Team President Michael Reinsdorf will represent the Chicago Bulls at Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery, where his team expects to land the No. 6 overall pick.
But what if the ball takes a lucky bounce that sends the Bulls into the top three of June’s draft?
Well, Reinsdorf, Vice President John Paxson and General Manager Gar Forman will lose their collective shit. And if they get the No. 1 overall pick? Then lightning will have struck twice in the last ten years.
When the Bulls drafted Derrick Rose with the top pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, they won the lottery a month prior with just 1.7 percent odds. This year, they would be landing the No. 1 pick with a 5.3 percent chance. While the odds are better than they were 10 years ago, it’s still a longshot.
In fact, the odds of landing No. 2 or 3 overall aren’t much better. The Bulls have just a 6 percent chance at pick No. 2 and a 7 percent chance of selecting at No. 3.
As we pointed out Sunday, there are some quality players who could be available at the No. 4-6 picks. However, the top three could have some game-changers that would help speed up the franchise’s rebuild significantly.
SPOILER ALERT: There might be a name who’s able to attract a LeBron-James-size big fish this summer. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too lofty. The Bulls most likely are targeting the 2019 class to land a noteworthy free agent to join their young core. But dream big or go home, right?
Here are four names that should be on the team’s board if they land a pick in the top three.
Jaren Jackson Jr. (freshman forward/center – Michigan State)
On Saturday, we covered Michigan State prospect Miles Bridges as someone who makes sense at picks No. 7-9. His teammate Jaren Jackson Jr., however, is garnering plenty of interest as a top three or five selection. While most MSU alumni have struggled to reach All-Star status in the NBA, Jackson has the skills to potentially reach those heights.
Boasting a 7-foot-4 wingspan at 6-foot-11, he has the size to play either at the power forward or center spot. The best part of his game is his ability to run the floor, whether it’s on the fast break or a half-court set. Being an athletic big man in today’s NBA makes you much more attractive than a traditional, plotting low-post scorer. With his ability to finish on lobs at the rim and even hit jumpers outside, he can fit seamlessly in the up-tempo lineups across the league.
Those same traits translate well on the defensive end too. Jackson’s length not only makes him a nightmare near the rim but he also can be a pest when switching to shorter, quicker players. Still, he’s very raw and a lot of these attributes aren’t completely refined. For instance, his frame is still on the wiry side that could allow bigger opponents to outmuscle him. Fortunately, Jackson has bulked up closer to 240 pounds, and he has plenty of room to get stronger.
Once his game is more polished, he could make a nice fit next to a core piece like Lauri Markkanen. Is he worth taking at either the No. 1 or 2 overall pick? Probably not. But he’s worth consideration at No. 3 overall. The only question is if John Paxson and Gar Forman value his upside more than a potential NBA-ready wing?
Luka Doncic (19-year-old point forward – Slovenia)
Every draft always has a great unknown from Europe who is being touted as the next can’t-miss lottery pick. This year, it’s EuroLeague standout Luka Doncic.
Doncic has the size and skill set to be a high-performing point-forward in the league. Some scouts actually think his 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame even translates to the power forward spot occasionally, especially if a team is looking to trot out a quicker lineup. Whatever position he plays, he should excel best with the ball in his hands, whether he’s scoring or facilitating. During his three-year pro career with Real Madrid, Doncic showed excellent court vision and could make even the hardest passes look easy.
But like all European prospects, there are concerns about how quick the learning curve will be to the NBA. Even Dirk Nowitzki, arguably one of the greatest European players in the last 20 years, needed a full season and a half to get his feet wet. And some guys struggle their whole careers to find their footing, ultimately becoming busts (see: Darko Milicic or Nikoloz Tskitishvili).
A lot of scouting reports mention his streaky shooting and defensive struggles against quicker guards as potential red flags. But what teenage prospect doesn’t have that issue? Even college players face it coming into the league and most get better over time. Doncic has the added benefit of playing against older, more-seasoned pros (albeit internationally).
Given the current makeup of the Bulls’ roster, his game would be a welcomed addition. Just imagine the damage he could do with Zach LaVine in the backcourt or working off the pick-and-roll with Markkanen. And since he’s able to be somewhat productive off the ball as a small forward, Kris Dunn technically could stay in his role at point guard while sometimes deferring to Doncic.
But can three ball-dominant players like Doncic, LaVine, and Dunn coexist? It would be up to Fred Hoiberg to find a way to make it work.
Marvin Bagley III (freshman center/forward – Duke)
Like Doncic, one could easily make an argument for Marvin Bagley III being the No. 1 overall pick this June. The 2018 ACC Player of the Year was a double-double machine against some of the stiffest competition in the NCAA. While he possesses a traditional low-post game, he has the athleticism to create shots off the dribble or operate in pick-and-roll situations. Even his 3-point percentage improved during his freshman season, finishing at a solid 39.7 percent.
However, Bagley has a slow release on his jumper, making it potentially difficult to develop a consistent mid-range or 3-point shot against quick-closing NBA defenses. Another downside to his game is on the defensive end. During his lone season at Duke, Bagley struggled to be a consistent rim protector. When you’re a lengthy 6-foot-11 center/forward in the NBA, blocking and disrupting shots at the hoop is a must.
Whether they’re picking No. 1 or No. 3, Bagley has to be on GarPax’s radar. Despite the deficiencies and inconsistent shot away from the rim, his production should translate nicely in the NBA. When you’re a rebuilding franchise, you can’t pass on a player who could turn into a perennial All-Star center that averages 20 points and 10 rebounds consistently.
Well, unless they’re picking THIS guy at No. 1…
DeAndre Ayton (freshman center – Arizona)
Since December, fans and scouts have been banging the drum for DeAndre Ayton to be selected No. 1 overall. The drum has only gotten louder, and it’s hard not to make a strong case for him being the top pick. While there are other athletic big men in this year’s pool of draft prospects, Ayton’s skill set appears to be at another level.
What’s most intriguing about him is that he beautifully blends the old and new-school philosophies of an NBA center. He can work his magic traditionally in the low post or play in a classic pick-and-roll scenario. But if you need him to stretch out 10 or 15 feet and face up defenders, he also can do it with ease. Watching him at Arizona was like seeing a hyped-up version of classic big men like David Robinson, Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon.
Comparisons have been made to Philadelphia 76ers’ center Joel Embiid. Embiid incorporated his traditional low-post game into the modern, space-and-pace NBA and developed a nice 3-point shot. Ayton started stretching the floor more frequently later in his lone collegiate season. While he didn’t take a ton of 3-pointers (35 total), he still managed to shoot 34.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Some might argue that playing in the Pac-12 Conference will make any lengthy 7-footer look like a man amongst boys. And yes, he has some flaws that should be noted as he prepares for the next level. Ayton struggled defensively and even seemed disinterested at times. Still, he has too much ability to not be at least a productive center in the league.
Ayton would represent a player who could be the face of the Bulls’ rebuild, becoming the focal point of a team with some solid young pieces. He has the potential to average a double-double almost instantly and could still develop more facets to his game over time. Adding a talent like him could not only improve the current roster, but it could also help attract the key free agent piece that’s always eluded GarPax.
But the only way it can happen is with a lucky bounce of a small, 1.7-inch ball.