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Top 10 drafts in Chicago Bulls history

Jerry Krause deftly maneuvered his way into adding future All-Stars Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant in the 1987 Draft, which in turn helped construct a sturdy foundation that secured six titles over an eight-year period

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Sam Smith Mailbag

Yes, the Bulls landed the greatest player ever, Michael Jordan, thanks to the NBA Draft. But despite scoring the man who for most Bulls fans defines the team — and whose statue greets hundreds of thousands of United Center visitors each season — the NBA Draft really hasn’t been much of a friend to the franchise.

Sure, one could argue the Bulls effectively used the Draft to spur their championship run, which suggests it carries importance. After all, upon inheriting Jordan, then general manager Jerry Krause deftly maneuvered his way into adding future All-Stars Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant in the 1987 Draft, which in turn helped construct a sturdy foundation that secured six titles over an eight-year period.

Sam Smith's draft guide

However, after Jordan, Pippen, and pretty much the rest of the NBA’s version of the Beatles broke up following the Bulls 1998 title, Krause tried to pull a rabbit out of his hat once again, but his efforts fell short thanks to an overall lack of talent in both the 2000 and 2001 Draft pools, as well as a lethal combination of bad luck and bad scouting decisions.

Frankly, it was a direct result of the NBA Draft becoming too speculative with way too many high school kids opting to jump to the big time only a couple of weeks after their senior proms. The inability to see these prospects play in college against a higher level of competition not only set the Bulls back a number of years, but also a lot of other teams, too.

However, the Bulls look to be on the road to redemption these days thanks to last year’s stroke of luck that landed the team Derrick Rose with the No. 1 overall pick.

For the most part though, the personnel successes Chicago has enjoyed have come mainly as a result of trades. Many of the franchise’s top players, such as Chet Walker, Bob Love, Bill Cartwright, and Dennis Rodman came to town via a swap.

Here’s a look at the top 10 Bulls Drafts in history...


Michael Jordan
(Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images)

1 – 1984: Michael Jordan

Yes, the Bulls got lucky—really lucky.

As we know, the Portland Trail Blazers already had Clyde Drexler and All-Star guard Jim Paxson in the fold, so they felt a strong need to land a center in the Draft and decided to use the No. 2 overall pick on Kentucky’s Sam Bowie.

The little known story of this Draft involves the Houston Rockets. The Bulls were among many trying to swing a deal with Houston to get the No. 1 pick in order to choose 7’0” center Hakeem Olajuwon. However, the Rockets had other ideas. The juiciest of all rumors had Houston picking Olajuwon No. 1 and then trading its All-Star starting center, Ralph Sampson, to Portland for the No. 2 pick. This way, Houston would walk away with both Olajuwon and Jordan. Now, if that happened, (and thankfully it didn’t) the Bulls probably would’ve taken North Carolina forward Sam Perkins at No. 3.

Back then, the NBA Draft consisted of 10 rounds. Do you remember who the Bulls used their 10th round pick on? The answer: U.S. Olympic sprinter and gold medalist Carl Lewis.


Olden Polynice and Scottie Pippen
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

2 – 1987: Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant

This year’s Draft was arguably Jerry Krause’s greatest moment. He essentially traded the rights to the No. 8 overall pick, Virginia center Olden Polynice, to the Seattle Supersonics for the rights to the No. 5 pick, Scottie Pippen.

Luck always comes into play when making trades. The Pippen deal would’ve never happened if Georgetown’s Reggie Williams had been there for the Sonics at No. 5. However, the Los Angeles Clippers grabbed Williams at No. 4, thus Seattle took Pippen at No. 5 and waited for the Bulls to select Polynice for them at No. 8.

The Bulls coaching staff then persuaded Krause to choose Horace Grant over North Carolina’s Joe Wolf with the 10th overall pick. Krause had final say, but to his credit he listened to his coaches and made the right choice in taking Grant over Wolf.

3 – 2008: Derrick Rose and Omer Asik

Derrick Rose Derrick Rose
(Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls)

Outside of falling into Michael Jordan back in 1984, last year’s Draft has to be the second luckiest in team history, as scoring Derrick Rose was nothing short of pure good fortune. The Bulls went from having the 9th overall pick to No. 1 when their assigned number came up in the Lottery. Chicago had a 1.7% chance of landing in the top spot, and that’s exactly what happened.

If you listen to some folks in the know, the 2008 Draft may have also yielded the Bulls a potential sleeper in the second round thanks to an overlooked trade involving Denver and Portland. After the wheeling and dealing was completed, the Bulls came away with 7’0” Turkish center Omer Asik. The word out of Europe is Asik is a solid rebounder and terrific shot blocker, and has the potential to be a pretty decent low post player. From the sound of it he’s still at least a year away from coming to the NBA.


