Tank Check: What Are the Bulls’ Chances at Keeping Their First-Round Pick Anyway?

Right when the Chicago Bulls had a chance to re-enter the Eastern Conference postseason picture, they went ahead and lost to the nine-win (now ten) Houston Rockets.

While they may still be just a half-game back from the final Play-In Tournament spot, the loss on Monday wiped away all of the positive momentum built over the previous three-game winning streak. Chicago still sits 11th in the Eastern Conference, and they now have losses to the Rockets, Spurs, Magic, and Washington on their resume – all of which have worse records.

So the question remains … should the Bulls embrace the tank? I’ve long been against the idea of a full-blown teardown, myself. While I can reconcile with a step back this season and a retooling of sorts through trades and free agency, I continue to believe that a true tank job just isn’t all that appetizing.

Admittedly, one reason for that is I’m sick of watching crappy basketball. A redeeming quality about this new front office was that they picked a competitive lane. My hope is they stay in that lane and try to fix their mistakes before having the privilege of wiping their slate clean for a multi-year rebuild.

The other reason is that the chances of the Bulls actually keeping their first-round pick this year are frustratingly thin. Chicago is currently the 8th-worst team in the NBA, which means they hold just a 26.3 percent chance at earning a top-4 pick, per Tankathon. Why is that number important? Well, as we should all know by now, the organization sent a 2023 top-4 protected first-round pick to the Orlando Magic as part of the Nikola Vucevic trade. So, in other words, the Magic currently have a 73.7 percent chance of receiving a pick that lands somewhere between 5-14.

I recognize that a lot of fans might be willing to take those slim chances for a shot at a generational talent like Victor Wembanyama. But those same fans have to also be ready for the far more likely and crushing outcome that Orlando gets another high lottery pick (ended up with No. 7 in 2020, which turned into impressive young forward Franz Wagner).

Now, isn’t the whole point of tanking to improve your odds and give yourself an even better opportunity at a top-4 pick? Absolutely, but at this point, there’s no guaranteeing the Bulls can tank well enough to significantly bolster their chances. The highest percentage they could feasibly get at this point is 37.2, which the Wizards currently own as the NBA’s 6th-worst team. I guess a case could also be made that there is a chance at the 5th-worst record, which would give them a 42.1 percent chance at a top-4 pick, but I suspect that Orlando (13-22) isn’t going to keep stringing together many wins.

And that’s the problem. Whether it be Detroit, Charlotte, Houston, or San Antonio – the four teams that currently hold the league’s four worst records and at least a 48.1 percent chance at earning a top-4 pick (three worst teams have a 52.1 percent shot) – they have already been stringing together some important losses this season. Out-tanking them isn’t going to be easy, especially if the Bulls want to wait until closer to the deadline to begin making moves.

Again, none of this is to necessarily say it can’t be done or it isn’t an approach the Bulls should take. But it does add some context around why the decision isn’t so black and white for Chicago.

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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