Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions on Draft prospects Avdija, Okongwu, and Okoro

Deshaun Brown:

Every year, as the NBA draft approaches, I find myself having the same curiosity about ranking players from previous drafts to the current one. Based on their pre-draft scouting reports, how would some of our recent picks (White, Carter Jr., Markkanen) rank against this year's draft class if they were in this draft?

Sam Smith:

I guess you could say they'd look good in a weak (as some say) draft. With the ancillary analysis of if their drafts were redone where would they fit?

I think Zach LaVine would, at least the player he is now, go No. 1 in this draft. I keep hearing this simple observation about meaningless stats, though 25 points per game still count. I know it's supposed to match wins, but especially in these playoffs, we see players' impact is enhanced by teammates. Anthony Edwards is generally regarded as the top draft talent. So I'm sure Zach will be better next season than Edwards. And for many to come. Which of course will be Zach's seventh year in the NBA. Zach hasn't been an All-Star, but he can make a case. Going back to his 2014 draft, he'd probably go top five. Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, the latter a second round pick, go one/two.

The Bull who has taken the biggest fall lately probably has been Lauri Markkanen, who maybe drops in this draft to around 10 with the likes of the shooters, like Devin Vassell. Before last season we'd have ranked him much higher and maybe top three, so with a bit more force and a new coach his rating could reemerge much higher. Markkanen now probably ranks close to No. 10 in his draft class with Nos. 13 and 14, Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo, passing him.

Wendell Carter Jr. because of the injuries and also being held back on offense last season probably is in the second five in this draft ranked starting around the level of Onyeka Okongwu and perhaps to the bottom of the lottery with the likes of Patrick Williams. Like with Markkanen, this is a vital season for him to show development. Carter has held steady and probably still grades about seventh in his class.

Coby White should make the soon-to-be-announced all-rookie team after being snubbed for the Rising Stars game due to various mixed playing messages in the first half of the season. Instead of, you know, just score, baby. Depending on how you feel about LaMelo Ball's ceiling, White would be one of the top two point guards in this draft. Assuming we still think he's a point guard. And he does play one in a Bulls jersey.

Kris Dunn from the 2016 draft, obviously, has slipped, but not as far as you'd think from his class and still would rank as a lottery pick. Though in this draft with the league's vast emphasis on shooting now, he'd probably be toward the end of this lottery thanks to his high level defense. And then in the right playing situation he could become one of those draft surprises.

Dennis Gray:

If I were to get another offer from a good team I would tell Kris Dunn to not look back and leave. Chicago is too crazy of a team and too many changing parts. Most of all I'm sure he won't forget what they put him through. How about the Tomas deal that made him look like a bum. The guy was never given a solid chance with good guys around him. The team had different players and coaches daily. Remember this guy was a 5 pick and was the best player that first summer game. Scoring 26 points. Everyone said at that point he would be rookie of the year. Well, when you get a coach like Thibs who won't play rookies you see where that went. Put this guy on a good team and play him and he will look like a star. Over these years he lost his confidence on what they did to him!

Sam Smith:

It looked like Kris was on his way and going to meet that promise under Fred Hoiberg in 2017-18. He'd recovered from Thibs and being misplaced as a backup shooting guard and earned his way into the Bulls starting lineup. He became the Bulls go to guy in December, making multiple game winning shots (yes, they were winning games) as the Bulls were 14-7 with the return to health (and neutral corners) of most of the team's power forwards when Dunn with the Bulls on the verge of beating the Warriors in January attempted to dunk, landed on his head and basically never recovered that season from the concussion. He was injured to start the following season and then got lost in the series of personnel and coaching changes and emphasis on subsequent drafts. (By the way, the Bulls really have had a lot of injuries that they cannot repeat, right?) So, yes, it's probably time for a change for Dunn. Which is part of life for all of us—few jobs are forever anymore—and the predictable rhythms of sports.

I know many Bulls fans lament Jimmy Butler's success in Miami now and the what if the Bulls kept him. But sometimes the time and fit aren't right and it's never going to happen. Remember, this is Jimmy's third team since leaving the Bulls having gone through his favored coach in Tom Thibodeau and failing to fit with All-Stars like Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns. He finally found his comfort zone, and good for him. It hardly means he would have had he stayed in any of those three places. NBA history is filled with such examples, like Chauncey Billups with his fifth team becoming a Final MVP, Rasheed Wallace on that same team going from the league's troublemaker to champion with his fourth team. James Harden as a sixth man to an MVP once he changed teams.

