Throughout the coming weeks the team at Bulls Confidential will be diving into every aspect of the Chicago Bulls franchise. We want to figure out--How the Bulls got to where they are today? What are some ways to get back to where they were? What were some of the mistakes that were made?
Basically we want to evaluate what makes great franchises, well, great.
We are going to title this series of pieces, "How Did We Get Here?" We hope you enjoy it.
-Bulls Conf Team
For part one of our draft piece--click here.
Just as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were topping the charts, and the Blackhawks had just captured their fifth Stanley Cup -- the Snellycat revolution was sweeping the streets of Chicago. Well, not entirely--but you get the picture. With the 20h overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, Gar Forman and John Paxson selected Tony Snell--a lengthy, defensive oriented, and capable shooter out of the University of New Mexico.
The season prior definitely had it's roadblocks. The Bulls were without Derrick Rose for the entire season due to an ACL tear, and when the playoffs came around they ran into the eventual champions--the Miami Heat in the second round. The reserve bunch with Joakim Noah at the helm was serviceable, and very fun to watch. However, the reality still remained, Chicago needed to get Rose back healthy in order to compete.
Snell made sense at the time because the Tom Thibodeau and company needed shooting. That also played well into the fact that Thibs always said, "you can never have enough shooting." He was young, could defend, could stretch the floor, and provided depth. Pair those skill-sets with a healthy Rose at times--success. His consistency was a question mark, as well as his confidence, but scouts generally believed he would snap out of it.
Unfortunately, Snell never snapped out of it. I haven't been shy about my general distain for Tony Snell, but that's because of his inability to reach his ceiling. The former Lobo has the perfect NBA frame, can shoot, and is young! On paper, he had the makings to be a great Bull, or at least a player that could contribute frequently. He played 213 games for Chicago before getting traded to Milwaukee for Michael Carter-Williams earlier this season. He averaged 5.3 points per game, 2.3 rebounds per game, and under one assist per game. At times he would shock us into thinking that maybe he could be a productive piece, that feeling usually subsided rapidly, as he would seem to disappear on the court. If you look at the advanced statistics he was well below par with the Bulls. He averaged a 8.2 player-efficiency rating, and a -2.9 box plus/minus--which is shocking since he's the "Plus/Minus Gawd."
That draft had some other intriguing options. Gorgui Dieng, Rudy Gobert, Archie Goodwin, and Allen Crabbe could've been some options with the 20th overall selection. Those players have certainly been more valuable than Snell, even though some don't have the physical tools. Overall, the organization missed on this one.
While the two previous first round picks provided almost no value for the Bulls, that isn’t the case with 2014 first rounder Doug McDermott. Doug’s long-range shooting is good enough to keep him in an NBA rotation, despite being a very flawed player overall, who struggles to do much else other than hit spot up threes on a consistent basis. So while McDermott looks like a big winner compared to Marquis Teague and Tony Snell, I’m willing to argue that 2014 was the worst draft the Bulls have had.
Teague and Snell were drafted 29th and 20th respectively, and neither one was in a draft class that was considered particularly good or deep, though very productive players were taken after each one. On the other hand, the 2014 class was a phenomenal class, and the Bulls went into it with two first round picks, at 16th and 22nd spots.
Fun fact: the 16th pick they owned came from Charlotte as part of the 2010 trade that sent Tyrus Thomas out of Chicago.
The Bulls could have taken two swings in a deep draft, but they decided to package both of those picks and send them to Denver for the 11th pick. Not a bad idea, as there was still some high potential players on the board. But the Bulls chose McDermott. Doug was coming off an amazing college career, including a senior season where he lead the nation in scoring and was the consensus National Player of the Year. However, many scouts saw the problems that McDermott would have translating his game to the professional level. He played primarily at the 4 spot, using his athleticism to beat slower college big men out on the perimeter. He didn’t have the size to play there in the NBA and would have to slide down to the three, where he lost his athletic advantage, and many saw him struggling to find his own shot at the pro level. Defensively he looked even worse. He was never much of a defender at the college level, and again played at a different position than he would have to in the pros. Greg McDermott, his coach at Creighton and his father, isn’t known for putting out strong defensive teams, so it came as no surprise that Doug is often lost on defense, and struggles with the more athletic perimeter guys he’s matched up with. He gives effort and has shown a bit of improvement through 2.5 years, but has been about what was expected.
