If you were paying attention leading up to the 2018 NBA Draft, you weren’t surprised by what the Chicago Bulls did. Really, you weren’t surprised if you’ve been paying attention to this front office’s draft picks dating back to 2003 when John Paxson took over and Gar Forman was named Director of Player Personnel a year later. Maybe you were disappointed with Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, maybe you liked the picks. But if you’re an informed Bulls fan, you weren’t surprised. This is what they do.
With two new players in the fold, the Bulls front office reminded the fanbase last night of their modus operandi: safe over sexy. A large contingent of Bulls Nation was screaming for Michael Porter Jr. That faction of fans clearly didn’t want to see what the Bulls – and a dozen other teams – saw: red flags everywhere. Once thought to be the likely #1 overall pick in this draft class, Porter watched 13 players walk across the Barclays Center stage before his name was finally called by the Denver Nuggets. #FireGarPax-ers rolled their eyes and went to their loyal well of criticisms on Twitter and Reddit, disgusted by what they were certain was the latest showing of gross incompetence by Paxson and Forman.
If you’ve been tuning into Locked On Bulls recently, you know where I stand on the Porter debate. I was relieved when the Bulls passed on him and opted for Carter instead. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, among others, reported earlier on Thursday that Porter’s draft stock was falling fast because of the most recent medical reports released to NBA teams. The long-term prognosis for the 19 year old’s surgically repaired back did not look good. That’s the big risk that scared off almost every team in the lottery. There were other risks attached to Porter, like the lack of tape to evaluate his skill outside of high school games, concerns about his ballhandling, shot selection, defense, fit within Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system, rumors about being a bad teammate. Risks and red flags everywhere. This Bulls front office rarely takes risks, and they steered far clear of this one.
In fact, word is the Bulls weren’t even close to considering him. It wasn’t a decision between Porter and Carter, and they just barely decided to play it safe. The Bulls had Alabama’s Collin Sexton higher than Porter on their draft boards, even though they have a starting point guard in Kris Dunn and Porter would’ve filled their desperate need at the wing position. That’s a pretty telling sign right there just how bad those medical reports must have been.
So, to those of you out there hating on Carter already simply because he’s not Porter, read between the lines. And take a good look at the player the Bulls got with the 7th pick.
Those disappointed in Carter tend to claim he’s “just an average player”, “not a difference-maker”, and such. There’s plenty of evidence to argue the opposite. This 19 year old can turn into something really special in the NBA. He nearly averaged a double double (13.5, 9.1) in his lone season at Duke in just 26.8 minutes per game. His frontcourt mate Marvin Bagley III, who went 2nd overall to Sacramento, got the bulk of offensive focus after reclassifying and joining Duke’s squad at the last second. (As a side note, that selflessness from Carter is an example of his high character, which the Bulls front office loves about him. They see him being the same selfless player paired with Lauri Markkanen, who projects to be the focal point of the Bulls offense for years to come.) When Bagley was getting his rest, or during the four games he missed, Carter shined.
Let’s look at some numbers for a minute. Per 40 minutes, Carter averaged 20.2 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 3.0 assists. He shot 56.1% from the field, and a very respectable 41.6% on his modest 46 three point attempts. He’s not afraid to go to work on the block and absorb contact with his 6’10, 7’4-wingspan frame, as he averaged 6.8 free throw attempts per 40 minutes. He hit those at 73.8%, which is pretty good for a freshman big. Carter’s offensive versatility – he can already shoot with either hand from the post – inside and out will be an immediate bonus for the Bulls.
His rebounding skills are unquestionably even more impressive than his offense. Those 13.5 rebounds per 40 minutes? Better than Bagley (13.1) and better than Jaren Jackson Jr. (10.6). It’s nearly on par with Deandre Ayton (13.8) and Mohamed Bamba (14.0), who both boast significant height and wingspan edges over Carter. He’s a workhorse on the boards the likes of which Bulls fans have seen before spanning generations: Dennis Rodman and Joakim Noah. Now, imagine if Rodman and Noah could shoot threes? Pretty exciting, eh?
