Sam Smith analyzes how some of the consensus top players in the 2020 NBA draft would fit with our current Bulls team.
Seven has many meanings. There's the seven days, the seven continents, the seven colors of the rainbow, Mickey Mantle, and, of course, the Bulls annual draft position. They're not exactly craps, but Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White weren't able to get the Bulls into the NBA's top 22.
The NBA's delayed lottery drawing is August 25. If there is no change through the lottery drawing, the Bulls will be selecting No. 7 again based on the team's 22-43 record when play was stopped in March. Twenty-two teams are expected to resume in Orlando later this month with a championship game in early October if all goes as planned. The verdict isn't in yet on the Bulls recent No. 7 selections. But it sure would be nice for the team to get a break this season and advance into the top four in the draft via the lottery.
While there are star players who emerge even from outside the draft lottery, like Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, there's a much better chance picking in the top five. Especially, it seems in this draft.
Consider the last three drafts when the Bulls selected No. 7. Some of the players selected in the top five in those drafts include Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, Trae Young, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Teams are beginning to build around players like that.
New Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas said in recent media conference calls he believes this draft is stronger and deeper than many project. Which means there could be starting players throughout the top 10. But are there stars? There's no guarantee even with a top three pick a team will be able to draft a star. Here are some of the top five selections the last three years: Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, Marvin Bagley, De'Andre Hunter. And in 2016 Dragan Bender and, yes, Kris Dunn.
There aren't exactly all can't-miss players projected at the top of this 2020 draft. But there does seem, at least, an opportunity for an impact player among the top five. There are possibilities beyond that top five, though, it seems, mostly among that next five. And then there's your Pascal Siakam type, who fools everyone until he becomes an NBA star. Can the new Bulls executive team find one of those guys?
That's generally above our pay grade. So here's a look at perhaps how the consensus top players in the draft would fit with the Bulls current roster:
Anthony Edwards, 6-5 shooting guard, Georgia.
Would Edwards, Zach LaVine and Coby White be the next decade's version of the Steph Curry/Klay Thompson/Kevin Durant Warriors? OK, probably not. But the Warriors did win 73 games with Curry, Thompson and Harrison Barnes starting. Could that Bulls trio with Edwards be a version of the James Harden high scoring Houston Rockets? Presumably Markkanen and Carter would complete the starting lineup. But if Markkanen didn't think he had many good shooting opportunities this season, then he'd better learn to pass playing with that threesome. Edwards is a strong, physical guard who draws some comparisons to Bradley Beal. I see more J.R. Rider, at least in style. He didn't shoot threes well at Georgia, but that should change. He might work better with a true point guard, which the Bulls still don't have. It could be appetizing to see the offensive potential of those three together. Could they be persuaded to pass and move? After all, Curry and Thompson didn't do much of that until Steve Kerr took over as coach. One NBA standard is to add talent and then let them figure it out because you can't teach talent. I doubt the Bulls would select Edwards if they got the No. 1 pick. If they moved up to No. 4 and he still was available, that would be an interesting decision.
Obi Toppin, 6-9 power forward, Dayton.
Probably the closest to a can't miss candidate in this draft, if not necessarily a superstar. He's older, 22, and thus more experienced and prepared for the NBA. He's an active, physical athlete with a good touch who'd be a power forward for the Bulls, likely matched with Markkanen as starters. Hey, isn't Markkanen the power forward? Well, yes, but it's that new NBA thing. With Toppin at power forward, Markkanen could become the center, though not the kind we usually consider. Markkanen could play, at least on offense, something of a perimeter center the way the Dallas Mavericks use Kristaps Porzingis, often in transition to shoot threes. Toppin could defend some centers or come off the bench behind Carter, who may be ready to break out after injuries. Carter or Toppin could enhance a defensive oriented second unit with Kris Dunn, Thad Young and Daniel Gafford.
LaMelo Ball, 6-6 point guard, Ball World
It's been awhile since the Bulls were the story around the NBA. With LaMelo they could be at least among the few. Perhaps not ultimately the best talent from this draft, but with a Dostoevsky family and basically famous since he was 14, the most talented brother may be the most watched player from this draft. Perhaps not Zioness. But maybe Luka-like, at least in interest. The Bulls could use some eyes. And talent. Ball happens to play a position the Bulls need. The Bulls have more talented players than their record suggests. But they mostly don't have anyone who makes anyone better. Ball should with fabulous passing ability and playing flair. Not so good a shooter, but probably better than his brother in New Orleans. With great size, he steps right in at point. Perhaps with Coby White at shooting guard and Zach LaVine at small forward. Again, not much defensively. LaVine and White have played some point guard at times. So the possibilities are enticing. Then probably Markkanen and Carter filling out the starting lineup. Ball could help both get more involved on offense. If Otto Porter Jr. remains the starter at small forward, then White probably becomes that Jamal Crawford/Ben Gordon sixth man with the green light. Not a bad assignment.
