Even before the NBA’s annual draft combine began Wednesday in Chicago, some of the event’s buzz was dulled by reports of the three candidates for the No. 1 overall pick in June — the Kansas duo of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, as well as Duke’s Jabari Parker, a Chicago native — not being in attendance.
But that’s not what it’s about anyway, as teams have scouted the top draft prospects for months, if not years, and the gathering is more about convenience, with actual basketball drills mattering less to teams than players taking physicals and going through the interview process. If anything, the athletic testing will be scrutinized to ensure prospects are in good shape and either confirm or deny what’s been previously evaluated, with measurements also being another component used to determine how to use a pick in another month. The combine has essentially become one of the league’s annual conventions of sorts, along with summer league and the All-Star Game, a place to swap rumors, do business and glean information for the offseason.
It is, however, useful for teams such as the Bulls, who are equipped with two first-round picks, the 16th and 19th overall selections. While other players will surely intrigue the organization as time goes on, many of the names they’ll see up close this week in Chicago to begin the getting-to-know-you stage of things will also be in play when new NBA commissioner Adam Silver is set to announce their choices, assuming they don’t trade one or both of the picks.
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The front office has typically gone for a combination of the right fit, the best-available strategy and drafting for need, something that’s been successful during Bulls general manager Gar Forman’s tenure, as evidenced by the success of sixth man Taj Gibson, a 2009 draftee, and starter Jimmy Butler, a 2011 addition. The jury is still out on 2013 selection Tony Snell — not to mention their other 2011 pick, Nikola Mirotic, who remains in Spain for the time being — and while the departed James Johnson, now in Memphis, and Marquis Teague, who was dealt to Brooklyn, weren’t home runs, the Bulls are generally regarded as a team that evaluates well.
Judging from their offensive struggles in the recently-completed season, shooting will be a priority and in this deep draft class, there are several prolific outside marksmen.
Michigan’s Nik Stauskas might be the premier shooter available, but as his stock continues to rise, it appears less likely that the Canada native, who is already working out in the city — he’s represented by Chicago-based agent Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports, which is also Gibson’s agency — will be on the board for the Bulls. While his sophomore-season numbers didn’t reflect his reputation, Michigan State product Gary Harris — known for his two-way play, though detractors point to his lack of great size for a shooting guard — is another potential fit, albeit one who, like Stauskas, might not be around when it’s the Bulls’ turn to announce their selection. Kentucky swingman James Young had a similar season, one in which the southpaw played well overall, but didn’t shoot it as consistently from deep as observers as expected, but upside as a prospect could be worth some growing pains, if he doesn’t impress other teams enough in workouts to put him out of the Bulls’ range.
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More likely to be available is another lefty, Duke wing Rodney Hood, who has not only a sweet outside stroke, but underrated versatility and excellent size. P.J. Hairston, who had an eye-opening campaign for the D-League’s Texas Legends, could be another name to watch, though he has some red flags relating to his dismissal from North Carolina that have the potential to scare off the character-conscious Bulls.
Adding depth at big man is also an area of need for the Bulls, but unfortunately for them, most of the worthy candidates that fit the bill are expected to be off the board before they have the opportunity to snatch one up. There’s an outside chance that Harris’ teammate, power forward Adreian Payne, is available — critics point to the four-year senior’s age as a negative, but it didn’t seem to hurt Gibson’s development — and with his background under hard-nosed coach Tom Izzo, the ability to knock down long-range shots and tremendous athleticism, he would be an ideal acquisition.
Of course, with their free-agency considerations, not only a trade, as previously mentioned, but drafting a player from overseas in order to stash them abroad, a la Mirotic, is a feasible proposition.