Chicago Bulls: Top 15 draft picks in franchise history

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Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

The best draft pick in Chicago Bulls history is an obvious choice, but there have been plenty of other notable selections made by the franchise.

The Chicago Bulls entered a rebuilding phase last summer when they traded Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick (Justin Patton) to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen), Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn on draft night. Assuming the Bulls retain LaVine this offseason, these three represent a key part of the team’s future.

Markkanen looks like a gem and a player who will show up on future top Bulls draft pick lists. The 7-footer finished fourth in rookie scoring at 15.2 points per game, and he broke Kirk Hinrich’s franchise rookie record by hitting 145 3-pointers.

LaVine missed a good chunk of the year as he recovered from a torn ACL. He naturally struggled in his return, but there were flashes of star potential mixed in that gave Bulls fans a taste of what could come if he puts it all together. Dunn similarly showed flashes of excellence amidst inconsistent play.

While there’s hope for the future, these three youngsters and the Bulls have a long way to go before the franchise returns to glory. The 2018 NBA Draft will play an important role in this quest. After winning 27 games and a tiebreaker over the Sacramento Kings, the Bulls enter Tuesday’s lottery in the No. 6 slot. Chicago has an 18.3 percent chance of moving into the top three and a 5.3 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick.

In addition to their own pick, the Bulls have the 22nd selection in the first round thanks to the Nikola Mirotic trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. Mirotic finally broke out in Chicago after Bobby Portis broke his face, which prompted the Pelicans to send a first-round pick to the Bulls in the wake of DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending injury.

Chicago currently doesn’t own a second-round pick, so it heads into the lottery with those two first-rounders at its disposal. With the lottery coming up on Tuesday, let’s take a look at the top draft picks in Bulls history.

Note: Norm Van Lier was not considered for this list because while he was technically drafted by the Bulls, he was immediately traded on draft night before coming back to the team several years later. 

Taj Gibson

There were several players considered for this final spot. Elton Brand was the Bulls’ No. 1 pick in 1999 and had two 20/10 seasons in Chicago, but he was traded after that second season for Tyson Chandler’s draft rights. David Greenwood went No. 2 behind Magic Johnson in 1979 and had six productive seasons in Chicago.

Tom Boerwinkle was selected fourth in 1968 and spent his entire 10-year career with the Bulls, with his 5,745 rebounds ranking second in franchise history. 1974 fourth-round pick Mickey Johnson had four excellent seasons out of five with the Bulls after a draft-night deal with the Portland Trail Blazers. 1985 No. 9 pick Charles Oakley offered three strong seasons as an enforcer next to Michael Jordan following his draft-night deal from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, the nod ultimately goes to Taj Gibson, the 26th pick in 2009. An older rookie at 24, Gibson made it on the All-Rookie first team and only got better from there.

The USC product was never an All-Star in Chicago and didn’t put up prolific numbers, but he was a key part of the Bulls’ rugged identity on playoff teams throughout the last decade. Gibson teamed up with Joakim Noah to form one of the league’s best defensive frontcourts, and Tom Thibodeau would often turn to Gibson over the much more expensive Carlos Boozer to close games due to Taj’s defensive prowess.

Gibson’s relentlessness on the offensive boards also helped boost an offense that often had trouble scoring, especially when Derrick Rose was dealing with his myriad injuries. Gibson ranks sixth in franchise history in offensive rebounds.

Furthermore, Gibson is the owner of two of the more memorable dunks in Bulls history:

Gibson averaged 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in his seven-plus seasons with the Bulls before getting traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2016-17 season. For a late first-round pick, Chicago got terrific value from the selection, as well as a fan favorite.

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