*Note: Lesser performing teams filled with multiple draft picks like the Philadelphia 76ers not considered. The list is among the league’s top teams.
The Bulls aren’t leading their conference or division as they prepare to host the Charlotte Hornets Friday in the United Center. In the Bulls 5-3 start, the team isn’t leading in scoring or defense. But there is one important category the Bulls are leading the NBA: the building of the team through the draft. That’s because the evolution of the NBA continues to lean more toward the importance of the draft over free agency.
Although free agency produces the biggest headlines and it was one story Tuesday when the Oklahoma City Thunder and 2016 free agent Kevin Durant played in Washington, which is Durant’s home, the results of free agency have been short of expectations.
Unless you can attract LeBron James, of course.
Usually, it’s produced mostly disappointments for many franchises and their fans.
So it’s not surprising that the top teams, with a few exceptions, of course, have attempted to build their teams extensively through the draft with the Bulls among the most prominent.
“The franchise always has had a strong belief in building through the draft and developing our own players,” said Bulls General Manager Gar Forman. “It starts with Jerry (Reinsdorf, managing partner), who always has been a strong believer in the draft.”
It was the Bulls under Reinsdorf and General Manager Jerry Krause in the 1980s who despite the urging of draft choice Michael Jordan rejected trades and stuck with draft picks Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant to form the core of the first three championship teams.
The San Antonio Spurs have had their success primarily with their drafted players like David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, the latter in an arranged draft deal. Miami, of course, won after attracting James, Boston did as well with the trade acquisitions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and the Lakers with the addition of Pau Gasol to Kobe Bryant after Shaquille O’Neal to Kobe Bryant.
It’s just that most teams have discovered there just aren’t enough stars in free agency or available in trade to go around to count on for building your team. So the conventional wisdom of late is more toward a greater concentration and commitment to the draft.
The prevailing theory these days is the best chance to sustain success without having to rebuild from the bottom is through the draft. That’s because then you continue to have a pipeline supply of young players coming in to support your veterans.
Unlike, for instance, the all or nothing some teams like the Brooklyn Nets have attempted for a quick fix. Similarly, the Knicks and Lakers who have long traded away draft picks and taken precipitous falls in the standings.
The chances also are better to negotiate a favorable contract with a player you drafted because he becomes a restricted free agent first and thus his team has leverage for a better deal than in free agency. Plus, you are able to familiarize players with your system and your organization and way of doing things when they are your draft picks.
One indicator of the trend these days in the NBA is there are fewer first round draft picks being traded or sold. It was recently common for teams to buy late first round picks, which is rare now. Plus with so many young players in draft it’s sometimes more difficult to make definitive judgments. So better players have on occasion fallen farther down in the draft, where the Bulls have had success with the likes of Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson.
Consider some of the Bulls draft picks this season as the Bulls with Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott/Tony Snell have four of their five starters having been their draft picks:
- Jimmy Butler: Leading the team in scoring at 18.5 points per game and shooting 42 percent on threes
- Derrick Rose: Averaging 12.9 points in his return from orbital surgery. But leading the team at 5.8 assists, hasn’t missed a game and second to Butler in minutes at 32 per game
- Nikola Mirotic: Averaging 13.3 points and second on the team with 17 three pointers made
- Doug McDermott: Averaging 11.1 points and shooting 57.6 percent on threes, third in the NBA
- Tony Snell: Averaging 7.8 points, but shooting 48 percent on threes and leading the team in plus/minus for his time on the floor
- Joakim Noah: Averaging just 2.1 points, but second on the team in rebounding at 7.1 in just 20 minutes per game
- Taj Gibson: Averaging 5.9 points and 5.1 rebounds, also in about 20 minutes per game in coming off ankle surgery
<pKirk Hinrich with injury and rookie Bobby Portis haven’t played much yet, though Portis is considered a heir to a front court position as the big man rotation evolves and enables the Bulls to work in a young big man without losing a player in trade or getting under the cap for free agency.