One of the most frustrating aspects of this current rebuild (I know there are many) is the idea of quantifying how “good” this young core really is.
Previously, we took a look at The Ringer’s young core rankings which landed the Bulls at No. 14-overall – something that didn’t sit too well with us, given what we’re hoping this team can become. Indeed, the Bulls are the third-youngest team in the league with a bulk of fresh talent, but apparently, that talent isn’t providing anything more than 33 wins (according to the method used by The Ringer).
Well, Bleacher Report decided to take a similar stab at the matter, publishing the best 23 players in the NBA under 23-years-old, and this time the Bulls find themselves well represented. Er, well sorta. Two young Bulls make an appearance on the list, but neither are positioned in the most desirable spot.
NOTE: I think this list is at best … imperfect, but rather than picking it all apart, let’s just focus on where the Bulls players are ranked and take it from there.
The 20-year-old Wendell Carter Jr. checks in at No. 19 while Lauri Markkanen is just two spots better at No. 17. Is there a lot of talented young studs in the NBA right now? Sure. But for the third youngest team in the NBA, it’s rough not to have even one player cracking the top-10.
The Hawks and Suns who are the two younger overall teams both have players in the top-10 (Trae Young at No. 7, Devin Booker No. 5). In total, both teams have two players listed in the top-15 (Suns: Booker, DeAndre Ayton, Hawks: Young, John Collins). So being young doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good, which may help represent some of the struggles the Bulls are having when it comes to these recent rankings.
You could definitely make a case for both of these players being ranked higher, but Wendell Carter Jr. at No. 19 feels appropriate. I always have a problem putting guys who haven’t even touched an NBA court in such rankings, but at the same time, Carter Jr. played only 44 games last season. He falls right behind the Knicks RJ Barrett, and while I want to call this out as ridiculous, I just can’t. Barrett was a No. 3-overall draft pick, and while we haven’t seen him play on the big stage yet, we have seen Carter Jr. And in this case, that fact actually hurts him.
By no means did Carter Jr. play poorly during his brief rookie campaign, but it was exactly that, brief. The way I look at this ranking is basically asking myself if Carter Jr. was in the same draft as Barrett, would you take Barrett over him? If so, then this feels like the right call… for now.
As for Lauri Markkanen, No. 17 feels like a slap in the face. Markkanen is sandwiched between two rookies: Barrett and Ja Morant. I’m sorry, but I might just have to sue for emotional damages!
In this case, Markkanen should certainly not be compared to two rookies. He may have been drafted lower than them in his respective draft, but the guy has already proven to be a legitimate All-Star contender. Markkanen is on the brink of averaging a double-double per night in the NBA, and with that being the case, he shouldn’t be in the same conversation as two rookies who still need to find their footing.
Among power forwards that started at least 50 games last season, Markkanen averaged the 15th most points per game (18.7), the 10th most three-pointers made per game (2.3) and the seventh-most rebounds per game (9.0). I’m not saying these numbers put his value ahead of top-of-the-list players like No. 4 Jayson Tatum or No. 2 De’Aaron Fox, but I think he is at least in the same conversation as the brink of the top-1o that includes Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Brandon Ingram and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Nothing about these rankings are set in stone, and unlike The Ringer’s, no particular model appears to be used other than a matter of opinion. Yet, these broad rankings demonstrate a level of interest and perception around the league for an organization. Bulls aren’t doing too hot.
For the sake of the Bulls reputation, let’s hope both these players can make a significant jump up this list by the time the 2019-20 campaign comes to a close.