After they ended the shortened NBA season with 31 wins, their most since the 2016-17 season, the Chicago Bulls won their draft lottery tiebreaker against the Oklahoma City Thunder in late May, making them one step closer to landing their ideal Draftabull player.
With the single coin flip, the Bulls were given the eighth-best odds of snagging the No. 1 pick and a 26% chance of landing in the top four.
Then, just like that, Chicago’s draft hopes disappeared.
The Chicago Bulls landed in eighth place in the 2021 draft in yesterday’s draft lottery. The Bulls could have kept their pick if it landed in the top four, but because of a trade with the Orlando Magic, Chicago’s future draft prospect will be Florida bound.
Chicago executives Artūras Karnišovas and Mark Eversley shocked the NBA world when they traded for all-star center Nikola Vučević at the start of the trade deadline. They gave up big man Wendell Carter Jr., small forward Otto Porter Jr., and two first round picks for Vučević and then-11-year veteran forward Al-Farouq Aminu.
“Usually you don’t get too many chances at All-Star level players,” Bulls executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas said in a March press conference. “We were fortunate to get it done.”
Vučević went on to average 21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists in 22 games with the Bulls.
The stars seemed to be aligned for Chicago to make their first playoff appearance since the 2016-17 season, when they traded all-star guard Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for two young pieces and the No. 7 draft pick (Lauri Markkanen). The Bulls had seen three coaches in four years during their latest rebuilding phase: Fred Hoiberg, who was hired in place of Tom Thibodeau to implement a faster-paced and more spaced out offense, Jim Boylen, a former Popovich understudy who almost caused a mutiny in his own locker room, and Billy Donovan, a two-time NCAA champion at Florida who signed a four-year deal with Chicago last September.
Last season, Bulls fans needed a win. A roster with two all-stars, one almost entirely homegrown in guard Zach LaVine, along with a new coaching staff and front office was supposed to give them just enough momentum to push them into the playoffs and give Chicago sports fans hope for the first time since it was snatched away in the infamous “double-doink” playoff game the Chicago Bears lost in 2018.
And yet, as close as they were, they were still so far away.
The Bulls would go on to finish the season with the 11th-best record in the Eastern Conference, falling one place short of the newly-added play-in tournament. The Washington Wizards, with their superstar guard duo of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, won 15 of their last 20 games as the Bulls floundered in the last portion of their season due to limited practice time against one of the league’s toughest schedules. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls had one formal practice since the trade deadline, furthering their difficulty in integrating their new pieces with the rest of the roster.
While teams like the Atlanta Hawks, who were 14-20 midseason before springing into playoff contention, are stunning the NBA world with a series win over the Philadelphia 76ers and a game 1 win against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls sat at home for the fourth time in a row.
There’s still hope in Chicago: It currently has seven players signed in the 2021-22 season, including guards Zach LaVine and Tomáš Satoranský and forward Thaddeus Young. Vučević is signed for the next two seasons, and the Bulls still have plenty of rookie options to fall back on for the future.
Still, half of Chicago’s roster could potentially leave in free agency this offseason, and six more could pack their bags as soon as next season. Having surefire contracts for the next two to four years by picking up both of their possible draft picks this year will be crucial for Chicago to have enough depth and cohesion to stay competitive in later seasons.
Chicago will yet again need one last spark to push their mix of young stars and experienced veterans into playoff contention.
Until the NBA draft on July 29, I’ll be giving Bulls fans their fair share of false hope by evaluating the “Draftabull” players Chicago can add to their roster with the 38th pick.
This year’s draft class features some of the most diverse Draftabull talent NBA fans have seen in recent memory: A 6-foot-8-inch point guard in Cade Cunningham, a lanky, seven-foot rebounding and post-move extraordinaire in center Evan Mobley, and wings like Scotty Barnes and Jonathan Kuminga whose size, strength, athleticism and IQ could give rebuilding teams the perfect introduction to the modern-NBA’s power forward.
The Bulls can go a multitude of Draftabull routes to pair up with LaVine and sophomore forward Patrick Williams should Chicago have landed in the top four: A wing, a guard, a center or a forward could pair in a multitude of ways with the rest of the free agent Bulls that choose to sign back with the team.
