACL’s in both of his knees, but he has as much upside as anyone in this draft. His injuries really cut into his playing time at Duke, only logging 300 minutes over the course of the season, yet scouts still believe there is a ton of potential in this former top high school prospect. He is an explosive athlete who is smart and really has a knack for scoring and defending. If he can put on some muscle and stay healthy, Giles could be an All Star. If he falls to the Bulls, GarPax should immediately pull the trigger, no matter what the risk.
TJ Leaf, 6’10, PF UCLA, Freshman
Drafting Leaf would be a bit of a reach at the 16th pick, but he fills a dire need for the team: shooting. Leaf, not Lonzo Ball, led UCLA in scoring this past season, averaging 16.3 points per game. He also has a lot of athleticism and could truly strive as a stretch four in the NBA. While he needs to add strength and develop defense, his offensive skills should make up for what he’s missing on defense in the meantime. Leaf could end up being a fantastic player if he gets in the right system, and Fred Hoiberg might be the perfect coach to unlock his potential.
I’ll give two predictions at the 16 spot. If he’s there, I think the Bulls pull the trigger on Donovan Mitchell. Beyond the lottery there are few players with the potential that Mitchell has to be a starting contributor in the NBA. If Mitchell is not there, I believe the team will go with a big man, in particular Jarrett Allen.
The team seems to be focusing much of their scouting on big men, and Allen has already been in for a work out. In my opinion, he has a higher floor than the other big men I highlighted and has a hardworking attitude that you can’t teach.
It wouldn’t be a Bulls draft preview without discussing some players the Bulls might look at if the team decides to trade Jimmy Butler. If a trade goes down, and a pick in this draft is included, we will most likely be picking third, fourth, or seventh. These are Boston, Phoenix, and Minnesota’s picks, and there a number of players we could look in this range. If we pick third, Josh Jackson is the likely pick. The Bulls are reportedly enamored with his athleticism and would love to have a player like him to build around. I am not as enthusiastic about Jackson as others, as I am truly concerned with off-court issues surrounding him.
At four, I believe we would look at Jayson Tatum out of Duke or De’Aaron Fox out of Kentucky. Tatum has so much offensive talent for a freshmen, proving countless times this past season that he can create his own shot. Fox reminds me so much of John Wall it’s scary. He is one of the most athletic guards in recent memory to come out of the draft, and his speed is something to salivate over.
If we end up with Minnesota’s pick at 7, I think Dennis Smith Jr. out of NC State would be our man. He is an elite ball-handler who can truly dictate an offense, and would serve as the point guard of the future for the Chicago Bulls.