The Chicago Bulls are one of the most popular and beloved franchises in basketball, if not all sports. Most of this comes from the era of Michael Jordan when the greatest NBA star of all time made the team must watch and created a fandom from many basketball enthusiasts around the world. Jordan would lead the team to six NBA Championships as they dominated the sports world in the 90s. Unfortunately for Chicago, the team had no backup plan when Jordan would retire after the 1998 season creating some troubling times ahead.
Things would get rocky for the Bulls once the dynasty ended as they lost Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson – four Hall of Famers all gone after the final ring. Chicago would instantly become one of the worst teams in the NBA with terrible season after terrible season. This was a product of poor drafting with the team selecting one bust after another with their high draft picks. Hindsight is always selective but looking back today, the Bulls missed out on many great players and decided on taking some of the worst possible players in these scenarios.
Luckily after about a decade, the team would hit success on a couple of draft picks and become a fixture in the playoffs once again. Regardless of the success or failure of the picks, Chicago has been among the most interesting teams over the last 15 years when it comes to the NBA Draft. In this piece, we’ll examine their last 15 first round draft picks and see if they made the right choice. If they didn’t, who should they have drafted and what would the team have looked like instead? (Disclaimer: The Bulls didn’t have a first round pick in 2005 so that year will be skipped).
Rules: The replacement pick must have been selected within the next ten picks, so that it was a possible selecting they might've considered.
15 2000: Jamal Crawford, Hedo Turkoglu
The Bulls had two first rounders in this draft and, sadly for them, this may have been the worst NBA Draft of all time as the best players to come from it have been Jamal Crawford (who Chicago actually traded their seventh overall pick, Chris Mihm, for on draft day), Mike Miller and Kenyon Martin. With the 4th overall pick, the Bulls selected Marcus Fizer who only lasted a few years in the league. Instead, they should've selected just Jamal Crawford here, who went 8th overall to the Cavs. With their seventh overall pick, they chose Mihm, but the best choice would have been the man selected with the 16th overall pick, Hedo Turkoglu. A successful NBA player still in the league as a veteran reserve, Turkoglu could have contributed to the team as they attempted to rebuild and would have been a good piece if the team improved to become a playoff contender.
14 2001: Joe Johnson
In 2001, Chicago made their attempts to start their first plan for success in the post-Michael Jordan era. After trading for Tyson Chandler (who was selected 2nd overall), the Bulls also drafted Eddie Curry with the 4th overall pick to set up a core of two centers in hopes of dominating the paint. Curry would never live up to his potential as “baby Shaq” and became a bust. The best pick Chicago could have made would have been Joe Johnson who went 10th overall. Considering where Eddie Curry is now and where Joe Johnson is, it’s clear who would have been the most successful pick. Johnson could have been their shooting guard for the next decade.
13 2002: Amar’e Stoudemire
Jay Williams' story was a tragic one, as after being selected 2nd overall by the Chicago Bulls and playing a single season, Williams was involved in a motorcycle accident and his career unofficially ended. Williams would try to make a return to the NBA but he wasn’t able to play at a high level again. The best pick Chicago could have made was Amar’e Stoudemire who went 9th overall to the Suns. The immensely talented Stoudemire was coming out of high school, so a teams were scared to take a chance on him, but he would become an All-Star and one of the best power forwards in the league during his best years.
12 2003: David West
This was arguably the greatest draft of all time, featuring LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh being selected before Chicago’s pick. With the 7th overall pick, the Bulls drafted Kirk Hinrich. Despite never becoming a star level player, Hinrich was a very reliable Bull and was better than most of the other realistic options. The only player Chicago should have taken turned out to be David West at the 18th pick, which is a small stretch going 11 picks later, but he's been so good that we're bending the rules a little for this one. As a very intense and hardworking player that grinds for every point, rebound and steal he secures, West would have been adored by the Bulls fans.
11 2004: Andre Iguodala
With the 3rd overall pick, Chicago selected UCONN star Ben Gordon and he was actually a good player for a few years before he started to decline rapidly. Gordon was a good pick at the time but a couple of better realistic options were there including Ande Iguodala and Al Jefferson. While Jefferson is a little more talented, Iguodala would have been the more realistic pick for Chicago that year as he'd go six picks later. Iguodala has always been an explosive talent that plays hard-nosed defense, two things very appreciated by Bulls fans. Chicago would have loved Andre Iguodala and he may have spent his entire career there.
10 2006: LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyle Lowry
The 2006 Draft marks a moment that still haunts Chicago Bulls fans today. With the 2nd overall pick, the Bulls actually drafted now superstar LaMarcus Aldridge but traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers for fellow rookie Tyrus Thomas and third year man Victor Khryapa. Both players Chicago traded for would become huge busts and neither man lasted in the NBA. If the Bulls just kept Aldridge, their history may be different as he became one of the best power forwards in the league and an All Star level talent.
They had a second first rounder in the draft, Rodney Carney, who they quickly moved to Philly for Thabo Sefolosha, along with sending a future second round pick. Instead, they should've held on to the pick and selected Kyle Lowry, who went eight picks later to the Grizzlies. Lowry has become an All Star talent and leaders for the Raptors over the last few year, and has been much better than Sefolosha or Carney have been.