With the recent shoulder injury of guard Coby White, the Bulls could draft a highly-talented guard to compete with the production the 21-year-old brought to Chicago last year. The experimentation with the roster by making Williams a power forward after injuries took out Chicago’s forward options last year can allow the Bulls to draft a small or a power forward to further implement the Bulls into a modern style of NBA play. Even drafting a big man would prove detrimental to Chicago’s future success with rebounding and much needed size.
Or they could just trade the pick for cash considerations.
It all depends on where Chicago feels their future will lead them.
Our first draftee: Day’Ron Sharpe, Power Forward, University of North Carolina.
Hailing from Greeneville, NC, the 6-foot-10-inch 250 point forward played his first three years of high school at South Central high school in Winterville, NC, a school just 17 minutes from his hometown. The forward’s post-scoring and rebounding skills could be traced all the way back to his high school days, where he averaged 12.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in 74 games as a South Central Falcon, according to MaxPreps.
In his senior year, Sharpe transferred to the former home of New York Knick forward RJ Barrett in then No. 1 Montverde Academy in Montverde, Florida. Sharpe’s abilities only took off from his decision to play with nationally-ranked talent under a coach who had developed 12 NBA players in his time as a high school coach.
Sharpe may have never been put in the same conversation as elite-level talent in this year’s draft, but he’s certainly played with some of them.
Montverde’s status as a high school powerhouse never skipped a beat after it succeeded one surefire NBA prospect with another in guard Cade Cunningham. With the help of future D1 commitments in forward Scottie Barnes (Florida State University), Cunningham (Oklahoma State), and guard Moses Moody (University of Arkansas), Sharpe and the Montverde Eagles went on to take the high school basketball world by storm with an undefeated season.
Sharpe would fight with the Eagles to keep their dominance rolling against some of the top teams in the nation, beating teams in the Saint James invitational tournament by an average of 50 points. The team capped it off with a win over IMG Academy 67-46.
Monteverde would end their reign of terror with four top-50 ranked high school players, according to 247Sports.
Sharpe would commit to the North Carolina Tar Heels over offers from the University of Virginia, the University of Florida, North Carolina State, and Georgetown University. The five-star forward pushed his way past a field of former and current NBA players to become the No. 18 all-time rated prospect to ever commit to the Tar Heels, according to 247Sports. He ranks ahead of San Antonio Spurs center Tyler Zeller, Chicago Bulls guard Coby White, and Oklahoma City Thunder center Tony Bradley.
The forward/center had a productive first season under head coach Roy Williams, scoring 9.5 points, grabbing 7.6 rebounds, and shooting 51.9% from the field in 19.1 minutes per game, according to the Tar Heels.
It’ll take a lot for Sharpe to earn his place on the Chicago Bulls, but Sharpe has found ways to succeed at every level, no matter who was seemingly in front of him.
The Bulls will need to work through a multitude of issues if they’re going to want to reach their playoff potential and beyond.
Sometimes, all it takes is one or two players to iron out a roster’s most glaring deficiencies. The signing of Paul Millsap by the Denver Nuggets in 2017 provided just enough playmaking, rebounding, and defensive help to supplement the growth of the Nuggets’ young roster and bring the Nuggets their first winning record since two years after the Carmelo Anthony trade.
Chicago may not be able to solely rely on a Draftabull plug-and-play option in the second round to fix some of their most glaring issues, but having at least one talented option in this year’s draft could go a long way in ensuring the Bulls have the right competitive pieces to move forward in the future.
While Sharpe may have only started four games in college, it’s important to remember the Bulls have found success in another college non-starter in forward Patrick Williams with the No. 4 pick. Williams, who didn’t start a single game in college, fought his way up to the top five after solidifying himself as an extremely smart and physical option behind guard Devin Vassell and forward RaiQuan Gray.
Chicago quietly ranked as one of the better defensive teams in the NBA last season, tying with the Denver Nuggets to finish 10th in the NBA in defensive rating (111.5) while ranking eighth in defensive rebounds (35.3) and No. 1 in defensive rebounding percentage (76.7). The trouble came, again, with team cohesion: The Bulls weren’t able to find solid answers on defense after the trade deadline.
