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Bulls in 2022 NBA Draft: A.J. Liddell and Jalen Williams Among Potential 18th Picks

The Chicago Bulls could go in several directions in the NBA draft this week, so it’s impossible to know exactly what they’ll do.

But be that as it may, the goal of the Bulls is to go out with at least one player who will make them better. If they stay in place with pick #18, they will have a choice. Players predicted to fall into Chicago’s pick range offer an intriguing combination of size and shot blocking, playmaking and potential.

Here are five possible Bulls in 18th place, followed by expert analysis snippets from Athletics draft guru Sam Vesenye.

E. J. Liddell | forward | 6 feet 7 | 21 years | Ohio

Liddell has been a star this season for the Buckeyes, and the name is familiar to some as the Belleville, Illinois native who won back-to-back high school state championships and won Illinois Mr. Basketball honors as a junior and senior. In the NBA, he will have to adjust to an additional role. But if the Bulls are looking for someone who can make an immediate contribution, Liddell could be the name called at number 18.

Liddell compares himself to similarly short but effective hitters like Draymond Green, PJ Tucker and Grant Williams. Like them, he prides himself on his resilience, energy, and willingness to do the dirty work and do whatever it takes to win. Liddell has also shown leadership in Ohio State by working selfless, eloquent and emotional team captain.

In Chicago, Liddell would fill the needs of the front line. It would provide depth and versatility in defense. Liddell can defend multiple positions by replacing smaller players on the perimeter and placing big players in a lower position. His height, athleticism and shot blocking help make up for his shorter stature relative to his position, and this season he has converted his 2.6 blocks per game in several ways: direct defense, assist, wandering, improvisation. His shooting is developing and needs to be improved. But Liddell could develop into a solid piece by contributing from day one.

Vecenie’s opinion: “Liddell has been one of the best players in the country this season and certainly one of the top scoring players across the board. He averaged 19 points, nearly eight rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.6 blocks per game. He also did it with real efficiency, shooting 49 percent from the field and 37 percent from the three-point zone. NBA scouts have the same problems with Liddell as they did last year in terms of his lateral speed and defensive positioning. Some scouts believe that he can play in the top five due to his ability to block shots like a short guy like Grant Williams, but others are less convinced due to his small size. On top of that, despite the jump in 3-point percentage, teams are a little worried about how hard his shot is on a flat trajectory.”

Jalen Williams | wing | 6-6 | 21 years | Santa Clara

Williams is another late bloom who could have a bunch of untapped potential. Given their lineup with a lot of defensemen, the Bulls don’t have a strong need for a prospect with Williams’ skills. But in a wing-dominated league, Chicago never has enough threats, and it’s never a bad idea to have a few developing along the way.

Williams has earned respect as a complete player. He can shoot/goal from all three levels, play as a main ball carrier, is a creative passer and can defend multiple positions. It has a wingspan of 7’2″ and is modeled after Shay Gilgeus-Alexander.

The question facing Williams concerns the level of competition he faced in college. How much can he raise his level of play against the best in the world?

Vecenie’s opinion: “He has all the tools you look for from the wing to play in the NBA. He can control the ball at a high level without bouncing with real shaking. It gains 3 seconds, can drive in a straight line through traffic, and can make contact with its lower center of gravity. He has a strong sense of passing the ball because he grew up as a small point guard. This season, he has averaged four assists per game for the Santa Clara against just 2.1 assists. Guys with that size and skill tend to stay in the NBA.”

Jalen Duren | forward/center | 6-10 | 18 years | Memphis

Will it be available at 18 at all? If there is an opportunity the Bulls can count on, Duren could be it.

Duren is as impressive as he is physically and athletically. And he won’t turn 19 until mid-November. A team much higher than the Bulls in draft order could use Duren’s potential. But if he slips — or if the Bulls try to get up — Duren could be a good fit replacement for starting center Nikola Vucevic.

Duren can run around the floor, block shots, complete and throw crosses, and cause havoc by working mid-range. His departure could turn into a major threat, which could lead to some comparisons to Miami star Bam Adebayo. The Bulls need a long-term response in the center. If they somehow got away with Duren, the future in Chicago might look a lot brighter.

Vecenie’s opinion: “Ultimately, I see him as a DeAndre Jordan starter kit. Can Duren be as positional as Jordan in his prime? That will be the key to making him one of the top 10 center forwards in the league.”

Mark Williams | center | 7-0 | 20 years | duke

Interior size and rim protection are Bulls’ two biggest needs. Should the Bulls spend project capital on such specific traits, and will Williams be available at No. 18? Those are the two big questions that come with this potential choice.

However, Williams is one of the best blockers. With a 7ft 7in wingspan and 9ft 8in standing reach, he can change more punches than he can block. He is a one-man barricade that scares off shooters when he is nearby. But he’s not just a blocker. Williams is a smart player who is constantly on the move, whether it’s running around the court looking for transition opportunities or reading and reacting offensively from balls when they pose a scoring threat. He is also a strong finisher.

Space defense and outdoor shooting are areas of concern for Williams’ long-term potential. But he offers a lot to be considered a worthy target for the Bulls, if he can be obtained.

Vecenie’s opinion: “Williams is one of the best rim guards in the draft, a 7-foot flyswatter who has blocked three shots a game this season and has gotten better as the year progressed. He also averaged 11 points per game and shot 72% from the field as a rim-running monster. He runs well on the court and has an elite length even by NBA center standards.”

Tari Eason | forward | 6-8 | 20 years | LSU

Eason is perhaps the most common name associated with the Bulls’ 18th pick. In his dummy draft, Vesenye suggests that the Bulls pick Eason.

After moving from Cincinnati last season, Eason became a defensive threat as a sophomore at LSU. His combination of length, athleticism, energy, savvy and timing makes him an exciting player. He meets almost all the requirements for a modern NBA forward. His biggest strength arguably lies in his ability to defend multiple positions, which gives him an advantage and makes him a nightmare when forced to switch to the perimeter. The Bulls need more defensemen, and Eason will fit perfectly.

But shooting is his biggest concern. Will Eason continue to make strides in its form and effectiveness? This could be the difference between how he becomes a defensive ace and a two-sided stud.

Vecenie’s opinion: “His jumper looks a little scruffy as it has a catapult-like mechanic and it might take a while to smooth it out. He is also not an amazing playmaker for others. But on defense this draft, there are some promising players with a lot of potential to defend various ball carriers. He can sometimes go astray following his team’s plan, but I’m sure teams are willing to bet he’ll figure it out.”

(Photo by E.J. Liddell: Joseph Majorana/USA Today)

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