Guess what? The NBA Draft is THIS week!!! I know right? I never thought it would arrive either. Ever since we found out the Bulls would be picking 4th overall, I’ve felt like a 7 year old impatiently waiting for Christmas. We’re stuck in that same eternity between writing your letter to Santa Clause and opening up presents on Christmas day. Well, the Big Board this year is sort of like that letter to Santa Clause, in that I’m listing my preferred prospects for the Chicago Bulls.
I made my Big Board well over a month (or two) ago, and the funny thing is, I haven’t really changed it since then. Even with all the extra time to over analyze these prospects, my opinions of them haven’t changed much. I don’t know what that says about me.
I thought this year, as a way of building the suspense, I would sort the top prospects at each position and then show how they all stack up against each other on my Big Board. Thrilling isn’t it.
The Top Ball Handlers
1. LaMelo Ball – 6’ 7” point guard with elite passing and ball handling skills. Big question marks surrounding his defense, and slightly smaller ones around his shooting. LaMelo is a dynamic playmaker with enormous potential. With his elite skills, it’s easy to imagine him making multiple All-Star appearances.
2. Killian Hayes – 6’ 5” combo guard playing in Germany. Like Ball, Hayes is a tremendous passer and decent enough ballhandler, he’s shown potential shooting the ball from beyond the 3 point arc. Negatively, as a natural lefty, he doesn’t seem capable of going to his right, making him a bit predictable and easier to defend. Hayes also has some questions about his defense along with the usual unfounded fears about whether or not his game will translate from Europe to the NBA.
3. Tyrese Haliburton – 6’ 5” point guard has an incredibly high basketball I.Q. and is a dependable passer. With both elite court vision and an irreproachable understanding of the game, Haliburton is probably going to be a very competent NBA player for many years to come. Unfortunately, I don’t know if he’ll ever be more than competent. Even as an elite level playmaker in college, he could not take defenders off the dribble with any sort of consistency, and will have a hard time using dribble penetration to attack the basket in the NBA.
1. Anthony Edwards – 6’ 5” shooting guard, more of a secondary ball handler or scoring guard than a traditional wing, but I didn’t want to put him with the ball handlers so here he is. Edwards is an athletic scorer, a naturally talented baller, with tons of potential. He has the ability to get hot and go on scoring streaks that last entire halves, but he can also disappear during games. He can put up numbers without seeming to effect the game at all. In that way, Edwards has drawn a lot of comparisons to Andrew Wiggins, supremely talented but may never live up to the potential.
2. Isaac Okoro – 6’ 6” elite defender. Plays great on-ball and perimeter defense. Can defend the rim and make great help plays. He’s the total package on defense. On offense, Okoro is a slashing wing, he is much better at cutting to the basket than chucking up threes. That being said, he does need to get better at shooting the basketball in order to become a potential All-Star.
3. Deni Avdija – 6’ 9” all around utility player out of Israel. Doesn’t seem to have elite talent in any area of his game but has very few weaknesses as well. The biggest questions concern his game are his shooting and talent ceiling. Avdija has shown himself to be a very strong team defender, an above average passer and competent ball handler. He seems to be the “safe pick” in this draft. The guy who can do a lot for a team, but probably won’t push a franchise to the next level, whatever level that may be.
4. Devin Vassell – At 6’ 7” is nearly the prototypical “3 and D” NBA wing. He is the second best defensive wing in this draft, behind Okoro, but his shooting from beyond the arc is what sets him apart from the other wings in this draft. He shot above 41% from three in his two seasons at Florida State, despite using an unorthodox shooting form. His shooting form is the biggest complaint among draft experts, with most concerned that it won’t work in the NBA. We’ll have to wait and see.
1. Onyeka Okongwu – 6’ 9” What Okongwu lacks in size he makes up for in athleticism and defensive instincts. He is a rim protector, averaging 2.7 blocks per game. He seems to be the perfect center for the “small ball” NBA that teams like the Miami Heat or Houston Rockets have been playing. I believe he has exceptional potential, and some high level defensive skills that should make him an impact player the moment he steps foot on an NBA court. The down side to his game are the questions, will he ever be anything more than a dunker?, and can he survive against the bigger, more athletic and skilled Bigs that play in the NBA?
