Could lightning strike twice if Bulls draft another Illinois prospect?

Illinois v Maryland
Illinois v Maryland / G Fiume/GettyImages

After failing to draft a surefire prospect to build around in three of their last four drafts, the Chicago Bulls need to hit it big more than ever in the 2024 NBA Draft. Patrick Williams, Dalen Terry, and Julian Phillips may all be serviceable role players, but none have shown anything to make fans believe they could develop into stars (or at the very least, above-average starters).

The lone exception over this span would be Ayo Dosunmu, who has been a pleasant surprise for a player drafted with low expectations at No. 38 overall in 2021. Dosunmu's rookie season was such a success that he ended up earning All-Rookie Second Team honors and cemented himself as someone this franchise should keep around for a while.

For a homegrown product that starred for the University of Illinois at the collegiate level, this has been an unexpected yet huge success story for local hoops.

There's a chance lightning could strike twice, however, as another star guard prospect out of Illinois is currently making waves similar to Dosunmu just three years ago. Terrence Shannon Jr. has been an absolutely electric force for the Fighting Illini this season, leaving many fans excited to see where he ends up in next year's draft.

In his most recent mock draft, Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman even has the Bulls picking Shannon Jr. with the 12th overall pick. Exiting high school as the 81st-ranked prospect in his class, the fact that TSJ has played himself into potential lottery territory just shows how many strides he's made during his five years spent at the collegiate level.

Shannon Jr.'s age might scare off other teams looking for a prospect with a higher perceived ceiling, but players like Dosunmu and Jimmy Butler before him have proven that the Bulls are wise enough to draft talent when they see it. Wasserman highlights TSJ's versatile offense as a big reason why teams may want to gamble on him in the upcoming draft.

"There isn't a prospect in the draft with a more dangerous one-two punch of explosive slashing and perimeter shotmaking."

Jonathan Wasserman

The Bulls may consider selecting Illinois star prospect Terrence Shannon Jr. in the 2024 NBA Draft.

Averaging 23.1 points and 4 rebounds per game, transferring to Illinois has been a great decision for Shannon Jr. He scored 102 points across three games in the conference tournament and showed flashes of the kind of star he could become in the NBA as he led Illinois to a Big 10 championship.

"He's made real strides this season, optimizing his speed and quickness to create advantages, easy-basket chances and trips to the line," said Wasserman, "Regardless of how consistent his jump shot will be at the next level, he should be able to change the dynamic of a lineup with how he's able to put pressure on defenses in transition, turning the corner or off his first step."

Unlike many prospects we'll see picked in the first round this summer, Shannon Jr.'s skills are not just hypotheticals on a piece of paper. They translate to real wins. Aside from winning the Big 10 tournament, he's propelled Illinois to a third-seed position in the NCAA tournament and its most wins since 2005.

After defeating Morehead State in the opening round, he also has a chance to help Illinois qualify for their first Sweet 16 since 2012 — back when the team was led by former NBA star Deron Williams.

Unfortunately, I'm still unsure if Shannon Jr. is a player worth gambling on for the Bulls. Even if Chicago deals Zach LaVine away this summer, this backcourt is still extremely crowded by the presence of Coby White, Alex Caruso, and Dosunmu. Each of these three players is on extremely team-friendly deals and figures to be a part of Chicago's long-term plans.

The Bulls are obviously in need of a true ceiling-raising talent that could potentially be worth building around down the road. Selecting a 24-year-old rookie who will be buried in the rotation for at least the first two seasons of his career feels... redundant.

That's not to say Shannon Jr. couldn't end up becoming a truly phenomenal NBA talent, it's just that I don't believe he will get the chance to showcase his skills in Chicago with the timeline this team is on. It would make much more sense for the Bulls to address a more pressing need, such as their lack of size and defensive talent on the interior.

Even if TSJ doesn't end up playing for the Bulls, it won't stop me from rooting for him along the way at this year's big dance. Tune in Saturday to see if Shannon Jr. and Illinois can defeat 11th-seeded Duquesne and make a long-awaited Sweet 16 appearance.