NBA Draft 2021: 4 first-round prospects Bulls fans should watch

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NBA Draft: 4 first-round prospects Bulls fans should watch originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bulls have jumped forward from their pre-lottery draft position twice in the last 13 years.

The first time, in 2008, they cashed 1.7 percent odds to win the No. 1 pick and draft Derrick Rose. The second occasion came in 2020, when they jumped from seventh to fourth and Artūras Karnišovas made Patrick Williams the first pick of the new front office’s tenure.

So, yes, such strokes of good fortune are rare. But the Bulls need another one this year. If their 2021 first-rounder doesn’t land in the top four of the draft lottery on June 22, it conveys to the Orlando Magic as part of the trade for Nikola Vučević, leaving them without a selection until the eighth pick in the second round (No. 38 overall).

If they do retain their pick, though, it will mean adding an impact prospect to a roster already staffed with two All-Stars. Most prognosticators seem to agree that this year’s class has a fairly defined top four, so here’s a quick look at prospects for Bulls fans to become acquainted with in advance of the lottery:

Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite

2020-21 Stats (15 G): 17.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.8 apg (2.7 tov), 1.5 spg | 46.1% FG, 36.5% 3P, 82.9% FT

Height: 6-foot-6

Green eschewed college ball for a stint with the G League Ignite in its inaugural season, giving him a more limited sample (15 games in a condensed calendar), but perhaps a more meaningful one given the quality of competition.

The traits that will make Green successful at the next level are apparent; he has a dynamite first step, the unnatural athleticism to either explode above the rim or contort to finish below it, plus an already-lethal array of dribble moves and off-the-bounce jumpers. His long strides and straight-line speed will make him a terror in transition too. All those abilities packed into a 6-foot-6 frame paint the image of the next great shot-creating wing.

Green is long, but also wiry, which introduces some concerns as a through-contact finisher and individual defender (though his length and quickness give him promise in both areas). He also committed nearly as many turnovers (40) as assists (42) with Ignite, meaning that, while he’s a willing and developing playmaker, he has progress to make in that area.

Bulls fit: Green would be a tad redundant to a Bulls team more in search of facilitating and defense than scoring punch in their backcourt. But as a best-player-available proposition, he’d be difficult to pass up; the bucket-getting ability should translate quickly, and there’s reason to believe the ancillary components of his game will eventually round out star potential.

Evan Mobley, F/C, USC

2020-21 Stats (33 G): 16.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.4 apg (2.2 tov), 2.9 bpg | 57.8% FG, 30% 3P, 69.4% FT

Height: 7-0

Search “modern big man” in the dictionary and a picture of Mobley is likely to pop up. The 7-footer is a dynamic passer and ball-handler with a promising jump shot that the team that drafts him will hope can expand reliably behind the arc. On the offensive end, he flashed ability as a short-roll playmaker, rim-runner, pop threat, face-up attacker and facilitating hub. Defensively, he ranked seventh in the NCAA in blocks per game, an indicator of his elite verticality, and proved capable of navigating every type of assignment, including switching out on the perimeter.

If there’s one nit to pick with Mobley, it’s the need to fill out his frame to bang with bigger bodies on both ends. But that’s a common trope for young bigs, and his talents are as unique as they are undeniable.

Bulls fit: Mobley would give the Bulls another highly-skilled big man along with Vučević and whoever (if either) returns of Thad Young and Daniel Theis. Regardless of his slot in the rotation, he’d be an enviable long-term building block because of his all-encompassing skill set, and could learn a ton from Vučević, who has markedly evolved as a shooter and passer throughout his career.

Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga

2020-21 Stats (30 G): 14.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.5 apg (2.9 tov), 1.9 spg | 50.3% FG, 33.7% 3P, 75.4% FT

Height: 6-4

Suggs has all the makings of a franchise-sparker. On the offensive end, he’s fluidly skilled and uber-athletic, making for a sturdy, selfless guard that can make every pass in the book, scald opponents on the fast break and get hot in a hurry as a scorer. His aptitude for the grandest stages showed time and time again during Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament run.

Defensively, Suggs is a ball of energy that can switch around the perimeter and has a knack for generating steals, deflections and blocks. Add in high marks on intangible leadership qualities, and he’s a can’t-miss prospect that needs only to refine his half court craft and the consistency of his jump shot to be a superstar.

Bulls fit: Picture perfect. Suggs’ prowess as a defender and playmaker would slot perfectly next to Zach LaVine, Coby White, or both, in the backcourt depending on lineup configurations. His tough-as-nails demeanor would add a needed dynamic. And he’d finally solve the point guard of the future puzzle that has riddled this franchise for the last half-decade.

Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State

2020-21 Stats (27 G): 20.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.5 apg (4.0 tov), 1.6 spg | 43.8% FG, 40% 3P, 84.6% FT

Height: 6-8

Cunningham is exactly the type of supersized shot-creator NBA teams covet; not only does he possess the preternatural court vision and passing ability to bend games to his will, he has the size to see over the top of any type of defensive coverage and pinpoint offensive opportunities other lead guards might not. Ball security concerns should subside with experience, and more space and talent around him, at the next level. Strong finishing and jump-shooting (off the dribble and catch) ability give him all the makings of an offensive engine.

And on the defensive end, Cunningham’s positional size and smarts make him impactful and versatile both on and off the ball. He’s a terrific rebounder as well, which fuels transition opportunities. There aren't many holes to poke in his game, making his widespread classification as a transcendent prospect apparent.

Bulls fit: Like Suggs, a perfect one. Cunningham would close the Bulls’ open-ended lead ball-handler question and his size and ability to defend multiple positions would allow for flexibility with three-guard lineups. Given his solid standing as the class’ top prospect, the Bulls would likely have to cash their 4.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick to nab him.

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