San Antonio created a quality supporting cast for Tim Duncan by making smart picks late in the draft. Tony Parker (No. 28), Manu Ginobili (No. 57), Tiago Splitter (No. 28) and Kawhi Leonard (No. 15) are the best examples.
The Bulls aren't quite at that level, but they're building a nice track record of successful picks late in the draft. They traded for Omer Asik, the No. 36 overall pick in 2008, and selected Taj Gibson at No. 26, Jimmy Butler at No. 30 and Marquis Teague at No. 29.
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NBA DraftWhen: Thursday, 6 p.m.
Where: Barcleys Center, Brooklyn, NY
Bulls' selections: No. 20 in first round, No. 49 in second round.
Top five picks: 1. Cleveland, 2. Orlando, 3. Washington, 4. Charlotte, 5. Phoenix.
The Bulls' worst recent pick was their highest of the past four years, James Johnson at No. 16. At least they were able to trade him for another first-rounder, and he's still in the league with Sacramento.
This year, the Bulls have moved out of their comfort zone, all the way up to the No. 20 pick in Thursday's draft. They also have the No. 49 overall selection in the second round.
A couple things stand out as being important in the Bulls' selection process. Rather than choose a mediocre player and hope he blossoms into a star, they look for players who have an NBA-quality skill. That way, the player is ready to contribute in some capacity when arriving on the scene as a rookie.
For Gibson and Butler, their primary skill was defense. Teague was a high school all-American with NBA-caliber athleticism.
The other component is trying to figure out which draft candidates have the highest work ethic. In many ways, becoming a good NBA player is not as much about what he did in college as what he'll do in the summer to keep improving.
Butler is a perfect example of the work-ethic success story and he's already been back at the Berto Center trying to get better for next season.
The Bulls might carry a philosophy of drafting the best player available, with the feeling they'll get someone who can at least contribute and can always become trade bait later.
If they choose for need, the biggest needs right now are a backup big man and 3-point shooter. My advice is to focus on a big man because they're more difficult to find and abundant in this year's draft.
Based on the above criteria, there is one player who shapes up as an ideal and realistic pick for the Bulls -- Louisville's 6-11 center Gorgui Dieng. He anchored the best defense in college hoops last season, is mature at age 23, and an accomplished rebounder and shot-blocker.
He might still be around at No. 20 because teams believe he's as good as he's going to get. For the Bulls, who need someone to play 15 minutes a night to relieve Joakim Noah, Dieng fits the bill. The name confusion with Luol Deng will take care of itself.
Here are some other centers that could be available on Thursday:
Mason Plumlee, 7-0, Duke: A good athlete who was productive last season (17.1 points, 10 rebounds). It's not clear if he'll become a quality defender in the NBA.
Kelly Olynyk, 7-0, Gonzaga: The most accomplished offensive player among this year's big men, but defense could be an issue.
Rudy Gobert, 7-2, Cholet (France): This guy has an insane 7-foot-9 wingspan, but whether he'll be able to use it effectively against wider, stronger NBA players is a leap of faith.
Lucas Nogueira, 6-11, Estudiantes (Spain): This Brazil native is playing for a quality club team in Europe. Some mock drafts have him going in the top 15, but Nogueira is a stick figure and serious project. He figures to stay in Spain for a few more years.
Steven Adams, 7-0, Pittsburgh: Most projections have him going higher than 20, though that might be tenuous. He's tall, strong, long and athletic, but sometimes looks like he started playing the game yesterday.
Jeff Withey, 7-1, Kansas: He averaged 3.9 blocks last season, so he's got the defensive component. His rebounding (8.5 per game) didn't quite keep up and he'll probably never be a big scoring threat.
Mike Muscala, 6-11, Bucknell: Some mock drafts project him as being available when the Bulls pick in the second round, but he was remarkably productive in college. Muscala improved each year, averaging 18.9 points and 11.3 rebounds as a senior. He ranked No. 2 in all of college basketball in rebounds per 40 minutes, according to draftexpress.com. His length and athleticism are not off the charts, but decent.
Next: The shooting guards