Satoransky only has one more guaranteed season, but there's also been speculation the Bulls may select a point guard in the draft even as it seems Coby White is destined to be the starter next season. I remember that first Summer League game. Dunn looked by far the best player from that draft in those games. I remember Bulls executives, who were talking with Boston that June about a Butler trade, dreaming about what if after seeing Dunn. Though it could be interesting next week if Miami plays Boston in the conference finals because the Celtics rejected numerous trade proposals for Butler, essentially saying he didn't fit with them. Miami is a unique organization, and it seems Jimmy finally found his NBA home. Could be another chip-on-the-shoulder series for Jimmy. Watch out!

Kirk Landers:

All things considered, I'm glad my career doesn't depend on knowing which teenager is going to be a star and which is going to be a bust...though I guess the people who make those calls are making a lot more money than I ever did, even when they're wrong. I've read a lot of mock drafts and this draft seems to be one of those that will produce five or six starters spread evenly across the first 30 picks, and maybe no stars at all. One of your readers suggested that if Ball is available at #4, the Bulls trade down with someone like the Knicks at #8 and pick up one of the other guards or Avdija, or maybe a first round pick next year. That makes sense to me. I've seen film of Ball and his talent is obvious, but his shot is as ugly as a junior high schooler's half court heave and his reactions on defense are so slow it's hard to imagine him helping on defense, let alone staying with an NBA point guard one-on-one. You've made the point many times that there are only so many young players a team can absorb and prepare for success in any given year, and the Bulls have three such players they're counting on. This might be a good year to focus on the talent they have and see if they can swap #4 for something interesting next year.

Sam Smith:

The more I think about it and the conventional wisdom about this draft, the more I believe the Bulls may well try to trade down if they get a reasonable offer. Of course that depends a lot on who wants to trade up, and if Ball, Wiseman and Edwards are gone... there might not be much demand. The Bulls probably do have enough young players—yes, perhaps too many, which was the point at the time of adding Thad Young and Satoransky, which seemed then to make a lot of sense—and adding another teenager who's not Zion or Ja might not be so helpful.

The Raptors in these playoffs are a good example of the balance with mostly veterans who are not necessarily superstars and one or two young players. Or like with Boston, you can build around your young players. But they have to progress. Now's the time for the Bulls, which is why being left out of the Orlando "campus" was so devastating.

I'm a fan of Okongwu on the trade down menu. Many had targeted Isaac Okoro, a defensive player who perhaps could develop Butleresque, when the Bulls were holding No. 7 before the lottery. He's targeted about No. 10. There seem to be a lot of interesting possibilities if the Bulls end up lower than No. 7 this season. Yes, they got No. 4. But how about that No. 9! Though now it seems we have to wait until November. Seriously, can I obsess over these 10 guys for another two months?

Don Figgers:

I understand that a player's value is whatever you get for them. But I don't understand what you think Andrew Wiggins value is? I recently sent a trade that you felt was one-sided. But since then I've seen trades that has had Otto for Wiggins straight up. Others that have teams trading their best player for Wiggins, like Vucevic or Lavine, which seems like a stretch to me. But then I see one's where he draws a legitimate All-Star like Beal or Embiid. I believe that around the league his stock is very low and Golden State are prime to dump his salary. Especially if we can get a pick swap out the deal. Wiseman and Wiggins give us talent to contend in the east. Here's the trade I think can do it: Wiggins and No. 2 pick for Otto Porter, Wendell Carter, No. 4 pick and 2 future first round picks. I believe Golden State really want space for 2021 free agency.

Sam Smith:

I'm somewhat confused (which isn't unusual these days) that if Wiggins' value is down how is there so much interest. I'm not sure where you're seeing these scenarios, though it sounds more like the Russians on Facebook again.

As much as everyone would like to trade Porter, that's usually the tipoff that you most likely can't trade Porter. Very few teams, as difficult as that may be to believe, are not that eager to add players that non-playoff teams don't want. I could see the Warriors with interest in Carter, who I think has been underutilized by the Bulls. I think he has a much larger upside. Though I'm also fairly sure two future firsts is way too much. I like Wiggins more than most because I see him as another player who wasn't in the right circumstance for him. Though with the Warriors presumably circling Giannis with a half dozen other teams, I expect that's more likely in trade because the economics suggest Giannis should sign a contract and then be traded if it's not working. And Wiggins has a large number to help facilitate a deal. Plus, Golden State can't get cap space, anyway, with Curry, Thompson and Green on the books.

