Chicago Bulls: Top 10 NBA Draft picks in franchise history
In spite of their recent misses in the NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls have had their fair share of success stories as well. Here is a look back at the best of them.
The Chicago Bulls barely snuck into the 2017 NBA Playoffs after finishing the regular season with a 41-41 record. As is the case with most mediocre teams that manage to advance to the postseason, the Bulls were eliminated in the first round by the Boston Celtics after winning the first two games.
As the offseason begins to take shape, the front office will look to make improvements to the roster with the talent pool available in next month’s NBA Draft. Being that the Bulls aren’t likely to attract any top-tiered free agents, they are banking on the fact they will be able to select a player capable of contributing sooner than later.
However, Bulls fans are not confident that will be the case, and if recent history is any indicator, the lack of confidence is well-founded. Back in 2012, the Bulls selected Marquis Teague with the 29th overall pick. He lasted just two seasons and posted forgettable averages of 2.1 points and 1.4 assists on 33 percent shooting from the field.
A year later, the Bulls selected Tony Snell from the University New Mexico with the 20th overall pick. Although Snell’s tenure with the team (three seasons) lasted a bit longer than Teague’s, Snell failed to play well enough on a consistent basis, and was subsequently dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks prior to the start of this season.
But despite the negative narrative of the past few seasons, the Bulls have also had their fare share of success in terms of the NBA Draft.
Having said that, here a look at the 10 best draft picks in Chicago Bulls franchise history.
10. Joakim Noah (C) — No. 9 pick in 2007 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Bulls): 572 GP, 9.3 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.4 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 1.8 TOV, 49.0 FG%, 71.1 FT%
The Bulls selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. This was surprising to some considering that his offensive game was limited and he was deemed as merely a hustle and energy player by the experts.
But after being inserted into the starting lineup midway through his second season, Noah became a fan favorite due to the effort he gave at both ends of the court. Noah was a double-digit scorer in five of his nine years in the Windy City, with his best season taking place in 2013-14.
During that memorable season, Noah averaged 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per contest. He also won the Defensive Player of the Year award, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team and finished fourth in the MVP voting.
Sadly, that season would prove to be the peak of Noah’s career with the Bulls, as injuries reduced him to a shell of his former self over the next two years. After playing in just 29 games in the 2015-16 campaign (due to a shoulder injury), the Bulls opted not to re-sign him and he signed a four-year deal with the New York Knicks.
9. Horace Grant (PF/C) — No. 10 pick in 1987 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Bulls): 546 GP, 12.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.3 TOV, 53.0 FG%, 67.5 FT%
The 1987 NBA Draft was probably one of the crowning moments for former general manager Jerry Krause. First, Krause executed a draft night deal with the then Seattle SuperSonics. At No. 8, he drafted Olden Polynice and traded that pick to the Sonics in exchange for Scottie Pippen — who would eventually be included on the list of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1997.
And two spots later, Krause made another wise move of selecting Horace Grant with the 10th overall pick. It is worth noting that Grant was selected ahead of a few notable players such as Reggie Miller, Reggie Lewis and Mark Jackson as well.
During his seven seasons with the Bulls, Grant averaged 12.6 points and 8.6 boards per contest on an efficient 53 percent shooting from the field. Additionally, he was selected to the All-Defensive Second Team four times.
While those numbers may not scream Hall-of-Famer, Grant certainly played a role in helping the Bulls become the first team to win three consecutive titles in nearly three decades.
8. Elton Brand (PF/C) — No. 1 pick in 1999 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Bulls): 155 GP, 20.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.6 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 2.9 TOV, 47.9 FG%, 69.5 FT%
On the heels of winning six championships in the span of eight seasons, the Bulls came crashing down to earth following the dismantling of their modern-day dynasty. During the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign, they compiled a 13-37 record.
The only positive from that less-than-memorable season was the Bulls secured the top overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. No one would have blamed them for going with Steve Francis, Lamar Odom or Baron Davis.
Instead, they selected Elton Brand from Duke University.
During his inaugural NBA season, Brand posted averages of 20.1 points and 10.0 rebounds per contest en route to winning co-Rookie of the Year honors with Francis. The following season, it was more of the same as the big man averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game in 74 appearances.
With that kind of consistent production, the Bulls appeared to have a centerpiece to build around on their journey back to relevancy. However, Krause sent Brand to the Los Angeles Clippers for Brian Skinner and the rights to the second overall pick (Tyson Chandler) in the 2001 NBA Draft — an infamous choice that will be forever remembered by diehard Bulls fans.
7. Toni Kukoc (SF/PF) — No. 29 pick in 1990 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Bulls): 436 GP, 14.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 2.0 TOV, 45.8 FG%, 32.7 3P%, 74.8 FT%
The Chicago Bulls did not own a first round pick in the 1990 NBA Draft. But thanks to a trade with the Orlando Magic, the Bulls acquired the second pick (29th overall) in the second round.