4 – 1978: Reggie Theus

Reggie Theus Reggie Theus
(Robert Lewis/NBAE/Getty Images)

Truth be told, former Bulls boss Rod Thorn wasn’t very good at drafting players. However, Thorn did make two wonderful picks during his seven-year Chicago tenure, the first being Reggie Theus with the No. 9 overall pick in 1978. That Draft proved to be classic in that the Celtics landed Indiana State’s Larry Bird with the No. 6 pick simply because teams ahead of them didn’t want to wait a whole season for Bird to show up because he opted to stay in college for a fifth year. Boston’s legendary Red Auerbach didn’t mind waiting for the “Hick from French Lick,” and neither did Celtics fans after Bird arrived.

Two solid players, Ron Brewer and Freeman Williams, went just ahead of Theus, who quickly became an All-Star scorer for the Bulls and one of the franchise’s most popular players.

OK, do you know who Thorn’s best Chicago Draft pick was? Answer: Michael Jordan.


5 – 1985: Charles Oakley

Charles Oakley Charles Oakley
(Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images)

Another savvy move by Jerry Krause came at the 1985 Draft, as he cut a deal with Cleveland, trading guard Ennis Whatley and the rights to Memphis State All-American Keith Lee for rookie power forward Charles Oakley. Oakley quickly became the team’s tough guy and a rebounding leader.

The Bulls eventually were able to trade Oakley to New York for Bill Cartwright, the final piece for the 1991-93 Championship teams.


6 – 1990: Toni Kukoc

Toni Kukoc Toni Kukoc
(Jon Soohoo/NBAE/Getty Images)

The drafting of European star Toni Kukoc was somewhat controversial and not popular among Bulls players at the time. But the Bulls were one of the first NBA teams to land a top prospect from overseas. Kukoc became a key figure for the 1996-98 Championship teams and was the league’s top 6th man his rookie year. Chicago didn’t have a first round pick in 1990, but thanks to an earlier trade with Orlando, they owned the second pick in the second round, No. 29 overall, which they used on Kukoc.


7 – 2004: Ben Gordon, Luol Deng and Chris Duhon

Gordon, Deng and Duhon Ben Gordon, Luol Deng and Chris Duhon
(Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls)

The Bulls owned two top 10 picks in 2004, their own at No. 3 and the No. 7 overall pick, which they bought from Phoenix for a lot of cash and the rights to the second pick in the second round. The No. 7 pick was supposed to be traded to Indiana for veteran forward Al Harrington. However, the Pacers decided to hold out and try to force the Bulls to deal the No. 3 pick instead. The Bulls balked, and went on to select UConn junior guard Ben Gordon and Duke freshman forward Luol Deng with their two top picks. Then, in the second round, the Bulls used the No. 38 overall pick on another Duke player, point guard Chris Duhon. In the end, that trio became the core of a team that began the Bulls’ rebirth from the Tim Floyd era.


8 – 1999: Elton Brand and Ron Artest

Elton Brand Elton Brand
(Andrew Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

The Bulls scored the top pick in the NBA Lottery and the choice was among Elton Brand, Steve Francis, Baron Davis, and Lamar Odom. They were intrigued by Odom’s versatility, but he blew off their interview. So the Bulls ended up taking Brand No. 1, and it was the right move. Two years later Brand was dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers for the second overall pick in the 2001 Draft, a move that has been second-guessed ever since.

In theory, dealing Brand for high school center Tyson Chandler and then drafting a second high school star, Eddy Curry, was sound in that the Bulls hoped they were getting a pair of seven footers similar to Shaq and Kevin Garnett. Hindsight has proven it was a bad decision as neither player turned out that way.


9 – 1989: Stacey King, B.J. Armstrong and Jeff Sanders

B.J. Armstrong B.J. Armstrong
(Nathaniel Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

History suggests when the Bulls have a lot of draft picks, the talent pool tends to be shallow.

Louisville All-American Pervis Ellison was taken No. 1 by Sacramento, with the Clippers taking Duke’s Danny Ferry at No. 2 in 1989. As a result of trades, one with New Jersey and another with Seattle, the Bulls owned the Nos. 6 and 18 overall picks, as well as their own at No. 20.

With the sixth pick, the Bulls selected Oklahoma center Stacey King, bypassing future All-Stars Mookie Blaylock (12), Tim Hardaway (14), Dana Barros (16), and Shawn Kemp (17). At No. 18, the Bulls took Iowa’s B.J. Armstrong and at No. 20, Krause tabbed Georgia Southern forward Jeff Sanders.

Both King and Armstrong ended up being key role players on the Bulls first three Championship teams in the early 1990s. In fact, Armstrong became a starter alongside Michael Jordan in 1992, and two years later he was voted a starter at the 1994 All-Star game.


10 – 1968: Tom Boerwinkle

Tom Boerwinkle Tom Boerwinkle
(Ron Mrowiec/NBAE/Getty Images)

The Bulls owned the No. 4 pick in the 1968 Draft, and selected 7’0” center Tom Boerwinkle out of Tennessee. Boerwinkle wasn’t a scoring threat, but he was a solid rebounder and defender and ended up being one of the best passing big men ever to play in the NBA. Against Phoenix in 1970, Boerwinkle grabbed a still-standing franchise record 37 rebounds. The consummate team player, Boerwinkle, along with fellow center Clifford Ray, manned the middle for the Bulls great run of the early 1970s.


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