The Chicago Bulls can go in several directions in this week’s NBA Draft, making it impossible to decipher exactly what they’ll do.
But no matter how it happens, the Bulls’ goal is to emerge with at least one player who makes them better. Should they stand pat with the No. 18 selection, there will be choices. Players projected to be taken within Chicago’s selection range offer an intriguing mix of size and shot blocking or playmaking and potential.
Here are five potential fits for the Bulls at No. 18, followed by snippets of expert analysis from Tea Athletic’s draft guru Sam Vecenie.
EJ Liddell | forward | 6 foot 7 | 21 years old | Ohio State
Liddell blossomed into a star this season for the Buckeyes and is a familiar name to some as a Belleville, Ill., native who captured back-to-back high school state championships and Illinois Mr. Basketball honors as a junior and senior. In the NBA, he’ll have to adjust to a complementary role. But if the Bulls are searching for someone who can provide immediate contributions, Liddell could be the name called at No. 18.
Liddell likens himself to similarly undersized but effective forwards such as Draymond Green, PJ Tucker and Grant Williams. Like them, he prides himself on his toughness, energy and willingness to do the dirty work and anything it takes to win. Liddell also exhibited leadership qualities at Ohio State, serving as a selfless, vocal and emotional team captain.
In Chicago, Liddell would fill a frontcourt need. He’d provide depth and defensive versatility. Liddell can guard multiple positions, switching out smaller players on the perimeter and sticking big men in the low post. His length, athleticism and shot blocking help make up for his shorter stature relative to his position, and he delivered his 2.6 blocks per game this season in multiple ways: straight-up man defense, help side, roaming, improvising. His shooting is developing and needs more refinement. But Liddell could blossom into a reliable piece while contributing from day one.
Vecenie’s take: “Liddell was one of the best players in the country this season and, certainly, among the most productive across the board. He averaged 19 points, nearly eight rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.6 blocks per game. He also did it on real efficiency while shooting 49 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3. NBA scouts have similar worries with Liddell that they did last year in terms of his lateral quickness and positioning on defense. Some scouts think he could play some five because of his shot-blocking ability, à la an undersized guy like Grant Williams, but others are less convinced due to his lack of size. On top of that, despite the jump in 3-point percentage, teams are a bit worried about how much his shot is taken on a flat trajectory.”
jalen williams | wings | 6-6 | 21 years old | Santa Clara
Williams is another late-bloomer who could possess gobs of untapped potential. Given their guard-heavy roster, the Bulls don’t have a pressing need for a prospect with Williams’ skills. But in a wing-dominated league, Chicago can never have enough threats, and it’s never a bad idea to have a few developing in your pipeline.
Williams has garnered respect as a complete player. He can shoot/score from all three levels, provide playmaking as a primary ballhandler, is a creative passer and can defend multiple positions. He has a 7-foot-2 wingspan and is built in the mold of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The question facing Williams centers on the level of competition he faced in college. How much can he raise his level of play against the world’s best?
Vecenie’s take: “He has all of the tools you’re looking for from a wing to play in the NBA. He can handle the ball at a high level off the bounce with real shake. He hits 3s, can drive in a straight line through traffic and can take contact with his lower center of gravity. He has a strong feel for passing the ball from growing up as a smaller point guard. He averaged four assists per game this season for Santa Clara versus just 2.1 turnovers. Guys with this kind of size and skill tend to stick in the NBA.”
Jalen Duren | forward/center | 6-10 | 18 years old | Memphis
Will he even be available at 18? If there’s a prospect worth the Bulls trading up for, Duren might be it.
Duren is as impressive as they come physically and athletically. And he doesn’t turn 19 until mid-November. A team much higher than the Bulls in the draft order could jump on Duren’s potential. But if he slides — or if the Bulls try to move up — Duren could be a solid fit, a potential permanent replacement for starting center Nikola Vučević.
Duren can run the floor, block shots, finish lobs and throw them and cause havoc operating from the midrange. His passing could develop into a major threat, drawing some comparisons to Miami star Bam Adebayo. The Bulls need a long-term answer at center. If they somehow walked away with Duren, the future in Chicago might look a whole lot brighter.
Vecenie’s take: “Ultimately, I see him as a DeAndre Jordan starter kit. Can Duren get as good as Jordan was positionally in his prime? That’ll be the key to him becoming a top-10 center in the league.”
mark williams | center | 7-0 | 20 years old | duke
Interior size and rim protection are two of the Bulls’ biggest needs. Should the Bulls spend draft capital on such specific traits, and will Williams be available at No. 18? Those are two big questions surrounding this potential selection.
Williams, however, is one of the best shot blockers available. With a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a 9-foot-8 inch standing reach, he might alter more shots than he blocks. He’s a one-man barricade who spooks shooters whenever he’s in the vicinity. But he’s not only a shot blocker. Williams is a smart player who stays in constant motion, whether running the floor hard for transition opportunities or reading and reacting offensively as a scoring threat out of ball screens. He’s also a strong finisher.
Defending in space and outside shooting are areas of concern for Williams’ long-term potential. But he offers plenty to be viewed as a worthy target for the Bulls if he is gettable.
Vecenie’s take: “Williams is one of the best rim protectors in the draft, a 7-foot shot swatter who blocked three shots per game this season and got better as the year went on. He also averaged 11 points per game and shot 72 percent from the field as a monster rim runner, a skill that should translate well because of his ability to get downhill out of rolls. He runs the floor well and has elite length, even by NBA center standards.”
Tari Eason | forward | 6-8 | 20 years old | USL
Eason is perhaps the most common name tied to the Bulls’ 18th selection. In his mock draft, Vecenie has the Bulls selecting Eason.
After transferring from Cincinnati, Eason emerged into a defensive menace as a sophomore at LSU this past season. His blend of length, athleticism, energy, savvy and timing make him a fascinating prospect. He checks almost all the boxes of what a modern NBA forward must be. His biggest strength is perhaps his ability to defend multiple positions, giving him an advantage and making him a nightmare when he’s forced to switch on the perimeter. The Bulls need more defenders and Eason would slide in nicely.
But shooting is his biggest concern. Will Eason continue to make strides with his form and efficiency? It could be the difference between him becoming a defensive ace and a two-way stud.
Vecenie’s take: “His jumper looks a bit messy, as he has catapult-like mechanics that might take some time to iron out. He’s also not a terrific playmaker for others. But defensively, there are few prospects in this draft with more potential to guard a variety of players on the ball. He can lose his way at times while executing his team’s scheme, but I bet teams are willing to bet on him figuring that out.”
(Photo of EJ Liddell: Joseph Maiorana/USA Today)