2. James Wiseman – His 7’ 1” size makes Wiseman a more traditional looking center, but his elite athleticism is what makes him most peoples favorite to be a top 3 pick in this years Draft. I haven’t really paid much attention to Wiseman, which is unusual for me. If you’ve read any of my previous draft coverage over the last few years, you know I go a little bonkers over Centers. Whether it’s professing my undying love for Mo Bamba, or Goga Bitadze, I tend to go overboard for the 5 spot. There isn’t much “tape” to watch on Wiseman since he abruptly left Memphis early last season, so I’ve had to base my opinion of him on 3rd hand anecdotes about his play, and what I’ve heard I haven’t liked. The picture that I’ve formed in my mind of Wiseman is that of a player who looks the part of a super star, but doesn’t actually live up to the hype. That’s why I’ve put him behind Okongwu in this section, it is certainly unfair of me to base his spot on my Big Board solely on hearsay, but I’m a dad now, and I’ve got better things to do with my time than watch video highlight packages of a 7’ man-child dunking on 5’ 10” high schoolers.
3. Obi Toppin – 6’ 9” Toppin is one of the most gifted scorers in the draft. He can put the ball in the hoop from all three levels, and he has plenty of ways to do it too. Whether posting up, slashing to the rim, taking his defender off the dribble, or spotting up from three, there isn’t much he can’t do on offense. He’s even an above average passer and underrated playmaker. So why do I slot him as the 3rd best Big in this draft? Defense is a struggle for Toppin, we’ll leave it at that.
That’s how I’m ranking these prospects by position. I feel these guys are the top 10 prospects in the draft, the ones definitely going in the lottery. Now it’s time to put together a Big Board for the Bulls. If I was part of the Round Table, this is what I’d bring to Arturas and Eversely:
1a. LaMelo Ball – Ever since Derrick Rose broke, and Jimmy Butler was traded, the Bulls have been looking for a lead ball handler/playmaker to run the team, whatever you may think of LaMelo Ball, he is an elite playmaker. If Ball falls to the Bulls with the 4th pick, you take him without hesitating, without listening to trade offers, without worrying about his defense or his personality. From everything I’ve seen from this draft class, Ball has the most potential out of all the prospects to become a star, and has a clear path to becoming one of the best passers in the NBA. When all is said and done, I think he will be the best player taken in this draft.
1b. Anthony Edwards – I’m not super hyped about Edwards, I think that’s obvious by what I’ve written about him, but there is no denying his talent and potential. While his fit with the Bulls might jeopardize the future of Coby White or Zach LaVine, he’s too talented not to draft if he falls to 4th overall. The reason I’m putting him at 1b is I really don’t think he will get past the top 2 picks in this draft. While there have been rumors that LaMelo might slip out of the top 3, Edwards has consistently been either 1 or 2 in pretty much every mock draft ever made for this class. Without a trade, I really don’t see the Bulls having a chance to draft him.
2. Isaac Okoro – Like LaMelo, Okoro is another player with an elite skill set and All-Star potential. His defense would be a blessing for the Bulls, especially since it doesn’t feel like they will be re-signing Kris Dunn. Okoro would also help fill in the gaping hole the Bulls have on the Wing, and under the newly fleshed out player development department, he might learn how to shoot the basketball. Not to mince words, I really love what Okoro does on the basketball court. He is exciting to watch, an explosive talent, especially as a defender.
3. Deni Avdija – Yes, I know, he’s kind of the oat meal of this draft class. Not really that exciting a pick, but certainly a solid way to start the day. Avdija would also fill out the wing position, and if we can hope that Okoro can develop a consistent shot, then the same hope should apply to Avdija. The truth is, Avdija was shooting the ball much better over the last few months he played for Maccabi Tel Aviv. He also showed some encouraging signs as a ball handler and playmaker. I’m not sure I buy into a lot of the hype he’s been getting over the last few months, but I believe he is a solid prospect, and if the Bulls took him at 4, I wouldn’t be upset. Have you ever tried oat meal with raisins or dried cranberries?
4. Devin Vassell – If you can’t tell, I’m really sick of the Bulls not having wing depth. Vassell would be a solid pick for the Bulls. He checks so many of the boxes for a modern NBA wing. His shot is definitely suspect in my book, which is why I didn’t put him above Avdija, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers he put up over two seasons of college basketball. If he can consistently hit 3 pointers at the NBA level, he would add much needed floor spacing to the Bulls attack.