Taylor Line:

Any chance the Bulls ask Robin Lopez to come back? Hopefully he's gotten over the sentimental value of watching his brother from the bench. I think at minimum he would add passion to our team, veteran presence, mascot abuse, etc. Any other former bulls interest you as a good boomerang to help establish the new culture?

Sam Smith:

I'm guessing former Bulls might not be the best ingredients for a new formula. You probably shouldn't blame Budenholzer—among the dozens of blames he's getting—for not using Robin. His pregame wrestling, of course, was the highlight of the past season. I'm not convinced what he does during the games is that helpful these days. The Bulls need to continue to expand the personnel field to include players with perhaps less sentimental value and more chances to score.

Chris Dubz:

What I loved most about Jimmy night in and night out is he always played hard regardless on defense or offense and the kid from Auburn, Isaac Okoro, is the Best on ball and off ball defender in the draft and give me Marquette Jimmy vibes but way better, and you don't have tell him to play hard he just does it. He's a powerful dunker, has a catch and shoot rhythm and has handles but his best quality is defense and that's something that is hard to teach because that comes with effort. Isaac Okoro could be the missing defensive piece that we need night in and night out.

Sam Smith:

I've been wary about Okoro, who was the mock draft favorite at No. 7 for the Bulls. He seems to have slipped a few spots in most mock drafts lately even though nothing has happened and no one has even worked out for anyone. Could be too many vowels in his name upsetting some of the spread sheet guys. Though with all the O's and I's, he'd seem the best in this draft for computer programming. I know we all love defense and certainly to hold up those D-fense signs. And we all want those two-way players even if Harden, Westbrook, Doncic and so many of the top players don't much qualify. I agree the Bulls could use a wing defender (we love saying wing now) and with LaVine, White and Markkanen the theory is they have plenty of offense. Or a lot. I'm still hesitant given Okoro's poor shooting. Will his offense evolve to resemble another defense first Bulls rookie like Jimmy Butler? Or Kris Dunn's?

Jake Henry:

Wendell Carter is likely valuable even with Okungwu. They can't play together much, but together they could play the centers 48 minutes on almost any team left in the playoffs but the Lakers and the teams wouldn't want for much. Carter to me is the hardest guy to know what you actually have. He was the one who got his development cast aside by coaching. Lauri at least still had opportunities; he was simply awful. Wants to have the ball in his hands more than he's earned with no help defense around. Im not opposed to trading both though. Carter lacks explosion and strength. I like his passing and defensive intelligence though.

Sam Smith:

That Okongwu/Carter tandem is an interesting concept. It doesn't have to be all about starting, like with the Clippers with multiple Sixth Man candidates. I've mentioned the Bulls lacking the toughness quotient. It's actually something John Paxson probably was most frustrated about, but that's also the problem with the draft, with that best player (talent) available mantra versus the fit for your team. And being able to figure it out at 19. How do you grade toughness when most of their games have been AAU? Though toughness comes as much from experience, learning to fight through screens, finish at the rim, play through contact. It's difficult to know until you've already given them a four-year contract.

It would be nice if you liked Okongwu at No. 8 and could trade down, but that's not as likely as many suggest with a draft not so top heavy and other teams, like the Warriors, also rumored to want to trade down or even out of the draft. Karnisovas emphasized about this draft your No. 14 may be their No. 4. I'd say if you like someone take him and don't worry about the ESPN guys giving you a D grade on draft night. If they were more competent, they'd have your job instead of theirs.

Len Artick:

Edwards & Wiseman "on another level"? I'm not so sure either. Wiseman might be. He looks great in the clips, but only played 3 games in college, against what I'm told was very poor competition. (I heard Patti Corzine once said that in pick-up games Dave looked like Bill Walton.) Edwards looks like he has a good body and some talent, but a lot to learn. I have a feeling he won't be a great rookie, but may ‘bloom' after 2-3 years in the NBA. The fact is that every top prospect in this draft has a caveat or a significant weakness... and we've barely seen any of them play. It's going to be a tough call and may require some luck. What if Ball or Avdija never learn how to shoot? Both of them, along with Toppin, are questionable on defense. Hayes doesn't have a right hand. What if Wiseman is lazy?... or Edwards doesn't get it?... or Ball is ‘emotionally challenged'? Did I mention it's a very strange year? I actually do think Obi Toppin is "all that". The film is impressive, but so are the stats. He's a monster at the rim, a legitimate 3-pt. threat and has a good enough handle to take it end-to-end. Runs, jumps and has perhaps the most NBA-ready body in the draft. He'll be better if he improves his D, but that's also true of James Harden... and a few other guys in the NBA.

