Why outdated ‘stuck in middle’ complaint doesn’t apply to Bulls

Fans should be used to Bulls' inaction at the trade deadline, but there's no reason to feel angry about it.

The best path for the Bulls right now is to stay patient, develop their younger players and wait for the right opportunity to make a bigger, smarter deal.

The idea there needs to be some sort of step back before the team can move forward, or the Bulls should launch yet another rebuild, is a relic of the 80s and 90s, not relevant at all to today's NBA. The outdated notion of a team like the Bulls being stuck in the middle no longer applies.

But this idea persists, so as a public service, let's break it down and start with a list. These are the top-10 scorers from the 2020 NBA Draft, in order, along with where they were chosen:

Anthony Edwards (1), Tyrese Maxey (21), Desmond Bane (30), Tyrese Haliburton (12), Saddiq Bey (19), LaMelo Ball (3), Immanuel Quickly (25), Cole Anthony (15), Devin Vassell (11) and Jaden McDaniels (28).

What's missing? Well, just two of the 10 were top-10 picks. Bulls forward Patrick Williams ranks 15th. There are other years when most of the top scorers were high draft picks.

The point is, the NBA Draft has become much more of a crapshoot in the past couple decades because high picks are 19 and often take years to develop. The hit rate is much lower than when NBA prospects stayed in college.

If the season ended today, the Bulls would have the No. 10 draft pick, if they didn't advance past the play-in tournament. They have just as good a chance of selecting a helpful player as any other team in the draft.

Younger players need guidance, so dumping veterans to land a higher draft pick tends to result in chaos. For examples, check the Bulls' last two rebuild attempts. It's possible Coby White doesn't take the jump he's made without DeMar DeRozan as a teammate. Re-signing DeRozan this summer can be a beneficial move for the Bulls.

There are exceptions to every rule. Oklahoma City didn't have an obvious veteran leader on the roster, at least not until trading for Charlotte's Gordon Hayward last week.

But the Thunder's best player, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, had an unusual introduction to the NBA. He saw playoff action in each of his first two seasons, first with the Clippers, then with a Billy Donovan-coached OKC squad. After that, the Thunder cleaned house and built up the roster as Gilgeous-Alexander grew into an MVP candidate. Oh, and where was he drafted? No. 11.

The three most important ingredients to building a championship contender these days are luck, player development and being an in-demand destination.

Nothing is more important than luck. You think Arturas Karnisovas thought he was drafting a future MVP when the Nuggets chose Nikola Jokic in the second round? The last item is simple. The next time Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis or the equivalent is ready to move on, be in the mix.

The Bulls aren't able to make a significant trade right now because they spent so much draft capital in the 2021 retool. It's pointless to take a step back when the Bulls owe their 2025 first-rounder to San Antonio.

That's not to say the Bulls are in great shape right now. They're not. Maxing out Zach LaVine two years ago was a bad idea when it happened and looks even worse today. That's going to haunt them for years.

But White's improvement has been the best news for the franchise, probably since Jimmy Butler became a Most Improved Award winner. Ayo Dosunmu isn't far behind. In a year or two, the Bulls might be able to trade some of their younger guys for an established star, and become a desirable destination for free agents. Dumping LaVine's massive contract would obviously help the cause.

For now, the Bulls' regulars are playing too many minutes and trying to survive until the all-star break.

“Every single game is important whether we have a full team or limited guys,” DeRozan said after Saturday's overtime loss to Orlando. “Pretty sure everybody is tired. It’s that point in the season where everybody is waiting for a break.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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