Oh, and while we’re comparing Carter’s numbers to the rest of the top tier bigs in this draft class, let’s look at defense. The biggest concern with Carter is his lateral quickness, which he admits is a work in progress. But his basketball IQ and length will help him make up for that as he develops. In a year or two, when he improves his ability to switch guarding smaller players on the perimeter, he can become one of the most versatile defensive bigs in the league. But for starters, here’s my favorite stat from yesterday:
Wendell Carter Jr. allowed 0.41 points per play defending post-ups last season, the best rate in Division I, per Synergy Sports. The Bulls ranked 26th (tied) in defending post-ups last season, allowing 1.00 points per direct post, per Second Spectrum.
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) June 22, 2018
Carter was the best post-up defender in all of college basketball last season. And as Seth Walder of ESPN points out, that’s an area where the Bulls’ interior defense really needs the help. As for rim protection? Carter’s 3.1 blocks per 40 minutes tripled his teammate Bagley’s 1.0. Better than Deandre Ayton’s 2.3.
Everywhere you look with Carter, there’s upside. And he’s already one of the most NBA-ready players from this class. He’ll likely be mentored by Robin Lopez for the first while, until the Bulls may look to get an asset for Lopez at the deadline. But someday soon, Carter will take over as the team’s center of the future, and his pairing with Markkanen in that frontcourt can blossom into something beautiful for the modern NBA.
Before you jump down my throat about how glowingly positive my thoughts are on another “boring”, “safe”, “typical” Bulls draft, allow me to share some frustrations with you. I’m still upset that the Bulls didn’t execute the tank properly last season. Carter was the smart pick at #7, but the Bulls could’ve had someone better (Jackson, Luka Doncic) had they been picking in the top 3 like they planned.
I’m disappointed that they couldn’t execute a trade last night to move up and grab one of those guys, but the price tag was reportedly too high. What would you be willing to pay to move up three spots? Taking on Chandler Parsons’ $50 million? Gar and Paxson weren’t willing to do that. Give up a future first round pick and your #22 pick? Gar and Paxson didn’t want to mortgage that much when they felt great about Carter. I really don’t know if I would have made either of those deals in their shoes. Remember, part of this rebuilding plan is leaving themselves financially flexible for the loaded free agent class of 2019 when this young core looks more ready to compete. As for relinquishing draft picks while rebuilding? Bulls fans grill the front office daily for doing exactly that. Can’t have it both ways.
There are still plenty of unknowns with this rebuilding core, and this team – despite Paxson’s wishes – will probably be in the lottery again next summer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The front office will be judged on how far this rebuild has reached in two or three years, and it might be their last act.
But for today, please allow yourself to look at the positives that came along with the “safe” pick this time around. The Bulls got themselves a very good player in Wendell Carter Jr., and he fits a real need on the roster. Don’t hate him because he’s not Michael Porter Jr. Don’t hate the Bulls for not taking Michael Porter Jr.
I’ve said in once, I’ll say it again. I’ll say it a thousand times if I have to: there are times to judge the Bulls front office for doing something stupid, and there are times when fans do so illogically just because they want to. This Carter pick does not warrant such judgment.
Go watch some tape on Wendell Carter Jr. Look at all of the teams who passed on Michael Porter Jr. because of a serious health risk and terrifying bust potential.
Pay attention. Educate yourself. Then come talk to me.
(PS: I’ll get to my thoughts on Chandler Hutchison sometime in the coming days. Stay tuned.)
Have thoughts on the Bulls draft picks? Comment below or continue the conversation with me on Twitter @Bulls_Peck.
Which Bulls player will come up consistently clutch this season?
Locked On Bulls is back with a fresh episode, the guys pick up where they left off on yesterday’s episode talking about what the fourth quarter of games might look like. Jordan and Matt dive into clutch time statistics, what they mean, how they are important, and where the young Bulls core ended up last season. The second half of the show the guys kick off their newest segment of “Most Iconic Moments in Bulls History” with 32 different storylines that have defined the Chicago Bulls. The guys start with Michael Jordan’s “I’m Back” fax vs. Derrick Rose’s press conference asking “Why Can’t I Be MVP?”. The guys discuss the importance of both and ultimately which one moves on. Vote for either on Twitter (@LockedOnBulls) and join the discussion at (331)-979-1369.
Bulls Voicemail: Who are you relying on to take the clutch shot?