5. Killian Hayes – Now that we’ve gotten past my need to fill the Bulls hole on the wing, it’s time to pay attention to the need for a lead guard. Hayes could be a really interesting fit with Zach LaVine and Coby White. I could see defenses thrown for a loop if the Bulls trotted the three of those guys out on the floor at the same time. Hayes certainly has his flaws as a player, but he’s young and hungry, with a little patience and some development, I think he would be worth the 4th overall pick if Arturas decided to draft him there.
6. Onyeka Okongwu – I believe Okongwu is the most talented big man in this draft. But if the Bulls draft him, that means either Wendell Carter Jr or Lauri Markkanen (or both) are probably on their way out the door. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up on either of those guys, especially with a proven head coach and full player development team ready to steer their careers. That being said, this new regime might be looking to start fresh, if that’s the case Okongwu is a solid prospect to start building your team with.
7. Tyrese Haliburton – I am very hot and cold on Haliburton. When I put this big board together I debated putting him as high as number 3, but I settled on 7 because I can’t get past the fact that he struggles to penetrate the paint off the dribble. That is really a key factor to being an effective point guard in the NBA. If you can’t break a defender down off the dribble as the lead ball handler that really limits what your team can do on offense. His IQ and passing keep Haliburton in the top 10 of this draft, but I have my doubts about him being the man that effectively runs the Bulls offense.
8. Obi Toppin – Instant offense. Toppin sort of reminds me of Carlos Boozer, not in how he plays, more so in the vibes he gives off as a player. I get the feeling that if he were on the Bulls, most fans would complain about his lack of defense, even while he drops 18+ points a night on opponents. He’s probably a better defender than people give him credit for, but it doesn’t always show up in the box score. If the Bulls were to draft Toppin, it would put a lot of heat on Lauri Markkanen, and even though the Finnisher has regressed in development, I believe he is a better all around prospect than Toppin. I still believe in Lauri, more so than I believe in Toppin.
9. James Wiseman – Wiseman is the unfortunate victim of my ignorance and prejudice. Without really watching the film on him, and putting way too much stock in hearsay, Wiseman rounds out my Big Board at number 9. It’s true, he may end up the best player in this draft, but I literally haven’t seen it, and just like Okongwu, if the Bulls draft him it means they are moving on from Carter and Markkanen. I’m just not ready to do that. Sorry, Wiseman, feel free to prove me and the other doubters wrong.
That’s it for the Big Board. You’ll notice I pretty much played it like the Bulls would be picking 4th overall. There have been a lot of rumors over the past couple of weeks that have the Bulls moving up and down the draft board via trades. I’m not connected enough to tell you that any of those rumors are valid. What I do know is that Karnisovas and Eversely have been interviewing a good number of point guard prospects, which makes me believe that they are looking for a lead ball handler in this draft. A number of teams have been inquiring whether Zach LaVine is available for trade, but we haven’t heard if the Round Table is willing to part ways with the face of the franchise.
I say, if you’re trading up in this draft from #4 overall, it better be to draft LaMelo Ball. That being said, I’m even skeptical he’s worth the cost it might take to get him. If the Bulls do end up trading back, or moving some established players to get back into the draft late in the first round (goodbye Thaddeus Young?) some players to keep an eye on would be:
-Patrick Williams of Florida State, who has been climbing big boards like Spiderman scaling the Empire State building.
-Aleksej Pokusevski, the young Serbian unicorn playing in EuroLeague for Olympiacos.
-Aaron Nesmith, sharpshooter out of Vanderbilt.
-RJ Hampton, who skipped college to play in Australia, but mostly battled injuries.
-Saddiq Bey, the well regarded wing prospect from Villanova.
-Kira Lewis Jr. the speedster guard from Alabama
-Paul Reed, local prospect out of DePaul University.
And for those of you wondering which 2nd round player I’ve fallen in love with this year, let me introduce you to Abdoulaye N’Doye the 6’ 7” point guard who plays for Cholet in France. The man has handles and court vision. He’s a solid passer and his length makes him a pesky defender. He’s well worth a second round flyer…
That’s it for the Big Board. I’ll be back on Wednesday or Thursday with a special after the draft extravaganza post. Until then, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!