Bulls draft talk: James Wiseman is the real center of attention come October

The center position starts and ends with James Wiseman. The days of the statue standing in the paint are long gone, but even at 7-1, the former Memphis prospect fits the modern NBA ... questions about him and all.

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If the Bulls beat the odds and move up in the draft, they’d have to consider center James Wiseman.

If the Bulls beat the odds and move up in the draft, they’d have to consider center James Wiseman.

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The NBA offseason draft dates are set.

Tentatively.

The Bulls sit in the No. 7 spot.

Tentatively. (There’s always the draft lottery to change that.)

The draft itself?

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas says there’s nothing tentative about it.

Despite the overwhelming consensus that this will be a weak draft class, Karnisovas thinks otherwise.

“I disagree that it’s a weak class,’’ Karnisovas said recently. “I like the players. I like a lot of players that are in our range. I think we’ve done a lot of work studying. The excitement is coming from studying those players and interviewing them and looking at the video. So I think we’ll add a good player to our roster next year.’’

That goal would be easier to accomplish if the Bulls finally can get the balls to bounce their way rather than remain stuck at No. 7.

But the numbers aren’t in their favor.

The draft lottery is scheduled for Aug. 25, with the actual draft supposed to go down Oct. 15. The Bulls have a 7.5% chance to hit No. 1, a 23.4% chance for a top-three pick and a 31.9% chance for a top-five selection.

The hope is the Bulls are due.

Jumping into that top three could be an organizational-changer — not only because of the player they can land but, maybe more important, because it will reveal the front office’s hand on what it really thinks about the current roster.

So while center isn’t a position of need necessarily, sitting in a top-three seat and having the chance to draft James Wiseman could force the Bulls to pivot.

Here’s a breakdown of the center prospects, where it’s Wiseman and everyone else:

1. James Wiseman — Memphis: His college tape is Oscar-worthy, but it’s only eligible for the short-film category. He played three games for the Tigers before a suspension by the NCAA forced him to call his college career over.

But he impressed. He played all of 7-1 with a 7-6 wingspan, averaging 19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in 23 minutes.

Wiseman fits the modern NBA template with a big enough presence to be a rim protector and good enough feet on the perimeter to switch on a guard and not look like he’s on ice skates.

The concern is that there’s a little Deandre Ayton in Wiseman. At certain times in games, neither looks engaged. That always leads scouts to question competitiveness. There are also moments that don’t scream toughness, but being so dominant at the high school level sometimes leads to passiveness.

The drafting of Wiseman by the Bulls would be beyond interesting, however, signifying that Wendell Carter Jr. or Lauri Markkanen eventually might have to go elsewhere.

2. Vernon Carey Jr. — Duke: USC’s Onyeka Okongwu and Memphis’ Precious Achiuwa are lottery picks with an ability to moonlight as centers, but on the right roster, they would be better suited for power forward.

That leaves Carey as the next available big man, and even he is a bit undersized at 6-10. There are questions about his athleticism, but he can answer those in the draft process.

3. Isaiah Stewart — Washington: For now, Stewart remains behind Carey, but that could change quickly. He’s undersized, but his physicality and toughness will be embraced by teams, especially if the NBA does put on some sort of draft camp in August.

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