With that pick, the Bulls selected Toni Kukoc out of Croatia. However, Kukoc would spend three more years overseas before coming to Chicago prior to the 1993-94 campaign.
During his rookie campaign Kukoc averaged 10.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game and was named to the All-Rookie Second Team. Although Kukoc was somewhat hesitant about making the jump to the NBA, he had a few memorable moments during his first season.
Check out this game-winner against the Indiana Pacers.
While that was a great moment in its own right, Kukoc demonstrated that he could be a clutch performer in the playoffs as well.
Facing the New York Knicks in the postseason for the fourth straight year, the Bulls found themselves down 2-0 and needing a win in Game 3 to get back into the series. With Michael Jordan retired and Scottie Pippen opting to sit out the final play of the game, who would the Bulls turn to?
Kukoc, that’s who.
His shot helped the Bulls edge the Knicks 104-102 and cut the deficit to 2-1. The Bulls went on to lose the series in seven games, but without Kukoc’s heroics, the Knicks would have probably beaten the Bulls in four or five games.
Standing at 6’11”, Kukoc proved to be a difficult cover due to his ability to shoot from the outside and beat his defenders off the dribble. During his seven seasons in the Windy City, Kukoc finished with averages of 14.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists on 46 percent shooting from the field.
Even more important, he played a key role in helping the Bulls win a second trio of championships.
6. Ben Gordon (SG) — No. 3 pick in 2004 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Bulls): 398 GP, 18.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 2.4 TOV, 43.7 FG%, 41.5 3P%, 85.9 FT%
It had been six long years since the Bulls’ dynasty had come to an abrupt end. During that painful stretch, the team never won more than 30 games.
Needless to say, the Bulls were in need of a game-changer by the time the 2004 NBA Draft rolled around. With the third overall pick, they selected Ben Gordon from the University of Connecticut.
Gordon quickly showed that the Bulls had made the right decision, as he averaged 15 points per contest while converting 41 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
As a result of his outstanding play, Gordon became the first rookie to be named Sixth Man of the Year and was awarded a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team. Gordon spent five seasons with the Bulls, with his most memorable moments taking place in the first round playoff series against the Boston Celtics in 2009.
During that series, he averaged 24.3 points per contest on 38 percent shooting from distance. This included a 42-point outburst in Game 2. Unfortunately, Gordon and the Bulls were unable to reach an agreement on a long-term deal and he signed with the Detroit Pistons the next season.
Over the course of his five years in a Bulls uniform, Gordon’s averaged 18.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists on 41.5 percent shooting from three-point range. Gordon — along with Luol Deng (whom the Bulls acquired at No. 7 via a trade with the Phoenix Suns) and Chris Duhon (No. 38 pick overall) — became the trio that helped the Bulls become a playoff team once again.
5. Reggie Theus (PG/SG) — No. 9 pick in 1978 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Bulls): 441 GP, 18.8 PPG, 5.6 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 3.6 TOV, 47.7 FG%, 23.7 3P%, 80.6 FT%
The Bulls selected Reggie Theus with the ninth overall pick in the 1978 NBA Draft. As was the case with Ben Gordon, Theus wasted little time proving that he was the real deal.
During his first year with the Bulls, Theus posted averages of 16.3 points and 5.2 assists per outing en route to finishing runner-up in the Rookie of the Year race.
After an impressive showing during his rookie campaign, Theus played even better in his second season. In fact, his numbers increased across the board, as he averaged 20.2 points, 6.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game.
Additionally, Theus earned two trips to the All-Star game and averaged at least 20 points per game in two of his five seasons with the Bulls. Despite the solid numbers he put up, though, the Bulls traded him to the Kansas City Kings (who would later become the Sacramento Kings) in exchange for Steve Johnson and a trio of second round draft picks in 1984.
4. Artis Gilmore (C) — No. 1 pick in 1976 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Bulls): 482 GP, 19.3 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.1 BPG, 0.6 SPG, 3.3 TOV, 58.7 FG%, 71.2 FT%
Artis Gilmore was one of the Bulls’ most unconventional draft selections, which was perfectly fitting because he was such an unconventional player. Gilmore began his professional basketball career in the ABA — a span that lasted five years.
However, the ABA shut down in 1976, which opened the door for the Bulls to take Gilmore with the top overall pick in the 1976 dispersal draft. Nicknamed the “A Train,” Gilmore spent six full seasons (1976-82) and part of the 1987-88 campaign in a Bulls uniform.
While he was famously known for his quiet demeanor, his game spoke volumes. During his time with the Bulls, Gilmore averaged 19.3 points and 11.1 rebounds on a super efficient 59 percent shooting from the field.