Sam Smith:

That's what makes this so difficult. We're making a case for or against the top half dozen guys. Maybe the Bulls should trade down for those three bad Boston first round picks and then not be blamed if they get it wrong.

Andrew Figlewski:

If you're the front office, do you try and trade the #4 pick for Myles Turner? With the Pacers likely leaning their focus towards Sabonis as their big of the future, Turner might not fit in the plan anymore. He'll bring defense and some spacing that Carter hasn't developed yet, plus having to respect the shot of all 5 players will open up the lane for Zach to go to work (ala Houston with Westbrook). Indiana wouldn't be quick to dump him, however, so we may have to give up someone. Felicio or, sadly, Gafford may have to be included.

Sam Smith:

Not Felicio! Sorry, I've remained Felicio-free in all these sessions, but you brought it up. The Pacers are at a curious juncture since I was surprised about the Nate McMillan firing, which suggested they need that B to C guy. Correspondents had been asking me about trading for Victor Oladipo and I'd been in a pooh pooh mood and said why would the Pacers do that unless he was still injured. Maybe he is, which would negate interest. But now you hear rumors about Oladipo possibly being traded. Hey, there's another guy who needed a third team to blossom, by the way. Now a fourth? I don't see why Turner and Sabonis can't play together since Turner takes so many threes. I like Turner. Though I still don't believe the Pacers are breaking down their team for draft picks.

Noah Freeman:

How are the teams going to be able to evaluate draftees before the draft? Will they be able to bring them in individually and do workouts? Will some players be willing to travel and other won't? Will the NBA create a draft combine bubble to evaluate players? Will it all be by zoom? If zoom interviews, will the teams have them go through drills and just have someone hold the camera? Lots of questions about this draft with fewer answers. Will be interesting to see how the redraft looks in a couple of years. Can't be worse than most.

Sam Smith:

That's the spirit. But good observation since even with all those workouts, five years later the top 10 has about three players who should remain in it. Karnisovas has been saying something interesting that seems to have been overlooked. He's talked about ending the workouts since now with players locked into spots in all these mock drafts and analytical lists, basically no one comes to the combine to play except guys not expecting to be drafted and the best players won't even work out for fear of being exposed. I never get the NBA being held hostage. It's their workplace. It's not a constitutional right. If you don't come to the combine to play and work out, you are not eligible for the draft. Law firms make you get a law degree. No one says it's discriminatory. I'm liking Karnisovas more and more when he points out failures like that. Drafting teenagers who never play in college is tough enough. Then they come to their job interview and tell you what they will or won't do. And you better like it and treat them nicely. The NBA has this whole process backward. I guess the NBA moved the draft into November for some sort of combine, though since none of the players will compete I'm not sure of the purpose.

Longgiang Le:

Do you think the Bulls might have to trade up to get Deni (Avdija) from Israel? I like his quickness, length/ size and playmaking skills. The rise of Doncic could make Deni more attractive don't you think?

Sam Smith:

If he were the next Doncic, yes they would have to. He's not.

Andrew Killion:

If we do land Advija do you see small ball lineups where we have Lauri at the 5 (so only so small really with a 7' center), OPJ playing forward with Advija and Coby & Zach as guards. That's lots of running, slashing and shooting surrounding a running point forward without, admittedly, a huge emphasis on defense. We have Carter, Dunn, Thad and Shaq to bring in for defense while we have more shooting with Denzel and Hutchinson too, and a developing rim-runner in Gafford. I am, by default, an optimistic person/fan.

Sam Smith:

This is a good time for optimism. Haven't lost a game in almost six months and it might be another six months before they lose again. Best run in franchise history? Nah, not so funny.

Avdija is the guy I targeted at No. 4 for the Bulls based on the loose analysis available at the lottery and generally accepted wisdom of the mock draft experts who are said to may or may not know. So here's your starting lineup? Coby, Zach, Deni, Otto and Lauri. Sounds like fun with a lot, lot, lot of shooting. Though because that's pretty much no defense, I can't see Wendell coming off the bench. But even with very good teams like Denver (someone we know's former team), you don't see much defense. I'm not saying any of those guys match James Harden, but the Rockets still are playing with PJ Tucker guarding five guys. The Bulls could always bring in Dunn or Carter for a little bit of that. It certainly could be a lineup they use in games, if not start. I guess the larger question is whether that lineup, especially with Porter figured to be a short term resident, is too young and inexperienced. Or how far the Bulls expect to go in the next season. Playoff team? A step away from one while getting a long term core in place like the baseball Cubs and White Sox have done? After all, with new management it's starting again.