Duke big man Wendell Carter Jr.

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Westerlund: Reasonable Best-Case/Worst-Case Scenarios For Bulls Draft Targets

How much risk are the Bulls willing to take with the No. 7 pick?

Cody Westerlund
June 18, 2018 - 4:12 pm
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By Cody Westerlund--

(670 The Score) It's natural for fans to dream big leading up to the NBA Draft, for the inherent draw of the event is that it represents hope and possibility. 

Inside NBA front offices, the conversation can be much more complex. Executives and talent evaluators must debate the risk-reward that comes with each prospect. The equation includes not just the high-end potential of a given prospect but what he will add to the team in the likelihood that he doesn't reach his ceiling.

With that in mind, I wanted to conduct a thought-provoking exercise: reasonable best-case/worst-case scenarios for Bulls targets as the team assesses how to use the No. 7 pick. Six prospects are included. The Bulls worked out five and also attended Michael Porter Jr.'s pro day.

These prospects are listed in order of whom I believe the Bulls are most likely to leave draft night with, not how these players are ranked on the team's draft board. (Example: The Bulls would take Porter over Mikal Bridges, but I think the chances of Porter being available at No. 7 are low enough that Bridges has a higher likelihood of landing in Chicago at this moment.)

Wendell Carter Jr., Duke power forward

Best case: Fulfilling an Al Horford-like role, Carter becomes an do-everything anchor for the Bulls with his nightly consistency and versatile skills that can fill many holes. Carter’s scoring average settles in the mid-teens, giving the Bulls a No. 3 offensive option that they can count on. His elite rebounding translates to the NBA level as you’d expect, giving the Bulls the toughness and edge they were known for in the Tom Thibodeau years but have too often lacked since. Carter becomes an All-Star in his prime.

Worst case: Carter proves to be a dependable-but-unremarkable player. In a league that continues to de-emphasize the significance of big men and trend toward 3-point shooting, Carter is a misfit in the modern game. His primary weakness — lateral quickness — is exploited often in the pick-and-roll game as the Bulls defense struggles. The Bulls rue passing on a high-risk/high-reward player like Michael Porter Jr., Trae Young or Mo Bamba who develops into a star.

Mikal Bridges, Villanova wing

Best case: Utilizing his much-needed two-way skills, Bridges provides 40-plus percent 3-point shooting to space the floor and becomes a lockdown perimeter defender, covering up a big weakness of teammate Zach LaVine, who can expend more energy on being the go-to offensive force. Bridges gradually improves his ball-handing enough to become a pick-and-roll facilitator and better all-around offensive player. A two-time national champion in college, he brings the reliability, versatility and attitude that helps the Bulls attract a top-tier free agent in a few years.

Worst case: Offensively, Bridges turns out to be nothing more than a quality standstill outside shooter, and he can’t get quality looks consistently as the Bulls lack off-the-bounce playmakers who see the floor well. He doesn’t fill out his lanky frame, so stronger perimeter players take advantage of him and the Bulls’ defense keeps struggling. Bulls fans forever wonder why they endured an ugly product for so long in 2017-’18 to acquire a role player.

Mo Bamba, Texas center

Best case: Bamba becomes the most feared defensive player in the NBA, using his 7-foot-10 wingspan to wreak havoc the opposition. In winning multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards, Bamba gives the Bulls an identity and allows them to take more risk in acquiring other players with defensive question marks, as he covers up weaknesses. Offensively, Bamba becomes a monster finisher on pick-and-roll lobs and improves his outside shot, complementing Lauri Markkanen well. All those bets pay off, and the Bulls contend for championships.

Worst case: Questions surrounding Bamba’s motor prove to be founded. While he still blocks shots at a high rate, he’s doesn’t develop into an elite defensive player or good rebounder. Bamba’s ball skills on the offensive end don’t improve, and those limitations clog the Bulls’ offense when he’s on the floor.

Michael Porter Jr., Missouri forward

Best case: Porter pairs with Markkanen to provide the Bulls with the most dangerous young scoring duo in the entire game. Porter showcases his rare combination of size, athleticism and ball skills to seamlessly fit in with a Bulls team that plays at a quick pace and reinvigorates a fan base. In time, Porter tightens his ball-handling and becomes an all-NBA player who serves as the go-to force of a Bulls championship contender. The six teams who passed on Porter forever regret overlooking a player who has shades of Kevin Durant in his game.

Worst case: Porter’s back issues prove to be a recurring problem, derailing multiple seasons of his and preventing him from ever coming close to his ceiling. Questions surrounding Porter’s fit with teammates prove to be well-founded, as when he’s healthy, his offensive game doesn’t prove to uplift that of the Bulls as a whole. The Bulls blow a golden opportunity in their rebuild after passing on Carter, who blossoms into an All-Star.

Trae Young, Oklahoma point guard

Best case: Young bursts onto the NBA scene and immediately replicates the Steph Curry effect — not necessarily in the the way of elite production but in the way he changes the calculus of opposing defenses and creates floor space. The combination of Young’s elite 3-point shooting and court vision have an uplifting effect on his Bulls teammates, who get better shots than they could otherwise create themselves. As the league continues to trend toward 3-point shooting, the Bulls sit at the cutting edge with Young and Markkanen leading the way. On the defensive end, Young learns to be attentive, and the Bulls get away with hiding him on the foe’s least dangerous perimeter player.

Worst case: Young struggles to deal with the physicality of the NBA and doesn’t finish well at the rim. While his shooting ability translates to the pro game, opponents run Young off the 3-point line. As he struggles to finish in the paint, the Bulls struggle to create an efficient offense with the ball so often in his hands. At the defensive end, the deficiencies of Young paired with Zach LaVine in the back court set the foundation for the Bulls being a bottom-five defensive team on an annual basis. In time, this pick serves as the last straw for a Bulls front office that had been entrenched for nearly two decades.

Kevin Knox, Kentucky wing

Best case: Just 18 right now, Knox works diligently, and his skill set catches up with his superb athletic traits in the next few years and he eventually becomes a quality No. 2 scoring option alongside Markkanen. Knox uses his 6-foot-9 frame and added strength to finish strong at the rim and improves his outside shot as well, opening up options all over the floor. Defensively, his size and instincts lead to him being a quality system defender who can switch in pick-and-roll actions.

Worst case: Knox gets empty points, and his passing deficiency stagnates the Bulls’ offensive flow. His 3-point shooting neither stretches to NBA distance nor improves, and his tendency to settle for mid-range jumpers — like Kris Dunn does — leads to an inefficient Bulls offense. Defensively, his lack of fundamentals contributes to the team’s continued struggles on that end of the floor.

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.