Locked On Bulls is back with their weekly Bulls mailbag show, the guys kick off the episode with a voicemail about comparing Lauri Markkanen to Rasheed Wallace. The guys compare both players, why Matt and Jordan don’t necessarily see a connection and ultimately what Markkanen should be working on this season. Second voicemail is in response to an early question asking how Fred Hoiberg can get back into the good graces with Bulls fans who don’t believe in him. Third voicemail is a call about not necessarily needing to sign a top-tier free agent in 2019 in order to compete. Last voicemail of the show asks who we would like to see take the last shot in close games this season. Matt and Jordan dive into some clutch time statistics from last year to try and make a case for any of the five Bulls core players. All of this and so much more on Locked On Bulls.
Three Factors That Will Determine Bulls Playoff Chances
The Chicago Bulls won 27 games last season making it their lowest winning season since 2004. The Bulls were 26th in the NBA in points per game and 27th in points allowed per game. They were also 29th in the league in total point differential at -577 points. Although the Bulls had their worst season of the decade, the new and young additions to the roster may induce a playoff berth in a struggling Eastern Conference.
When deciding whether or not the Bulls are a playoff team, these questions come to mind:
- Can an injury-prone starting lineup remain healthy?
- Will Jabari Parker finally become the elite player he got drafted to be?
- Are other teams in the East too good?
Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room, this Bulls starting lineup has a long history of significant injuries. Whether they can remain healthy is a question that could make or break their playoff chances. The two biggest concerns for the Bulls regarding health is Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine. Parker and LaVine have a combined three ACL tears in the past two years. We know from previous years with Derrick Rose that it is difficult to stay healthy and yield the same production after an injury like Parker and LaVine suffered. But it wasn’t just Parker and LaVine who were recovering from injuries throughout last season.
Kris Dunn missed 11 games due to a concussion after a hard fall in January. He missed a few more games due to minor injuries like a dislocated finger, patella tendinitis, and a big toe sprain.
Bulls sophomore Lauri Markkanen missed a total of 14 games last season dealing with some minor injuries. Markkanen’s “back stiffness” was the main reason for most of his missed games. You could argue that some of Markkanen’s “rest days” came at the end of the season when the Bulls were trying to get a better draft pick.
Health is perhaps the biggest factor in whether the Bulls can make the playoffs. A healthy Bulls team can be a productive one with this young and talented lineup. No player necessarily needs to be a star if the team is healthy. Each player in the starting lineup is capable of scoring 15 per game with ease. If they all remain healthy, it’s not hard to see them as the 8th seed in the East.
After the Bulls offered Parker a questionable $20 million deal, expectations have never been higher for the Simeon legend. Many Bulls fans are wondering if Parker can be the scoring threat he once was with the Bucks. As much as I hate being reminded of it, I can’t help but think of Rose’s struggles on the floor after his ACL tear.
It’s not just about whether Parker can remain healthy. Can he still show the explosiveness and athleticism he had prior to the injuries? Driving to the rim and creating his own shots off the dribble are substantial elements of Jabari’s game. If that is taken away from him due to his injuries, we may not see the player the Bulls paid for.
The East has been the significantly weaker conference over the past several seasons. It’s for this reason the Bulls’ chances of making a playoff appearance are a lot greater than they would be if they were in the West. There were a total of five teams under 30 wins in the East last year and every team that didn’t make the playoffs was under .500. There were only four teams in the East that had 50 or more wins. One of those teams was the Cleveland Cavaliers. Obviously, the Cavs will struggle to reach the playoffs this season without LeBron James.
The Bull could pull off a mediocre 42-win season and still manage to make the playoffs. Not many teams in the East improved their roster quite like the Bulls. They drafted what looks to be one of the more talented and NBA-ready rookies in the league in Wendell Carter Jr., signed a proven scorer in Parker, and continue to develop young and talented players like Markkanen, Dunn and Bobby Portis.
The Bulls are one of the most improved teams in the NBA if they can remain healthy and Parker can live up to everyone’s expectations. They have scorers all over their starting lineup and players like Portis and Antonio Blakeney wanting to prove themselves off the bench. Whether you want the Bulls to make the playoffs or not, there is no doubt they will be a fun team to watch come October.