They allowed teams to score 110 points or more on 12 separate occasions since the March 25 trade deadline. Teams like the New York Knicks (22nd in offensive rating), the Cleveland Cavaliers (28th in offensive rating), the Orlando Magic (29th in offensive rating), and the Minnesota Timberwolves (25th in offensive rating) scored a combined average of 117.5 points on the Bulls since the trade deadline.
Sharpe may not be an immediate Draftabull answer, but he has the tools to become a serviceable one.
Like Williams, Sharpe’s defensive ability would benefit from being able to keep up with his opponent laterally, or staying in front of his man when they drive to the hoop or move laterally along the court. Sharpe’s length and 7-foot wingspan allow him to keep defenders contained with ease, and his strength can keep him anchored well on the interior, but he has trouble shuffling his feet and keeping up with charging guards and bigs.
Draftabull Need Grade: C
While the Bulls were able to use bigs like Vučević and Daniel Theis to effectively grab rebounds on the defensive side of the floor, one of Chicago’s biggest flaws was their inability to find an answer to their interior defensive woes.
The trade for Vučević got rid of one of the Bulls’ most reliable shot-blocking options in center Daniel Gafford, a big-bodied, high-intensity big man who never dipped below 1.1 blocks per game during his time in Chicago.
The Bulls are left without a solidified individual interior defender. While forwards like Young and Theis have the strength, IQ and hustle to push back and hold off defenders for a little while, their size is what ultimately holds them back from being very reliable man-to-man post defenders.
In Chicago, Sharpe’s job most likely won’t be to cover the interior on his own: The Bulls’ defense has learned to adjust to their personnel’s strengths and live off help defense in the post. When bigs like Theis or Vučević couldn’t keep their man contained, forwards like Williams and Thaddeus Young would be able to immediately come in and block an incoming shot from the opponent’s blindside.
Sharpe has the length, strength, athleticism, and timing to be able to play this role comfortably in Chicago while providing the tools to eventually be serviceable in one-on-one situations. While his focus should be on the boards, where the guard thrived after recording seven games with 10 rebounds or more, his ability to collapse into the interior while still being able to protect the outside will be invaluable to Chicago’s interior defense.
Draftabull Need Grade: B-
The Bulls thrived off of Donovan’s newly-implemented pass-happy system in Chicago, tying for the No. 5 spot in assists per game (26.8). While it may not be one of Chicago’s biggest needs, no one on the team averaged more than 4.9 assists per game. The Bulls would greatly benefit from having a solidified distributor on the team who could bring the ball up the floor and run plays to perfection.
One of Shapre’s most underrated skills is his ability to pass to open shooters from anywhere on the floor. Whether it’s at the top of the 3-point line, in the post or on the wings, Sharpe seems to have a third eye that helps him see potential scoring options faster than the average forward.
He may not fill the stat sheet with assists every night, dishing 1.4 assists per game as a Tar Heel, but his career-high six assists against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the ACC tournament illustrate Sharpe’s playmaking abilities to a tee.
Sharpe feels the most comfortable setting up plays and passing out of the top of the 3-point line. He often chooses to stop off a dime, set his feet, and survey the court for potential options at the beginning of Tar Heel offensive possessions.
Draftabull Need Grade: A-
Last year, Chicago struggled at effectively grabbing offensive rebounds when it mattered the most. While Vučević and Theis, two players who averaged a combined four offensive rebounds per game for the Bulls last season, were brought in to solve this issue, it wasn’t enough to keep the Bulls from ranking 27th in the NBA in offensive rebounds last season (4.2).
Their Draftabull option will have to change that.
Day’ron Sharpe and the Tar Heels carved their place in the Atlantic Coast Conference last year with their ability to effectively grab boards, especially on the offensive side of the floor. The Heels had two players average over 3 offensive rebounds per game last season in Sharpe (3.38) and sophomore forward Armando Bacot (3.17) while ranking first in the ACC in offensive rebounds (15.7), defensive rebounds (27.1) and rebounding margin (10.3).
