Sam Smith takes a look back at the top Draft Picks in the past
In this political convention season, perhaps it’s appropriate for the Bulls
facing the 2020 NBA draft to paraphrase James Carville’s pithy advice to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential
campaign: “It’s the scouting, stupid.”
The Bulls hope Thursday in the NBA Draft Lottery, 7:30 p.m. ESPN, to draw a
lucky combination and at least get into the top four from their current No. 7 position. They have a 7.5 percent chance
to get the No. 1 overall pick.
And it’s certainly better to have a higher draft pick.
But it doesn’t mean you can’t get a star player. And especially in this draft
with so much uncertainty because players have not been able to work out for teams and the NCAA tournament was
cancelled because of the coronavirus.
NBA history, especially recently, is filled with franchise star players who
weren’t even lottery picks, like Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Pascal Siakam. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash
weren’t top 10 picks in 1996, the Spurs built their post David Robinson years with Tim Duncan and future international
picks late in the first and in the second round. And Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas
Karnisovas was part of the Denver braintrust that built the current contending Nuggets with second round pick Nikola
So there’s value to be found. It’s up to the team to unearth.
While many top picks are obvious, like LeBron James in 2003, Duncan in 1997 and
Shaquille O’Neal in 1992, having the No. 1 pick doesn’t guarantee success.
Kings general manager Vlade Divac probably just lost his job because he had No.
2 while the No. 3 pick in that draft was Luka Doncic, who is becoming a top NBA star. The consensus in 2007 was to
select Greg Oden No 1. Kevin Durant at No. 2 became one of the great stars in league history as Oden had a short
career with injuries.
Zion Williamson was everyone’s favorite last year. But many are already saying
with Williamson’s injuries and body type that Ja Morant at No. 2 will be the better player in the long run. The
decisions become even more complex because players now come into the NBA so young. And this year because many players
didn’t even have one full college season or a post season tournament. Some of the top prospects, like James Wiseman
and LaMelo Ball, barely played at all or overseas.
So consider the gems that perhaps were a combination of bad lottery luck and
Scottie Pippen shoots.
Scottie Pippen, of course, whom the Bulls long chased and only managed to get
on draft night in a trade with the Seattle Supersonics for the Bulls No. 8 pick. Plus the Bulls got a little lucky
when the Clippers selected Reggie Williams No. 4. The Supersonics wanted Williams. When he wasn’t available, only then
they agreed to the swap of draft picks. Sacramento at No. 6 in that draft also was seeking Pippen. They selected Kenny
Smith. Future All-Star point guard Kevin Johnson was seventh. Who would the Bulls have taken if they stayed at No. 8?
Olden Polynice as Seattle did?
Consider some recent drafts, and perhaps it’s a clue to what works in the NBA
and what scouts tend to ignore.
Some of the best recent players from the lottery were selections out of the top
seven, like C.J. McCollum, No. 10 in 2013, Klay Thompson No. 11 in 2011, Devin Booker No. 13 in 2015 and Donovan
Mitchell No. 13 in 2017. Talk about your lucky 13. You can add No. 13 Zach LaVine to that list from 2014. All are
shooting guard/wing player types who can also make plays, which has been the emphasis in the constantly downsizing
Look at some of the other best players leading teams these days, like Doncic
with the Mavericks, Jayson Tatum with the Celtics, Jimmy Butler, James Harden and until his injuries Victor Oladipo.
Scouts often still hold onto the belief of the dominant big man. And if you can
find Tim Duncan or Shaquille O’Neal, take him. But there are few like them. With examination and information, it
appears more often these days a clever team can identify a talented player who doesn’t appear to have exceptional
skills or size and develop a team leader. Perhaps LaVine can take that final step under new management. Or that new
management can discover even outside the top four picks, if it comes to that, the kind of talented player to join the
underachieving talent the Bulls may just have. Those players are there to be uncovered. Perhaps one just needs to look