And so Tuesday begins the 2016-17 season for the Bulls.
The first day of the rest of their basketball life?
It’s the NBA draft lottery (7 p.m. Central) in New York City. Jimmy Butler will represent the Bulls, who have the 14th and smallest odds of getting the No. 1 draft pick or moving up into the top three places after missing the playoffs despite a 42-40 record. The Bulls odds of moving to No. 1 in the draft are less than one percent, and just below two percent to move into the top three. But, hey, even someone wins the Powerball lottery drawing. And at much longer odds.
There will be much speculation about what the Bulls may, should and will do going into next season. But they truly cannot know yet, especially with their top two centers, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, free agents. Gasol would have to opt out of his contract, which he said he would. Neither has given an indication of plans. Reserve guards Aaron Brooks and E’Twaun Moore also are free agents, and Derrick Rose will be a free agent after next season.
So the speculation and assumption has been the Bulls will try to use the draft for a point guard.
It certainly makes sense, though I don’t see that as the team’s greatest need.
That the Bulls have made a point of not consulting me--about points, or otherwise—gives no indication of the team’s intentions. Last year, the conventional wisdom is the team in the draft preferred a point guard. The Bulls selected at No. 22 power forward/center Bobby Portis, who was considered much higher on their draft list. The Bulls believe in the best player available theory for the draft as opposed to filling a position.
That makes even more sense now since with the vast expansion of the salary cap, teams will be in better position to fill needs in free agency or in trade. Also because of the financial windfall starting this summer, trades will be limited less by financial considerations, like matching salaries. With so many teams well below the new salary cap, there should be more straight player trades, like in Major League Baseball. So it’s not as vital to aim for a specific position in the draft.
But, hey, it can’t hurt.
Drafts usually are classified by the stars and by categories of talent.
This is considered a two-player draft with Ben Simmons of LSU and Brandon Ingram of Duke at the top.
Then it drops off to five or six players, generally considered to be Buddy Hield of Oklahoma, Dragan Bender of Croatia, Kris Dunn of Providence, Jamal Murray of Kentucky and Jaylen Brown of California.
Others might add Henry Ellenson of Marquette or big men Jakob Poeltl and Domantas Sabonis. But as with most drafts lately, after the supposedly sure thing first six or eight it becomes a so called “eye of the beholder” analysis. Which is how some teams have a player ranked 12th and others 25th for the same player. Those differences often extend into the middle of the second round as Isaiah Thomas was the 60th pick and became an All-Star and Miami’s Josh Richardson, 40th last season, became a top contributor.
I’d rate the Bulls primary positional needs as:
- Shooting guard
- Point guard
But this NBA also is becoming, if not position-less, position-not-so-important.
There have been two main trends we’ve seen in the playoffs. The primary one, of course, has been that you better have three-point shooting.
In part because of injuries, but also due to playing style and the success of the Golden State Warriors, there’s a continuing emphasis on playing smaller with more players able to switch pick and rolls on defense and shoot from three-point range.
Did I mention the importance of three-point shooting?
That’s why I believe the Bulls could most use a shooting guard.
I’m assuming given contract situations, the uncertainty in this draft and the difficulty in acquiring stars in trade that the Bulls, at least for next season, could return with a similar core of players. Though it’s been fashionable to condemn that group, the Eastern Conference playoffs demonstrated what most believed last fall: Someone not so great would play Cleveland in the conference finals.
So it’s the Raptors, who were swept 4-0 by the Bulls. The Bulls also won three of four from Cleveland.
It’s common to dismiss the past Bulls season because, well, they were dismissed at the end of the regular season. They had the talent to beat Toronto and be where Toronto is now. Just not the health with Noah, Butler and Nikola Mirotic missing substantial parts of the season. In the last two years, the only Eastern Conference team to even threaten to give the Cavs a series in the playoffs was the Bulls last season. Does Toronto get one game? Maybe.
You are what your record is, as we always are told. The Bulls’ was not good enough to reach the playoffs. So that’s who they are. But you don’t throw away valuable players or overreact because of one season of disappointment. The Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t change personnel radically after missing the playoffs last season and are set to start the conference finals after eliminating San Antonio.
But there’s not enough shooting in that Rose/Butler backcourt. Butler and Rose were one of the league’s poorest shooting backcourts from long distance, Butler at 31 percent and Rose at 29 percent, even as they averaged close to 40 points per game combined.
I’d say with his athletic ability and threat to score, Butler would be ideal as a small forward running the court for outlet passes. I’d like to see a knock down shooting guard to spread the court.
If you had a top draft pick, that should be someone like Hield, who reminds me a bit of Ben Gordon, and Murray. But if you weren’t moving up into the top three in the lottery or making a trade, perhaps someone like Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. I prefer more ready to play and mature seniors. He’s not considered a top athlete, and the Bulls need those so called “downhill” players, who can get into the paint and attack the basket. But you don’t get perfect in the draft these days with so many young players. I’d settle for the three-point shooter.
Brown is the athletic type shooting guard. Furkan Korkmaz from Turkey is considered a top shooter. I know many European players have been great and overlooked. But I’m always wary when they haven’t played much, as he didn’t last season with his pro team. Perhaps Florida State’s Malik Beasley would be a fit.
Next, I think the Bulls need a center.
It seems unlikely both Gasol and Noah will return. Though there are no certainties. One certainly could. But the Bulls aren’t the decision maker here, and both players are in their 30s. Both sides will have some tough decisions on role, pay and longevity. Cristiano Felicio proved a terrific addition the way he came on late. But Portis is more power forward, as is Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson. The Bulls seem to have enough at power forward and small forward, the latter with Mike Dunleavy and Doug McDermott.
While the center is becoming an endangered species in the NBA, rebounds still matter if not exactly equal to rings anymore.
Poerltl and Sabonis are considered the top big man prospects and then probably Damian Jones of Vanderbilt and Stephen Zimmerman of UNLV. Again, once past the first eight or 10 picks, the variance can be large.
Then the point guards.
The best is generally considered to be Providence’s Dunn, whom many believe can join the point guard stars of the league. Though he’s healthy now, he has twice had surgery on his right shoulder.
Point guard is the NBA’s most competitive and important position these days. The Suns got their star of the future at No. 13 last season in guard Devin Booker, who made a rookie of the year run.
The pros like Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis to run a team already, but he’s maybe 5-8. There’s Wade Baldwin from Vanderbilt and Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson, though neither is considered to have lottery talent. Kyle Lowry wasn’t supposed to, either.
Lots of questions, uncertainty and perhaps a big prize. Hey, this could be fun. Got a favorite number? The drawing is Tuesday.