UNC knew how to rebound last year. Should he make the roster, Sharpe would immediately be an effective rebounding option at the power forward or small-ball-center spot with the hustle and tenacity he has gained at North Carolina.
Keep in mind: While Gafford only started seven games and played just 14.2 minutes per game, he immediately became one of the Bulls most physical and effective offensive rebounding options off the bench his rookie year. He tied for fourth on Chicago’s lineup in offensive rebounds (1.2) while playing some of the least minutes on the Bulls’ rotation.
Draftabull Need Grade: A
A Solidified Third Offensive Option:
While this won’t be the Bulls’ biggest need going into next season, with Lavine and Vučević putting up a combined 48.9 points per game last season and four other players on the roster averaging double-digit points with the team, it will certainly be important.
The NBA has seemingly transitioned from the “superteam” era of the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, focusing instead on building around a dynamic duo to get them into playoff contention. Successful playoff teams still rely heavily on having at least three confident scorers: The No. 1 Philadelphia 76ers relied on the scoring of forward Tobias Harris to help center Joel Embiid and Simmons push Philly to the top of the Eastern Conference, while center DeAndre Ayton took the pressure off of guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker to carry the scoring load.
Having a solidified third option in a player who scored 20.1 points per game and shot 40% from three-point range would be the perfect way to take the scoring pressure off of Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević and open the floor for the Bulls’ returning roleplayers to make plays of their own.
Sharpe never separated himself as one of UNC’s more reliable scoring options. While his post-moves were lethal and he could knock down a jumper or two every game, the ball seemed to gravitate toward guard Caleb Love’s hands in scoring situations.
Draftabull Need Grade: C
Draftabull GPA: 2.88. Good fit for the team.
The Bulls will likely benefit from having Sharpe on the squad, but he still has some glaring deficiencies in important areas the Bulls need most that he’ll need to work on.
It’ll take some time with the new player-development focused coaching staff the Bulls have on the squad, and maybe some time on the recently-reopened Windy City Bulls, but Sharpe has the talent, IQ, and experience with high-level talent and coaching to potentially make a mark for the Bulls in the future.
GPA calculated from gpacalculator.net.
Draftabull Player Comp: Thaddeus Young
Sharpe’s hustle, excellence in the post and his ability to see when plays will happen reminds me of a recent Hustle award winner: Thaddeus Young.
Sharpe found ways to get players involved in the same ways Young did throughout the season: From the top of the three-point line and in the post. Sharpe reflects Young’s game in many ways, including scoring ability (27.6 points per 100 possessions v.s. Young’s 24.2), stealing and blocking (2.6 and 2.2 spg and bpg respectively per 100 possessions v.s. Young’s 2.2 and 1.2) and quietly-high PER rankings (25.4 vs Young’s 20.3).
Sharpe wasn’t known for his interior defense at North Carolina: He averaged 0.9 blocks in 19.2 minutes per game with the Tar Heels. What he lacks in interior defense, he makes up for in rebounding ability (7.6 rebounds per game) and plenty of high-IQ plays on the offensive side of the floor.
Young has become a mentor for some of the younger options on the Bulls, including LaVine. Having someone like Young take Draftabull players like Sharpe under his wing and learn from a player with a similar skill set could provide a smoother transition into one of the toughest leagues in basketball.
The Vučević trade proved to NBA fans across the world that the new-look Bulls front office was willing to push its chips in when it mattered the most.
Smart bets don’t always work out in the bettor’s favor: A string of bad luck could ruin anyone’s chances of hitting the jackpot. Playing 29 games in 53 days with just one practice in between and injuries to LaVine, Vučević proved disastrous for Chicago’s chemistry, with the Bulls going 12-17 in their final playoff push at the trade deadline.
The Bulls’ front office will have to get these next Draftabull bets right if Karnisovas is going to reflect his success in Denver and give Chicago their first NBA championship since 1998.
While the ping-pong balls didn’t fall their way, Sharpe looks to be a sure enough bet the Bulls can make in the upcoming draft to supplement some of their up-and-coming talent and become an eventual role-player or starter in the future.
Here’s to hoping Bulls fans.
Let’s hope the Basketball Gods have mercy on us.
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