We tend to talk about the NBA draft as if there’s a distinct demarcation of talent between the lottery and the dozens of picks that follow.
But if we’ve learned anything about this annual rite of risk, it’s that variability is rarely, if ever, in short supply; that this year’s No. 10 pick is just as likely to succeed—or fail—as the guy selected six spots later.
In terms of sneaky coups, you can't do much better than that. But lest we assume the Bulls will hit their picks out of the park, a quick look at the slots' last 10 years yields a complicated picture.
|Year||No. 16||No. 19|
|2013||Lucas Nogueira||Sergey Karasev|
|2012||Royce White||Andrew Nicholson|
|2011||Nikola Vucevic||Tobias Harris|
|2010||Luke Babbitt||Avery Bradley|
|2009||James Johnson||Jeff Teague|
|2008||Marreese Speights||J.J. Hickson|
|2007||Nick Young||Javaris Crittenton|
|2006||Rodney Carney||Quincy Douby|
|2005||Joey Graham||Hakim Warrick|
|2004||Kirk Snyder||Dorrell Wright|
For a franchise known for its pennywise ways, how the Bulls capitalize on these cheap, upside-laden assets could go a long way in determining how close they can get to reestablishing themselves as legitimate title contenders.
With Derrick Rose’s future health still an imposing question mark, that pressure becomes even more pronounced.
Making things even more precarious, recent draft history—the last 10 years, for our purposes—doesn’t exactly paint the most promising picture for where the Bulls are picking.
The Rough’s Random Diamonds (or Cubic Zirconias)
Of the 20 selections made at Nos. 16 and 19 during the past decade, plenty still have time, age and upside in their corner; it’s simply far too early to render a final boon-or-bust judgment.
Of the 10 No. 16 picks, only three can be considered successes (in a loose sense encompassing anything better than simply solid): Nikola Vucevic (2011), Marreese Speights (2008) and Nick Young (2007).
Of the three, Vucevic has been by far the most productive, finishing his last two seasons averaging double figures in both points and rebounds and notching a career PER of 17.6. At just 23 years old, Vucevic has the skill set to become an All-Star center for the Orlando Magic, and the perfect frontcourt staple for head coach Jacque Vaughn’s distinctly San Antonio Spurs-esque offensive attack.
Speights and Young, meanwhile, have become distinctly solid—if unspectacular—role players. And while Young is coming off something of a breakout season with the injury-riddled Los Angeles Lakers, it’s hard to envision him becoming anything more than a streaky, one-dimensional scorer.
By contrast, No. 19 has yielded a far more top-heavy crop, with Andrew Nicholson (2012), Tobias Harris (2011), Avery Bradley (2010), Jeff Teague (2009) and J.J. Hickson (2008) having made for a nice five-year run at that slot.
Between Vucevic, Nicholson and Harris, the Magic boast one of the league’s most promising frontcourts. And while Avery Bradley’s upside may have been compromised by injury and circumstance (a rebuilding roster, for one), his ceiling as one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders remains the same.
Hickson may be the most polarizing player in this crop. After showing oodles of promise in his first few seasons, the high-flying power forward has regressed into what may well be his ultimate fate: an offensive talent with minimal ability at the other end.
Needless to say, Teague has been by far the best of the lot—a versatile point guard who’s steady growth and development have been a beacon for other young point guards to follow.
For our purposes, we’re lumping both Hakim Warrick and Dorell Wright into this category. True, neither fostered a fantastic career. But both authored solid stints at some point, making their selection, at the very least, a statistical wash.
After these nine [semi-] stalwarts, however, the ledger gets a little messier.
The Jury’s Out
In a few cases, it’s simply far too early to definitively define a draft pick’s fate. At least five of the 20 players in question fall into this category (some more snuggly than others): Lucas Nogueira (2013), Royce White (2012), Luke Babbitt (2010), James Johnson (2009) and Sergey Karasev (2013).
In the case of Karasev—taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers—the sample size is simply too small: 22 games with averages of 1.7 points and 0.7 rebounds on 34 percent shooting. At just 20 years old, Karasev’s main defense is also the simplest one: He’s still getting used to the NBA game.
Nogueira, on the other hand, didn’t log a single NBA minute this past season, with the Atlanta Hawks deciding instead to stash him in Europe—a common strategy with international draftees.
White poses a more interesting case: A stat-stuffing standout at Iowa State University, White’s well-publicized struggles with anxiety—including a fear of flying—put him at immediate odds with Houston Rockets management.
One year and three teams later, White is still trying to find his footing in the NBA. And though his talent will certainly warrant him a handful of looks, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that White—equal parts cerebral and confrontational—will ever put his grudges and baggage behind him.
As for Babbitt and Johnson, the question isn’t one of sample size so much as role and fit; while neither has put up especially promising numbers, they have shown enough to become productive pieces on the right roster. Whether those fits will come to fruition, however, remains to be seen.
A Chorus of Crickets
That leaves at least five players (seven if you want to count Warrick and Wright) who can most politely be described as “not a fit for the NBA”: Rodney Carney (2006), Joey Graham (2005), Kirk Snyder (2004), Javaris Crittenton (2007) and Quincy Douby (2006).
All of them entered the draft with at least one bona fide talent—scoring, in most cases. None of them, however, wound up lasting more than six NBA seasons.
Crittenton remains by far the biggest cautionary tale. After a single, stellar year at Georgia Tech, Crittenton was taken by the Los Angeles Lakers only to have his jersey traded two times over the next calendar year.
What followed was an almost unbelievable string of brushes with the law (per ESPN's John Barr): a gun dispute involving former All-Star point guard Gilbert Arenas, murder charges in 2011 and—finally—a 2014 drug arrest. He currently awaits trial.
Crittenton’s case is an extreme one, to be sure. But it also goes to show just how big a crapshoot the NBA draft really is—in a way that often goes well beyond mere basketball.
Safety in Numbers
The lesson for the Bulls is a simple one: As with just about any pick outside the top five, Nos. 16 and 19 have, over the past 10 years, been nothing if not mixed bags.
The good news, of course, is that the 2014 draft is poised to be one of the top-to-bottom deepest in recent memory. And while that fact won’t forestall a failed pick, the Bulls will at least have the odds on their side.
If Chicago is to pinpoint one particular trend among the above-mentioned 20 picks, it might be this: Of the nine players we identified as having been “hits”—albeit to wildly varying degrees—only three played less than two seasons of college ball: Bradley, Hickson and Wright.
With the bulk of its core slated to return, the Bulls should look to target proven products capable of contributing immediately.
That might prevent them from capitalizing on the oodles of upside prevalent throughout this year’s draft class, but when your team has spent the last five years in, at or near the top of the conference, the safest play is typically the best.