The Bulls aren’t tanking - and that may not be a bad thing

 (Winslow Townson/AP)

(Winslow Townson/AP)

Let’s face it... the Chicago Bulls are too good. Yes I’m aware that’s a weird thing to read but it’s true. Despite the Bulls’ 13-24 record, they’ve won 10 of their last 14 games and have one of the best records in the NBA since Dec. 8.

Our hopes of #SecuringtheBagley or #LosingforLuka have gone down the drain. The Bulls will likely pick between 7 and 14.

But don’t worry Bulls fans - there are a few reasons this may not be a bad thing.

 

Draft Picks

Look, it’s no secret a top 5 pick helps you win an NBA championship. The best player on 11 of the last 15 NBA champions was taken within the first five picks of their respective drafts.

The other four? Steph Curry, the best player for the 2015 Warriors, landed at No. 7 in the 2009 NBA draft. Dirk Nowitzki, the best player on the 2011 Mavericks, was taken with the No. 9 pick in 1998. Kobe Bryant, the best player on the 2009 and 2010 Lakers, went 13th overall to Charlotte in 1996.

See, it’s possible to get a franchise changing player outside of the top 5.

According to a 2018 NBA mock draft by Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman, he projects the Bulls to take Texas' Mohamed Bamba with the No. 6 pick. At 6’11 - with an 8' wingspan!!! -  225 pounds, the 19-year-old from Harlem is averaging 11.7 PPG, 10.7 rebounds and 4.5 blocks a game in his freshman season.

The latest projection from NBADraft.net has Chicago drafting another emerging freshman in Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. with the No. 7 pick. Jackson is averaging 10.5 points, 7.1 board and 3.3 blocks per game. He’s also shooting 37 percent from the three-point line while averaging just under three attempts per game.

Both players are long, athletic big men who could fit nicely next to Lauri Markkanen. They're currently the seventh-worst team in the league. But if they keep winning, Bulls fans would be wise to turn their attention to prospects further down mock draft boards.

One of them is Miami freshman guard Lonnie Walker, a 6'4" athletic wing with a 6’101/2” wingspan who could fit right into the uptempo, pace-and-space style head coach Fred Hoiberg wants to play, averaging 8.5 PPG in just 21 minutes a game.

(credit: ACC Digital Network)

In this video, you’ll see some highlights of Walker’s ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket and some of his three-point range.

According to ESPN Insider Jonathan Givony, Walker is projected to be selected with the 15th pick.

The steal of the draft could be Villanova junior forward Mikal Bridges.

Bridges is playing like an All-American for the No. 1 ranked Villanova Wildcats. He’s averaging 17.8 PPG on 52 percent shooting from the field and 45 percent shooting from the three-point line. But it’s his play on the other side of the ball that makes Bridges one of the most complete players in this draft.

Bridges is a 6’7” wing with a 7’11/2” wingspan and he puts all that length to good use. He’s averaging 2 steals per game and 1.5 blocks per game.

Imagine a defensive lineup with Dunn, Nwaba and Bridges - each with the ability to guard multiple positions and give ball handlers problems.

Fortunately for the Bulls, Bridges is 21-years old and will be 22 when the NBA draft comes around in June. His age could turn away some teams who may be looking for a young star - leaving a rebuilding Chicago Bulls with the chance to select a hidden gem in this year's draft.

 

Player Development 

 

The thing about winning in a tanking season is the wins usually mean your young players are developing faster than you expected. The Bulls are no different.

Fans are understandably excited about the growth of Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, two of the three pieces in the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players’ performance this season – and the hope budding star Zach LaVine will return to his star form from prior to his ACL tear - have some already naming the Bulls winners of the draft day trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Markkanen is averaging close to 15 PPG and has proven to be a willing rebounder, averaging just over 7 boards on the season.

The Finland native is also showing he is a capable defender, something no one could have predicted when he came out of Arizona. Check out the defense here on New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis. (Credit: @_MarcusD2_/NBC Sports Chicago)

Dunn is in the running for the Most Improved Player award. He’s up nine points per game, to 13.2 ppg this year from 3.8 ppg from his rookie season with the Timberwolves.

His shooting has gotten slightly better with increased playing time. According to CleaningTheGlass.com, Dunn is shooting 55 percent at the rim, 40 percent from mid-range and 32 percent from three.

Last year he shot, 50 percent at the rim, 36 percent from midrange and 28 percent from three.

His 2017-2018 shooting numbers show his offensive game still needs work but with more time those numbers could continue to rise.

Dunn has more than doubled his assist numbers as well, averaging six per game as opposed to the 2.4 last season.

Dunn and Markkanen aren’t the only one’s getting better. Young role players like Denzel Valentine and David Nwaba have also improved.

Nwaba can’t really shoot the ball but he’s shown the ability to attack on the catch and push the ball on fast breaks. (Credit/Chicago Bulls Twitter)

In addition, the Bulls get exponentially better with him on defense as opposing teams have a 105.6 offensive rating when he’s on the floor and a 111.4 offensive rating when he’s on the bench.

As for Valentine, for a while he seemed to be nothing more than a floor spacer. However he’s taken major steps forward in his game this season.

Last year, according to NBA.com, 79 percent of Valentine’s threes were assisted. This year, that number is down to 61 percent, meaning he’s taking more pull-up threes.

In addition, Valentine is taking more shots inside the arc, averaging 26.1 percent of his points in the paint (as opposed to 13.7 in 2016-2017) and 12.8 percent of his points on midrange jumpshots (as opposed to 6.2 in 2016-2017).

Even Bobby Portis, who struggled to maintain any consistency last season, has been a positive for the Bulls, averaging nearly 13 PPG on 53 percent shooting and 39 percent from the three-point line over the last 14 games.

 

Free Agency

 

There’s a certain sense of pride when your “own guys” help you win a championship. But the draft isn’t the only way to get good players. The Houston Rockets are 26-9 and the only draft pick in their starting lineup is Clint Capela.

The Bulls have loads of cap space and some good players will test their luck in free agency in the next two years. And since they have been winning recently without any all-star talent, they are now a more attractive destination than if they were 5-31 and playing an atrocious brand of basketball.

The 2018 Free Agency class includes names such as Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, LeBron James DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George.

In 2019, the list gets even more interesting with players like restricted free agents Devin Booker and Karl Anthony Towns, and Kyrie Irving.

You read those names and think they are unrealistic for the Bulls. To be fair, their biggest free agent signing in the last 15 years is a 34-year old Pau Gasol.

(Editors note: I find it baffling he disregarded Bulls legend Eddie Robinson like that.)

However, this Bulls team feels different. They are a young team that’s playing basketball the right way with pace, three point shooting and intense defense.

Maybe it’s not so unthinkable that a major star would want to lead a team that seems to be headed in the right direction.