Bulls executives John Paxson, left, and Gar Forman

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Bernstein: Bulls Draft History, Compared To 'The Next Guy'

Judging a front office through a new prism proves informative.

Dan Bernstein
June 18, 2018 - 8:08 am
Categories: 

By Dan Bernstein--
670TheScore.com senior columnist

(670 The Score)​​ The way we grade NBA front offices on their respective draft picks is probably a bit unfair. We wait until well after the fact to levy criticism, first of all, and then hold each decision-maker to the standard set by the best possible group of other selections made that year. It doesn't matter how many of their counterparts also passed on whatever players happened to pop, only that in each particular case it was the player they could (read: should) have had.

The assumptions involved in all the ex post facto stuff are too myriad to count, of course, but we ignore all of those complications enough to leave fans in any individual city often grumbling about everybody else that ended up everywhere else, blaming their team's general manager for not realizing that the player who went 18th turned out to be so good.

So for the sake of conversation, let's try a different kind of comparison in an effort to simplify the exercise, better examining each decision in the moment by looking at it relative to only the one immediately after it. Instead of a given pick against all the other ensuing names, we'll look at it only up against the next player actually taken. The pick might have been the player that next team wanted to get to them, and the next guy is one who could've been taken a spot before. It's not perfect, but it's a different prism.

Drafting for a specific position could certainly add noise, but this isn't football. The nature of the NBA and its championship history inform that you take talent when and where you can and make it work. Passing on a player for reasons of position in this sport has long been a thin excuse for bad scouting.

So on to the Bulls, which is the point. We'll start in 2003, the first draft for which John Paxson was responsible, and we'll take him at his word that he and Gar Forman reach a consensus for the pick so we can work over the questions over the years of where one man's influence has ended and the other has begun. The Win Shares statistic from BasketballReference.com will serve to assign numerical value, because it accounts for both offensive and defensive contribution over the course of a career.

2003:  No. 7 Bulls -- Kirk Hinrich; No. 8 Bucks -- T.J. Ford

Some petty good players went in the top five, but here are two point guards, one way better than the other. Hinrich had 52.5 Win Shares to Ford's 16.9.

2004:  No. 3 Bulls -- Ben Gordon; No. 4 Clippers -- Shawn Livingston; No. 7 Bulls -- Luol Deng; No. 8 Raptors -- Rafael Araujo

Gordon was worth 33.3 WS to Livingston's 27.9, a great way of seeing how similar overall production can be accrued through peak versus career performance. Paxson used a trade to acquire the chance to take Deng, and his still-growing WS total of 73.2 is just a bit better than Araujo's -0.4.

2005: No Bulls first-round selection

2006:  No. 4 Bulls -- Tyrus Thomas; No. 5 Hawks -- Shelden Williams

Meh -- 13 WS to 9.9. The Bulls also acquired Thabo Sefolosha for their own pick of Rodney Carney and some other assets, but the later deals won't apply here unless we're certain that a pick was made pursuant to a previous agreement, as was the case with Thomas and Portland. If you're curious, though, Sefolosha has 37.2 WS and Carney 6.2.

2007:  No. 9 Bulls -- Joakim Noah; No. 10 Kings -- Spencer Hawes

It was two centers this time, and again the Bulls pick the right one. Noah has 59.6 Win Shares and Hawes just 22.6.

2008:  No. 1 Bulls -- Derrick Rose; No. 2 Heat -- Michael Beasley

This was the lucky series of ping-pong balls and the choice between everyone's top two prospects. And it's hard to believe that it was already this long ago. Rose has 34.2 WS, Beasley 15.3, and both are still going during star-crossed careers.

2009:  No. 16 Bulls -- James Johnson; No. 17 76ers -- Jrue Holiday; No. 26 Bulls -- Taj Gibson; No. 27 Grizzlies -- DeMarre Carroll

This one is fascinating, in how it ends up being so close. The WS are 21.9 for Johnson after rekindling his career in Miami, 33.7 for Holiday, 44.8 for Gibson -- the most unlikely not-quite-star after coming in as an over-aged rookie -- and 26.1 for the sturdy Carroll. In total, its 66.7 WS drafted by the Bulls to the others' 59.8.

2010:  No Bulls (real) first-round selection

The Bulls took French forward Kevin Seraphin but only as part of the salary dump package that traded Hinrich to Washington to make room for some big-name free agents who took their talents elsewhere.

2011:  No. 30 Bulls -- Jimmy Butler; No. 31 Heat -- Bojan Bogdanovic

This was also the draft in which the Bulls traded the rights to Norris Cole and some other assets for those of Nikola Mirotic, but let's look at the material pick. Butler has amassed a whopping 58.2 WS already to 11.6 for Bogdanovic. It was an outstanding draft call, by any measure.

2012:  No. 29 Bulls -- Marquis Teague; No. 30  Warriors -- Festus Ezeli

Welp, the run had to end sometime. Ezeli's Win Shares total is 5.9, and Teague's is -0.9 to tie him as the very worst player involved in our analysis. (Wait for it...)

2013:  No. 20 Bulls -- Tony Snell; No. 21 Jazz -- Gorgui Dieng

Snell has 10.3 WS and Dieng has a perhaps surprising 21.6 in what has been a quietly effective career so far.

2014:  No. 11 Bulls -- Doug McDermott; No. 12 Magic -- Dario Saric

Yowch. This singes the eyes to read, especially knowing that the picks traded to Denver to move up to get Dougie McDerp became Denver's Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris. We'll only count McDermott's 7.7 WS and the 7.6 for Saric (in half the NBA time), but note the respective "next guys" for the two Nuggets were James Young (not the lead guitarist from Styx, though he might also be close to 0.8 WS by now) and Bruno Caboclo, who's at -0.4.

2015:  No. 22 Bulls -- Bobby Portis; No. 23 Trail Blazers -- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

I thought this would look better for the Bulls, but upon actual inspection it doesn't. Crazy Eyes is worth 7.3 WS, and the next guy has 7.9.

2016:  No. 14 Bulls -- Denzel Valentine; No. 15 Nuggets -- Juan Hernangomez

Umm ... yeah -- 3.1 to 2.2.

2017:  No. 7 Bulls -- Lauri Markkanen, No. 8 Knicks -- Frank Ntilikina

Early returns are strong here, with a very encouraging 3.3 WS rookie campaign for Markkanen against -0.9 for Ntilikina. Having something in common with Marquis Teague isn't a good sign, Frank.

So we go to the totals for the John Paxson/Gar Forman front office against the whole of those making the next selection, and it's a rout: 423.7 Win Shares to 210.1 since 2003. What this means can be left to those smarter or more statistically inclined than I, but it's at least worth a look. The various trades and valuations of assess relative to competitive opportunity at any time provide context these numbers don't, and time matters, too -- Win Shares is a cumulative stat, so success or failure in the past is weighted far more heavily.

It's just a way of apposing specific picks with the actual and immediate next best choice, at least according to someone else equally responsible for making it.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​​