Bulls go big in draft, take Carter Jr. with No. 7 pick
More than anything, the Bulls insisted, they continued to position themselves to move up in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls went big with their first pick Thursday night, drafting Carter Jr. from Duke seventh overall and giving them another versatile frontcourt player to go with Markkanen. They took Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison at No. 22.
Combine those moves with the draft night trade last year that sent Jimmy Butler to Minnesota for Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, and the front office believes the Bulls are positioning themselves to make a jump.
”This is a really good night for our organization,” executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. ”We feel like when you look at where we were a year ago and what we decided to do, and one year later, we feel like we have added five really good pieces to build (around). That’s important to us. … We’re excited about the direction we’re headed.”
The 6-foot-10, 259-pound Carter Jr. was the second Duke big man taken after Marvin Bagley III went to Sacramento at No. 2. With his ability to hit from the outside and score down low, he averaged 13.5 points and 9.1 rebounds as a freshman last season while helping the Blue Devils advance to the Elite Eight.
Hutchison is a 6-7 forward who came on strong the past two seasons and averaged 20 points and 7.7 rebounds as a senior.
General manager Gar Forman said the Bulls had some discussions about trading up. But nothing materialized.
The Bulls instead are banking on Carter to form a potent tandem with Markkanen and help them climb in the Eastern Conference coming off a 27-55 season.
”We’re going to complement one another on both ends of the court,” Carter said. ”It’s very similar to who I played with at Duke – Marvin Bagley.”
One of the knocks against Carter is his foot speed. It affected him at times in transition and on defense. He also ran into foul trouble on occasion, even fouling out in 22 minutes during Duke’s overtime loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. Forman acknowledged lateral quickness is one area where he could improve. Carter insisted he is making big strides.
”I’ve made a huge improvement in that,” he said. ”It’s something I was working on night-in and night-out. I definitely showcased that in the workouts. It definitely paid off, all the work.”
And he sees himself as a match for the Bulls.
”I think I fit perfectly,” Carter said.
The Bulls went all in on rebuilding with the Butler trade after years of treading water in the wake of the Derrick Rose era. Chicago then produced its worst record since the 2003-04 season and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.
But the 7-foot Markkanen emerged as the team’s best player and one of the league’s most productive rookies with his ability to hit from the perimeter and go inside. He averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds after being drafted seventh overall, and the Bulls certainly would take that from Carter.
Paxson said he might have put up bigger numbers at Duke had Bagley not petitioned the NCAA to reclassify and become eligible for last season.
”A lot of their offense would have run through Wendell this year,” he said. ”The young man sacrificed a lot in order to be a good teammate and all those things. A lot of it speaks to who he is.”
It’s still not clear if the Bulls have the star they need to become a contender.
”We’re gonna look at everything,” Paxson said. ”You hope you draft players that become stars. We believe that last year, drafting Lauri, he has the potential. He’s got a long way to go, but he has the potential. … We’re trying to draft as well as we can, put a core together that we think can play together and win, at least put a team out that’s gonna play hard and compete, play the right way. We feel we’re at the beginning stages of that.”
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