With the 2021 NBA Draft less than a month away, we’ve started to learn more about which prospects the Bulls have scouted closely. The organization has only the No. 38th pick at their disposal at the moment, but some recent player interviews have led us to speculate whether a move up the draft board could be in the their future.
Scottie Barnes, Sharife Cooper, and Ayo Dosunmu are three players the Bulls have reportedly met with already, and each is widely projected to go inside the first round. And while we still should not bank on the organization acquiring the first-round talent on July 29th, NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson did write in his latest mailbag that the front office has left the door open.
“I know the Bulls’ brain trust not only scouted the combine but had plans to continue working the draft — not only for the 38th pick but to be prepared in case any opportunities arise to trade into the first round.”
Part of this is probably about the organization doing its due diligence. A team never wants to limit itself, especially with so much roster growth that needs to occur. Arturas Karnisovas also made clear last offseason (when the Bulls had the No. 4-overall pick) that he sees plenty of opportunities on draft night, and he would not be afraid to make a move. Possessing a top-5 pick obviously allows for more flexibility than an early second-rounder, but Johnson’s info tells us we should not expect Karnisovas’ draft philosophy to change all that much.
“And not to be too general, I’m looking for value. Even when we get into the second round, you can find valuable assets that most teams under appreciated,” Karnisovas said to Bulls dot com’s Sam Smith ahead of the 2020 NBA Draft. “You look for opportunities. Would that be moving up? Moving down? There’s always opportunities. It’s obviously going to be a busy time to talk on the phone with numerous teams. We’ll obviously look at opportunities to make our team better.”
The idea of weighing all options might not change for Karnisovas from year to year, but the eagerness to do so might. Again, No. 38 is not the same as No. 4. Karnisovas was confident he could get a valuable asset last offseason if he did not budge, but does he believe he can do that again this time around with this second-rounder?
We also have to consider the timeline of the Bulls’ current roster. While adding another project asset never hurts, the Bulls are also looking for more immediately impactful talent to surround Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. Perhaps that has made the front office even more stingy with their draft evaluations, and perhaps that is why they could be even more inclined to trade up for a talent they believe will contribute immediately.
A guy like Dosunmu certainly falls in that category. He may not be the highest-upside prospect, but he is an experienced college player who could step comfortably into an NBA rotation right away. Chris Durate from Oregon and Quinten Grimes from Houston are two other older prospects that could find themselves in (what I like to call) the “Tradable Twenties.” In the 2020 NBA Draft, we saw plenty of helpful players go in the late first round, including Peyton Pritchard, Malachi Flynn, and Desmond Bane.
I have to imagine those are the kinds of players the Bulls plan to pursue in a trade-up. Sure, they might be open to a more significant jump into the first round, but I’m not sure they are comfortable giving up the assets it would take. The late 20’s range could cost the team’s second-rounder and a guy like Tomas Satoransky. Maybe a contending team in the early 20s (Atlanta or Los Angeles) would ask for Thaddeus Young.
We can’t rule anything out, though. Karnisovas has surprised us multiple times with his ambitious moves to grab head Billy Donovan and trade for Nikola Vucevic. When he sees something he wants, he goes and gets it. We’ll see exactly what he wants in 29 days.