After three transactional cycles of no moves from the Chicago Bulls, many fans were growing anxious over the front office’s stubborn decision to stand pat. Fortunately, that all changed at the 2023 NBA Draft, where the Bulls traded into the second round to select Julian Phillips at No. 35 overall. Not only was this a solid pick on paper, but it may also have just given us some insight regarding the franchise’s plans this summer.
Trading away a pair of future second-round picks, it’s clear to see the Bulls had their eyes on Phillips for some time. While I believe it was a worthwhile gamble either way, I’m not convinced a recent decision made by a current Bull wasn’t the determining factor here.
The player I’m referring to, of course, is none other than Derrick Jones Jr., who recently declined his player option to return to the team for next year. DJJ provided a valuable spark off the bench for the team this past season, and they’ll sorely miss his services if they don’t re-sign the forward or find another player with similar abilities this summer.
Fortunately, Phillips will likely round out the forward depth chart moving forward, as his size and hustle will make him a versatile option for the Bulls at either the small or power forward positions. He is a great point-of-impact defender and gets out in transition at every given opportunity for easy buckets.
By drafting Julian Phillips, the Chicago Bulls are likely signaling the impending departure of Derrick Jones Jr.
If that description sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact role DJJ fulfilled for the Bulls in limited minutes last season. Although Jones wasn’t much of a three-point threat, his ability to play above the rim and provided stout defense on the other end added an additional element to the Bulls that no one reserve on the roster could. If all goes according to plan, that description should also fit Phillips perfectly.
Entering the draft, just take a look at how their physical measurements match up:
- Height: 6’6.75″
- Weight: 196 pounds
- Wingspan: 6’11.5″
- Max Vertical Leap: 43 inches (led the combine)
Derrick Jones Jr.
- Height: 6’6″
- Weight: 185 pounds
- Wingspan: 6’11”
- Max Vertical Leap: 46 inches (allegedly, didn’t test at the combine)
Pursuing this specific archetype with their last three rookie acquisitions — the other two being Dalen Terry and Justin Lewis — clearly indicates that the front office has a particular plan in mind when it comes to the current roster construction. It’s hard to say if collecting an assortment of defensively-oriented players that lack versatile offensive arsenals is a good foundation to build upon, but at the very least, it’s helped stymie any concerns about building around Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.
As the Bulls look to remain under the luxury tax threshold while retaining their top free agents like Vucevic, Coby White, and Ayo Dosunmu, it makes sense for management to try cutting corners by bringing in a cheap rookie rather than overpaying veteran talent. Seeing as how Jones Jr. declined to return for the veteran minimum, it seems he’s set on earning more on the open market.
Whether or not he will receive those offers remains to be seen, but for now, it does seem like his time with the Chicago Bulls is coming to an uneventful close.