McDermott was drafted mainly for his shooting, and he has provided that, but when you give up multiple first rounders to move up for a player it’s fair to expect more than a guy who’s been a one-dimensional role player at best. That’s the reason I consider this the worst draft the Bulls have had. With the 11th pick in a deep class after the trade you should have higher expectations than you do with late first rounders in weak classes, that’s obvious.
And a look at the players the Bulls passed up on makes this pick even worse. The two picks after McDermott were Zach LaVine and Dario Saric. LaVine is having a breakout third season and is a vital piece of Tom Thibodeau’s young core in Minnesota. Saric is a rookie this year after spending the previous two seasons in Croatia, which is the reason that he fell outside the top 10, but is currently second among rookies in rebounding and scoring, while being forced out of his natural position due to the logjam in Philadelphia’s frontcourt rotation.
The picks the Bulls traded were used on Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris. After struggling with his 3 point shot early in his career Harris is shooting 39% from deep this year and has shown a much more versatile offensive game than McDermott. Nurkic missed the first half of his second season with a torn patellar tendon, but has proven to be a very good defensive big man. Many also had the Bulls selecting Rodney Hood from Duke before the trade with one of their two picks. Hood has averaged almost 15 ppg the last two seasons while providing very good defense and has accumulated 9.7 win shares in his career, compared to 4.0 for McDermott, and is a core player for a very good team in Utah.
Overall McDermott has shown himself to be at least an NBA quality player, but the Bulls ignored his obvious flaws heading into the draft and missed on a number of more promising players because of it.
Former SEC player of the year Bobby Portis seemed to be a steal for the Bulls at the 22nd spot in the 2015 NBA draft. Portis was originally projected to be a lottery pick, and seemed to just fall in the Bulls' laps. At Arkansas, BP averaged, 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Heading into last season, Chicago fans viewed the 2nd team All-American as a predecessor to fan-favorite--Joakim Noah. His motor and his ability to attack the glass excited many around the league.
It took a while for first-year Head Coach Fred Hoiberg to trust Portis, but when he eventually did, the results were there. Bobby finished the season averaging 7.0 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game. Statistically those numbers don't jump out at you, but the young man had energy--lots of it. The intangibles were extremely present, and the rookie played with some extreme fire.
Nowadays, Portis isn't even in the rotation. His production has dipped, and it's difficult to see when he'll get back to playing meaningful NBA minutes. It doesn't help that Fred Hoiberg hasn't been playing him at his natural position, and it shows. The second-year man has been lost on the defensive end--registering a 107.8 defensive rating. There's still hope for Portis, but currently he's not in the picture.
With a 42-40 record for the 2015-2016 season, Gar Forman, John Paxson, and the Chicago Bulls found themselves drafting at the last pick in the lottery--14.
Rumors began to swirl on draft night regarding Jimmy Butler, as the number one overall pick in the 2008 NBA Derrick Rose--was traded just a day earlier.
The Bulls stood pat, and drafted the 22 year old 6’6 SG Denzel Valentine--a 4 year player out of Michigan State. Valentine, had struggled with knee injuries during his college career, so it was a bit puzzling as the Bulls stated just a day earlier that trading their Hometown hero meant they wanted to get “Younger and more athletic”. Valentine, 23, has had a shaky start to his rookie campaign, was injured for most of the Pre-season, and has injured his ankle yet again which caused him to miss the trip to Cleveland on January 4th. Valentine is averaging 2.7 PPG through the 11 games that he has contributed in. However, it's far too early to call him a bust. Jimmy Butler, the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA draft only averaged 2.6 PPG during his rookie season, and has since emerged as one of the league’s best Shooting Guards. Valentine scored a career high 9 points in 18 minutes of action vs the Charlotte Hornets on January 2nd, while suffering an ankle injury in the 2nd half.
Paul Zipser, the 6’8 German was selected by the Bulls in the 2nd round with the 48th overall pick. It isn't easy to find quality players late in the draft, but Gar and Pax have drafted pretty similar each season in 2nd round. From Erik Murphy, to Cameron Bairstow, to now Paul Zipser, it seems they have taken on a habit of drafting tall, un-athletic “shooters" with their late round selections.
Who could have been drafted?
Malcolm Brogdon, the 24 year old out of Virginia is having a fine rookie season for the Milwaukee Bucks. Taken with the 36th over all pick, Brogdon is contributing to the young and upcoming bucks with 8.6 PPG.
With a pretty weak draft class, aside from the first few selections, it's hard to fault Gar and Pax with their selections, however their draft history shows many other flaws.