Bulls draft talk: Organization might need to start thinking small

There has been a huge hole at small forward — especially defensively — since the team traded Jimmy Butler. Could the new-look front office try to start filling that void in the 2020 draft?

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Auburn small forward Isaac Okoro is one of the best wing defenders the NBA Draft has to offer.

Auburn small forward Isaac Okoro is one of the best wing defenders the NBA Draft has to offer.


To say the Bulls’ experience with Otto Porter Jr. hasn’t gone as expected is an understatement.

But truthfully, was the veteran small forward — hampered for months by a foot injury this past season — ever really going to live up to the $56 million the Bulls were going to owe him over the final two years of his contract after they acquired him from the Wizards at the 2019 trade deadline?

Not likely. And it’s part of the cleanup now facing Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls’ new executive vice president of basketball operations.

Porter is all but guaranteed to exercise his $28.4 million option for 2020-21 this offseason, pricing him out of being any sort of trade candidate. What’s not guaranteed is that he can be the small forward the Bulls have needed since they traded Jimmy Butler on draft night in 2017.

Butler wasn’t just a scoring presence and team leader at the three but also an elite wing defender — something the Bulls haven’t come close to replacing during their ongoing rebuild.

It was never going to be Porter, who was effectively a Band-Aid on a wound after the team’s

brief, troubled relationship with Jabari Parker. 

Do the Bulls think the answer will someday be Chandler Hutch-ison, their first-round pick out of Boise State in 2018? Not when Hutchison spends more time in the training room than on the court, as he did this past season for problems with his right shoulder.

No, with very little roster room until at least the 2021 offseason, the Bulls’ only option may be the draft. 

That’s where Auburn small forward Isaac Okoro comes in. At 6-6, Okoro is one of the best wing defenders in the draft. Like Butler when he was coming out of Marquette in 2011, Okoro can guard one through four and has the mindset to develop into a stopper.

Barring the lottery balls bouncing the right way and moving the Bulls up a few spots, they will pick at No. 7. Will Okoro still be available then? That’s unlikely — he’s projected to go anywhere from three to six.

So the Bulls would need some help — a lot more than Porter and Hutchison have shown they can provide.

Here’s a deeper look at potential draft solutions:

1. Isaac Okoro, Auburn

His outside shooting is a concern, but scouts feel Okoro has the mentality to do whatever it takes at the NBA level.

2. Deni Avdija, Maccabi Tel Aviv

At 6-9, the 19-year-old Avdija is the poster boy for a point forward. His playmaking is off the charts for his size, and he has a team-first, unselfish mindset.

He has shown defensive ability, but there are questions about how that will translate to the NBA. There’s also a concern whether he can be a consistent outside shooter because he does most of his scoring in pick-and-roll situations and when he’s attacking the paint.

Karnisovas has a great feel for the international game — another reason Avdija could be in play for the Bulls.

3. Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt

The likelihood of Nesmith shooting 52.2 percent from three-point range in the NBA, as he did at Vandy last season, is nil. But he’s 6-6 with a 6-10 wingspan and is as lethal a shooter as you’ll find in this draft, especially coming off movement.

4. Saddiq Bey, Villanova

Like Nesmith, Bey is a marksman from three-point range, hitting 45 percent last season. He’s a bit of a late bloomer, having played point guard in high school at 6-1 before sprouting up to 6-8.

What scouts like about Bey — some over Nesmith — is his ability to also defend opposing wings. He could very well end up being the second small forward off the board.

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