On top of that, Gilmore never averaged less than 17.8 points per outing in any season. He led the league in field goal percentage four times and his 60 percent conversion rate ranks second all-time in NBA history to DeAndre Jordan, who has a career shooting percentage of 67.7 percent.
Based on those numbers, it is easy to understand why Gilmore is considered one of the team’s top players at the center position.
3. Jimmy Butler (SG/SF) — No. 30 pick in 2011 NBA Draft
Career stats: 399 GP, 15.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 1.4 TOV, 44.8 FG%, 33.7 3P%, 82.8 FT%
The Bulls were coming off their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 13 years. On the heels of their great run, they were hoping to add another player to the roster that would help them to challenge the Miami Heat for conference supremacy.
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With the 30th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Bulls selected Jimmy Butler from Marquette University. Unlike some of the players on this list, Butler did not make an immediate impact.
To be honest, he was barely a footnote during his rookie campaign, as he averaged 2.6 points in 8.5 minutes per contest. Having said that, it appeared the Bulls had missed the boat with this selection.
But thanks to injuries, Butler would eventually be given the chance to show what he could do, and he would not disappoint. Over the next five years, Butler developed a reputation for being a solid defender and increased his scoring average each season.
Furthermore, Butler is coming off a 2016-17 season in which he posted career highs in points (23.9 per game), rebounds (6.2 per game) and assists (5.5 per game).
With three All-Star selections — along with winning the Most Improved Player award in 2015 — Butler is considered one of the best two-way players in the NBA. Being that he has been Chicago’s top scoring option over the past few seasons, it is of little surprise that he has become the face of the franchise.
2. Derrick Rose (PG) — No. 1 pick in 2008 NBA Draft
Career stats (with the Bulls): 406 GP, 19.7 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.7 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 2.9 TOV, 44.8 FG%, 30.2 3P%, 81.3 FT%
The Bulls had advanced to the playoffs in three of the last four years, but were coming off a 2007-08 campaign in which they won 33 games. Fortunately, the basketball gods were smiling on the Bulls as they managed to secure the top overall pick despite having less than a two percent chance of doing so.
And with that pick, the Bulls selected Derrick Rose from the University of Memphis. From day one, it was apparent the Bulls had made the right choice.
During his rookie season, Rose posted averages of 16.9 points, 6.3 assists and 3.9 boards per contest and was named the 2009 Rookie of the Year. Two seasons later, Rose became the youngest player in NBA history to win the Most Valuable Player award following a season that saw him average career highs in both points (25.0 per game) and assists (7.7 per game).
Unfortunately, as was the case with former teammate, Joakim Noah, injuries robbed Rose of his ability just as he was reaching the peak of his career. During the 2011-12 season, Rose missed 27 games due to an assortment of injuries. Then, he tore his left ACL in the opening game of the 2012 NBA Playoffs and missed the entire 2012-13 campaign.
The unfortunate injury trend for Rose continued as he missed 72 games in 2013-14 and an additional 31 games in 2014-15. Though he did manage to play in 66 games in 2015-16, it was obvious the Bulls had gone as far as they could with that core of players, and they shipped the former MVP to the Knicks in a five-player trade.
None of us will ever know what kind of player Rose would have become. What is a certainty is he was one of the most explosive players in the league when he was healthy — a fact that often gets lost when looking back on the early years of his career.
1. Michael Jordan (SG) — No. 3 pick in 1984 NBA Draft
This selection should come as no surprise to even the most casual Bulls fan. The big story here is Jordan wasn’t the player the Bulls wanted in that draft.
But after the Houston Rockets selected Hakeem Olajuwon and the Portland Trail Blazers took Sam Bowie, the Bulls reluctantly took Jordan at No. 3. Even still, former general manager Rod Thorn was not sold on the idea that Jordan could help turn the franchise around.
From the Chicago Tribune:
“We’ve taken a step in the right direction. Jordan isn’t going to turn this franchise around. I wouldn’t ask him to. I wouldn’t put that kind of pressure on him. He’s a very good offensive player, but not an overpowering offensive player.”
Little did Thorn know the dominant force that Jordan would become.
Jordan acquired a number of accolades during his 13-year career with the Bulls, including:
- Six-time NBA champion
- Six-time NBA Finals MVP
- 10-time All-NBA First Team selection
- Nine NBA All-Defensive First Team selections
- Defensive Player of the Year award (1988)
- Chicago Bulls’ all-time leading scorer
- Retired with the NBA’s highest scoring average of 30.1 points per game
- 10 scoring titles — an NBA record, and seven consecutive scoring titles (1987-93) to match Wilt Chamberlain.
- Induced into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
Taking those accomplishments into consideration, not only is Jordan the top draft pick off all time for the Bulls franchise, he is also the greatest draft selection in NBA history.