The NBA Draft Combine is underway in Chicago, serving as the unofficial kickoff point for the NBA offseason. This is the time of the year where every draft geek is on high alert, tracking players’ vertical leaps and measurements, plugging away at advanced stats and scouting reports, and keeping an eye out for trade rumors. There wasn’t a huge splash of player movement in last year’s draft, but there was one trade in particular that looks a bit lopsided after just one year.
Last year, the Chicago Bulls’ picks were highly anticipated with their highest draft position since 2009, slotted at No. 16 and 19. Rumors swirled that they were looking to trade up, but it was assumed that the Bulls wouldn’t need to give up both picks unless it was a pick inside the top 10.
Lo and behold, the Bulls traded the draft rights to Bosnian brute Jusuf Nurkic (No. 16 pick) and Michigan State’s Gary Harris (No. 19) along with a 2015 second-round pick to the Nuggets for the draft rights to Creighton’s Doug McDermott at No. 11 and the carcass of Anthony Randolph. Chicago later had to use two more second-round picks just to dump Randolph to Orlando.
The trade was head-scratching at the time, but it’s even more perplexing a year later. It’s mind-boggling to think that John Paxson and Co. actually thought it made sense to give up two mid-first-round picks to move up five spots, plus adding another second-rounder and having to take on Randolph’s contract that cost more picks. The Bulls thought they were getting an NBA-ready talent in McDermott who could be a contributor in the 2015 NBA Playoffs, but things haven’t worked out that way.
I’ve already covered McDermott’s disappointing rookie season in depth, where he has played in exactly two postseason games for a whopping total of seven minutes. That’s a 23-year-old rookie by the way, who cost a total of five draft picks.
I actually had Harris ranked higher on my personal draft board and Nurkic just a few spots behind McDermott. Also, Harris and Nurkic are both three years younger than McDermott. Not to mention, Chicago could have drafted Zach LaVine, or if they kept both of their picks, taken players like Rodney Hood, Mitch McGary or Clint Capela if they didn’t want Nurkic or Harris.
A small silver lining for Chicago fans—Harris managed to have an even more miserable season than McDermott. I was a huge fan of Harris at Michigan State, and his reputation as a hardworking, high character guy was held up when I interviewed him before his sophomore season. He seemed like a safe bet to be a classic two-way shooting guard, but when he plummeted to the 19th pick, red flags were raised.
Harris was atrocious in limited minutes this season, finishing with a -12.8 NetRtg, per NBA.com. His negative impact was probably a result of his terrible shooting. He shot 21-103 (20.4 percent) from three, which, according to Basketball-Reference, was the second-worst three-point percentage among players with at least 100 attempts. That’s right, Lance Stephenson was the only player who shot worse.
The good thing for Harris is he’s still only 20, and he has yet to have any D-League games under his belt, which he can definitely use. His two steady seasons as a Spartan feel like ages ago, but with another offseason of Summer League games and more playing time, it wouldn’t be totally crazy to see him return to his past form.
The real steal in this draft day trade was Nurkic.
Nurkic is a 6’11,” 280-pound behemoth in the mold of a young DeMarcus Cousins, for the good and the bad. Nurkic finished with 14.84 PER, the fourth-highest among rookies last season, which is pretty good for a player that wasn’t expected to come over so soon.
Nurkic had some dominant stretches during the season, but never sustained the momentum after suffering an ankle injury that cost him eight games and limited his minutes down the stretch. Nurkic averaged 15.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and an impressive 1.9 steals and 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes.
He was a stout defensive presence at the rim, holding his opponents to 5.1 percent below their average within six feet of the basket, per SportVU. He also allowed just 0.72 points per possession in the post, according to Synergy. He’s still a work in progress on offense, shooting just 46 percent at the rim (8.9 percent below league average) and scoring just 0.74 PPP in the post.
And to clarify that Cousins comp, he’s mistake prone, with a 14.9 turnover percentage to his name and a penchant for taking too many jumpers, which is why he only shot 44.6 percent from the field. He also fouled too much (6.8 fouls per 36 minutes) and had plenty of mental lapses, including a variety of taunts, like this one that led to a hilarious technical foul.
Also, I don’t know if this really has any influence on his actual basketball skills, but his dad is somehow even bigger than he is.
Nurkic was far from perfect in his rookie season, but you can make the argument that he would have helped the Bulls much more than McDermott did, especially with all the injuries in their frontcourt.
Time will tell whether this trade helped Chicago or Denver more, but after Year 1, it’s safe to say that the Nuggets are out ahead. Just don’t expect to see them in the playoffs anytime soon.