With the 22nd pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls select … who? It’s an interesting question, because the Bulls’ front office is entering an extremely important offseason for their future. They’re coming off a disappointing season and have a roster with aging role players in need of replacement.
The Bulls are at a disadvantage from the very start; they only have one pick, and it’s not a lottery pick. They won’t have a ton of money to spend in free agency, as the future jump in the salary cap isn’t expected until 2016. For now, the projected cap is around $67 million, and signing Jimmy Butler to a long-term deal will leave the Bulls without cap space.
I’d written previously that I think the best way for the Bulls to improve would be to part ways with Joakim Noah, but in all likelihood I think they’ll find a way to trade Taj Gibson instead. For basketball reasons, this would be the wrong move. Gibson fits with Pau Gasol better than Noah, has a healthier body (although not by much) and is paid less per year and for one year longer than Noah.
But for the purpose of the massive cap raise in the summer of 2016, which could go as high as $90 million by some estimates, it could be the right move. Noah has just one year left on his deal, and if trading Gibson for either nothing or nothing beyond this upcoming season, that clears out $22.4 million in space going into the summer of Kevin Durant.
Assuming Gibson (or Noah, really) and Mike Dunleavy are the biggest subtractions off this roster, we’re able to more easily figure out what the Bulls needs are coming into this draft. Let’s take a look at what the depth chart is, with the assumption that Kirk Hinrich picks up his player option for $2.8 million. (He’d be an idiot not to, after the way he played last season.)
PG: Rose, Hinrich
SG: Butler (RFA), Snell
PF: Noah/Gibson, Mirotic
The obvious weak spots are at small forward, backup point guard, big man depth and general ability to shoot the three-pointer. Wow, is that all? Most teams are able to fill some of these spots through free-agent bargains, with Aaron Brooks, E’Twaun Moore, Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin being examples of guys the Bulls have shuffled in and out to help fill the holes.
Let’s take a look back at previous few drafts to see what John Paxson and Gar Forman have done right, and what they’ve done wrong. This will help us narrow down what they should be looking for at 22 this summer.
The Good Picks
Taken 26th overall in 2009, the Bulls scored on a player who was viewed as a somewhat safe pick. He was old for a rookie, coming into the league at already 23 years old. It was thought that his game was a bit more polished than most, although his ceiling was fairly low. He was able to contribute early on, posting 9.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his rookie season. Gibson has been a mainstay in the Chicago defense for six years.
The Bulls drafted the 22-year-old Jimmy Butler 30th overall the summer after losing to the Heat in the conference finals. Butler came into the NBA after three years at Marquette (he also played junior college ball) with a reputation for working hard and being a good defender with limited offensive upside. Butler has shocked everyone, including the team that drafted him, by turning into a legitimate All-Star and one of the best two-way players in the game.
Mirotic, who was 23 at the time of his debut, was drafted 23rd in 2011 and acquired by the Bulls in a draft night trade. He played overseas for three seasons while the Bulls waited patiently for the first chance to buy out his contract and bring him over to the NBA. He signed a three-year deal with the Bulls last offseason and had a solid rookie campaign this year, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Mirotic has loads of potential and could excel under the right coaching staff.
The Bad Picks
Johnson was taken 16th in the same draft that the Bulls landed Gibson, but was a very different kind of pick. While he was 22 years old on draft day, he played only two seasons at Wake Forest and was considered extremely raw when he came into the league. He drew comparisons to Paul Pierce, but that talent was never realized. He found it hard to get off the bench with Vinny Del Negro, and then later Tom Thibodeau, and eventually was traded to the Raptors.
The younger, supposedly more talented, brother of Jeff Teague was taken by the Bulls 29th in 2012. With Derrick Rose out for the entire season, Teague was sure to be able to help in limited minutes behind a then-still-useful Hinrich. He found himself buried behind Hinrich and Robinson, mainly because he couldn’t shoot, was a turnstile on defense and had too many turnovers. The Bulls sent him to Brooklyn, who then sent him to the 76ers, who cut him prior to this season. (Ouch!)
The Jury is Still Out
Snell was drafted 20th in 2013, and like many rookies before him, played limited minutes his first year. Fans quickly jumped on the “Snell is a bust” train, but at times he played more minutes in his second season and looked much better. He’s a solid defender, has lots of athleticism and at times can knock down outside shots with consistency. If he can continue to see consistent minutes and shoot well, Snell will make a quality role player.
The Bulls traded the 16th and 19th picks in the 2014 draft, as well as some second-rounders in future drafts, for the draft rights to McDermott, the 11th pick. He barely got off the bench most of the season, likely due to his lack of quality defense and how much he looked lost on offense. His knee injury set him back as well. We don’t need to belabor the point on Thibs and his lack of playing rookies, but we simply don’t know enough about McDermott yet to know whether he’s Kyle Korver or Jimmer Fredette.
The most common theme I see among the picks that worked out the last few years is that they were more polished, slightly older players coming out of four years at college (or Mirotic’s case, several years playing professionally overseas). Gibson and Mirotic were able to step in right away and help, while Butler had the red-shirt year that was so common under Thibodeau.
So, now for the big reveal. I expect the Bulls to go with someone who played several years at college and has the kind of skill set that would allow him to step in right away and contribute. It wouldn’t shock me if they look even harder at guys from winning programs, such as forward Sam Dekker from Wisconsin. He’s 6’9”, can shoot from the outside and has a little athleticism as well. Essentially, he’s a poor man’s Mike Dunleavy.
I’m not the only one who thinks Dekker could fit if he’s still on the board at 22, either. (There’s a very good chance he’s not on the board.) Here’s what Rotoworld’s Ed Isaacson said about the fit between the Bulls and Dekker:
“(Dekker) could certainly help them on both ends of the floor. At 6’9”, Dekker has very good size for the small forward position, and though he played in a very structured offense at Wisconsin, he has the skill and athleticism to blossom into a versatile offensive threat on the wing.”
Another name to look at is Montrezl Harrell, a 6’8” power forward from Louisville. He comes from a winning organization as well, and played three seasons under Rick Pitino before declaring for the draft at age 21. He was a major part of the team that won the 2013 NCAA title, and is a solid low post scorer and rebounder. He could be exactly the kind of big body the Bulls need coming off the bench, especially if Gibson is moved.
Lastly, the Bulls could go the route of choosing a guard. Jerian Grant from Notre Dame could be available, and he’s the exact kind of guy the Bulls love. He’s 6’5” and 198 pounds, played point guard in college, stayed for all four years and is a good defender. He shot 57.2 percent inside the three-point line, and while he’s an erratic outside shooter, he can get to the basket and score.
Considering Hinrich will likely be back, and the Bulls will need at least two players behind Rose who can play regular minutes, a backup point guard makes more sense to come from free agency and not the draft. They’ve had success finding guys on minimum deals before, so they likely believe they can do it again. Regardless, Grant can play both guard positions and just seems like a quintessential Bulls draft pick.
It’s said nearly every offseason for every team, but this really is an important offseason for the future of the Bulls. With the success they’ve had in the past drafting safe, older players from winning organizations, that’s the route I expect them to go. If any of these three guys are available when the Bulls draft at 22, don’t be shocked to see one of them come off the board.