James Wiseman, 7-1 center, Memphis.
Along with Ball, he fills another missing piece for the Bulls, the athletic seven footer who can match with the game's big men. He's a big time athlete, skilled and talented. Though Carter has NBA starter potential at center, he's missing those vital four inches or so and some of the impressive athleticism. That's Wiseman, who would join Markkanen, Porter, LaVine and White starting. That's still missing the elite point guard, though White tries, Kris Dunn has shown some potential and Tomas Satoransky maybe needed adjustment time. If Satoransky shows more, White could lead that second unit, again giving the Bulls potentially impressive depth. Carter also could play some power forward coming off the bench in a mix with Gafford and Thad Young and giving Chandler Hutchison another chance at wing.
Deni Avdija, 6-9 small forward, Israel
He'd be the wing player of the future, a skilled and athletic big man who appears nimble and can run the court with an improving shot. In many respects because of his injuries, Porter probably is more an NBA stretch power forward at this stage of his career. There are potential lineups for the Bulls with Markkanen playing that big man, transition center. Perhaps with Porter at power forward and then Avdija, LaVine and White. Avdija appears to have big potential as a secondary ball handler and facilitator who could relieve White or LaVine from some point guard duties as a point forward. Some compare him to Danilo Gallinari. We always compare international players to other international players, though Avdija has some Mickey Johnson in him and maybe eventually some Grant Hill.
Onyeka Okongwu, 6-9 center, USC
I know, not another 6-9 center. But he's not just another 6-9 center. He's scary physical like the Clippers Montrezl Harrell and more athletic and longer than Miami's Bam Adebayo, who became an All-Star. He'd provide the physical complement to Markkanen. Perhaps with his defensive prowess, rim protection and shot blocking the Bulls could start him with Dunn to have strong interior and perimeter defense like the Clippers have with Patrick Beverley and Harrell. Okongwu can play effective pick and roll perhaps with a guard like Dunn, leaving White to run that second unit with Carter, Hutchison, Thad Young and perhaps Satoransky or Denzel Valentine. Or White still starting with Carter and Okongwu proving that second unit defense. The Bulls with a top six or seven pick should come into next season with little drop-off from the first to second units, which should be a strength.
Tyrese Haliburton, 6-5 point guard, Iowa State
Just what you feared, a six player draft with the Bulls currently in the seventh spot. The group with Edwards, Ball, Toppin, Wiseman, Okongwu and Avdija generally is regarded as the first tier. Though we know how wrong that often is. Haliburton could be another overlooked top starter at 6-5, a good shooter and excellent playmaker. Even though he's not a top athlete, he could move in at point immediately for the Bulls with perhaps a little more physical heft. White and LaVine could slide down a position, like they would with Ball, and Haliburton be a better shooting option than Ball. Which would mean three dangerous scoring options where you could envision that Golden State game with passing and movement with the right direction.
Killian Hayes, 6-5 point guard, France
Something of a left handed version of Halliburton. Good size for the position, a good but not great athlete with good shooting range who is adept at pick and roll and running a team. He's very left hand oriented for now and seems to model himself a little more like James Harden with a scoring mentality. He was born in the U.S. as his father, a former ABA player, went on to finish his career playing in France. He's probably not quite ready to run an NBA team, but should grow into it with strong point guard instincts. He'd likely come off the bench for the Bulls to start, which perhaps makes Kris Dunn a defensive shooting guard like Patrick Beverley or Keith Bogans a decade ago.
Isaac Okoro, 6-6 small forward, Auburn
He's mentioned for the Bulls in many mock drafts, which is not encouraging. He's probably a career reserve or marginal starter given he's not highly skilled, though potentially an excellent defender. He's a slashing, transition player. Can he be Draymond Green? Having Steph Curry would help. The Bulls could build a hard core defensive group with Okoro, Dunn and Carter and some extras like Shaq Harrison. But that's more NBA of the 1990s. Here's where the talent begins to drop off and it's scouting that makes the difference. Others would prefer Saddiq Bey or Patrick Williams or Devin Vassell depending on need. It would be a good year for the NBA to make up all the recent slights to the Bulls from several years of being dropped in the lottery to being left out of Orlando. It's a good year for a top four pick.