9 2007: Joakim Noah
With the 7th overall pick, Chicago selected college standout Joakim Noah despite the questions about his offensive game. Noah would become a fan favorite and help create the defensive identity the Bulls would become associated with. Despite falling off last season, Noah has been a great player for Chicago as their fans love him and he’s been a big part of their winning seasons. No player selected after him in the first round has been nearly as successful. The Bulls got it right by taking the chance on Noah in 2007 and securing one of the greatest centers in franchise history.
8 2008: Russell Westbrook
Here comes the most controversial re-select pick of our list. In 2008, Chicago selected Derrick Rose with the #1 overall pick and he has been very successful. Before bad luck and severe injuries causing him to miss a lot of time, Rose helped make the Bulls relevant again and won the 2011 MVP Award. Even with these accolades, he’s just not as good as Russell Westbrook, who was selected 4th overall. Not even factoring the injuries, Westbrook is a more dynamic player and has an even bigger upside. Westbrook’s season last year was better than Rose’s MVP season and he would have been a better player to build around for the future.
7 2009: Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson
When it comes to the NBA Draft, you should always draft the best player available. With success not guaranteed, you can’t draft for the position unless the players are equal. Chicago selected James Johnson with the 16th pick in 2009 and the next three selections were Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and Jeff Teague. Chicago passed on all three because Derrick Rose was their point guard, so instead they ended up with a bust. Teague has gone on to become an All Star and was arguably the MVP of a team that won 60 games last season. If the Bulls drafted Teague instead of Johnson, they would have had a better chance in playoff series when Rose suffered injuries.
With their second pick of the first round, they selected Tag Gibson who's been solid for the team and who we'll have them re-selecting here.
6 2010: Eric Bledsoe
In one of the more bizarre draft blunders for the Bulls, Chicago tradeed their 17th overall pick (Kevin Seraphin) and point guard Kirk Hinrich to the Washington Wizards for Vladimir Veremeenko. Who is Vladimir Veremeenko? Exactly. Veremeenko was a foreign second round by Washington a few years prior, but never moved to play in the NBA. While Seraphin would only become a below average player and Hinrich moved back to Chicago shortly after, but the Bulls missed out on Eric Bledsoe who was drafted just one pick later. As the league evolves into a two point guard lineup, having Eric Bledsoe and Derrick Rose would have given Chicago an edge going forward.
5 2011: Jimmy Butler
Finally, a pick where the Chicago Bulls took the best player available. In 2011, Chicago had the best record in the NBA so they selected with the final pick of the first round, yet picked arguably the best player of the draft. Jimmy Butler contributed right away and recently took the next step into becoming an All Star. With a two-way game helping his team out on both offense and defense, the Bulls have signed Butler to a new contract as they hope to make him a building block of the future. Chicago really lucked out with getting such a great player so late in the first round.
4 2012: Draymond Green
An interesting recent draft saw the Bulls pick Marquis Teague with the 29th overall pick while the Golden State Warriors selected Draymond Green just a few picks later with the 35th pick. Teague would never succeed in the NBA and failed to play as well as his brother Jeff has for the Atlanta Hawks. If Chicago drafted Green, there’s a good chance he may have been the missing piece in their quest for a championship. Green would fit in perfectly with the Bulls defensive intensity and could have added the extra offense the team needs.
3 2013: Rudy Gobert
This is one of the more disappointing recent drafts for the Chicago Bulls, as they picked Tony Snell with the 20th overall pick, passing on better talent such as Gorgui Dieng, Mason Plumlee and most importantly, Rudy Gobert. After a breakout season last year, Gobert is primed to become one of the best centers in the entire league and might already be better than Joakim Noah. Snell has struggled to pick up minutes in the rotation and doesn’t seem to have any chance of being a difference maker in the NBA. Chicago missed out on a special player that was drafted 27th overall by the Utah Jazz.
2 2014: Jusuf Nurkic, Rodney Hood
Chicago actually drafted Jusuf Nurkic in the first round with the 16th overall pick but traded him along with another draft pick to the Denver Nuggets for Doug McDermott. Despite only playing one season in the league, McDermott doesn’t look like an NBA level player and will likely turn into a bust. If the Bulls just kept Nurkic, they would have had a nice bench piece and added depth to their roster.
With their second first rounder of this draft, they selected Gary Harris, who they packed with Nurkic to acquire McDermott. The better choice would've been to keep both picks and select Rodney Hood with the second first rounder in their possession. In his rookie year, Hood came into his own at the end of the year, winning Rookie of the Month honors in April. He averaged 8.7 points per game last year and seems like he could have a solid NBA career.
1 2015: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
The Bulls drafted Bobby Portis with the 22nd overall pick this year and while it’s hard to tell, passing on the elite defense of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson just one pick later may be a mistake. Hollis-Jefferson is being referred to as the clear best defensive player coming out of this draft and with the rumors of Joakim Noah potentially being moved out of Chicago in the near future, it would have been smart to acquire another top tier defender who is ready to insert in the lineup. It would also give them the ability to go smaller as the NBA is more suited for one 7 footer and two athletic small forwards today.