Bulls’ options with 18th pick:

NBA mock draft roundup: Bulls’ options with 18th pick originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago:

For the first time in five years, the Chicago Bulls had no stake in the NBA Draft Lottery when slots were drawn Tuesday night.

But, as owners of the 18th overall pick in the 2022 draft, the team has a vested interest in the happenings of this week’s combine – whether they ultimately decide to make or trade the selection.

“We’ve got to explore everything,” Bulls executive vice present Artūras Karnišovas said in his end-of-season exit interview when asked if he would explore trading further future draft capital after unloading first-round picks in 2021, 2023 and 2025 in deals for Nikola Vučević and DeMar DeRozan.

“The way I allow things to settle for the draft is you get a better feel a week or two before the draft, because you’re going through workouts and interviews. You get a better feel. Then obviously the prep for free agency is going “at at the same time. Once it gets closer we’ll probably have a better idea, but right now it’s hard to say in terms of what kind of opportunities we’re going to have.”

In the event the Bulls keep the pick, here is a roundup of who draft experts currently project the team to target:

ESPN: Jeremy Sochan, F, Baylor:

Front court depth is a need this offseason, and Sochan is a 6-foot-9 forward with the ability to defend the rim and perimeter. He averaged 6.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks in 25.1 minutes per game during his freshman season at Baylor, taking home the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year honors. Plus, he turns 19 on Friday, meaning there remains plenty of room to grow.

The Ringer: Malaki Branham, G, Ohio State:

Some Bulls fans may shudder at the idea of ​​adding another guard to an already-packed back court. But you can never have enough shot-creators, and Branham, a 6-foot-5 off-guard out of Ohio State who turned 19 last week, is certainly that.

Branham averaged 13.7 points – second on the Buckeyes to EJ Liddell – as a freshman on 59.6 percent true shooting: 53 percent from inside the arc, 41.6 percent from 3-point range (2.8 attempts), 83.3 percent from the free-throw line. Many of those looks came via self-created midrange jumpers, although he has spot-up potential as well. And, averaging 17 points in 22 games after Jan. 1, his production improved as the season went along, leading to Big 10 Rookie of the Year honors.

The Athletic: Tari Eason, F, LSU:

Eason is a nuclear athlete and was incredibly productive at the collegiate level, particularly in his sophomore season at LSU. The 6-foot-8, now-21-year-old forward averaged 16.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks in the 2021-22 season, earning himself All-ACC and ACC Sixth Man of the Year honors.

Those defensive stats speak to a preternatural ability to wreak havoc on and off the ball. Offensively, he’s a strong finisher and physical driver that averaged 5.7 free-throw attempts and also flashed some development in his outside shot (35.9 percent from 3-point land on 2.4 attempts per game as a sophomore). He could be just what the doctor ordered for a Bulls front line in need of defense and athleticism.

Sports Illustrated: Patrick Baldwin Jr., F, Milwaukee:

Baldwin, 19, was a top-five recruit coming out of high school, at one point in the same area code as this draft’s consensus top-three picks: Chet Holmgren (No. 1), Paolo Banchero (No. 4) and Jabari Smith (No. 6).

So, what happened since to drag his projection into the mid-to-late-first-round? Put simply, a poor freshman season at the University of Milwaukee in which he shot 34.4 percent from the field and 26.6 percent from the 3-point range. Still, Baldwin’s blend of size (6-foot-9) and scoring fluidity is intriguing, especially given the sky-high potential he showed at lower levels. SB Nation also has the Bulls plucking Baldwin at 18.

CBS Sports: Walker Kessler, C, Auburn:

The book on Kessler is simple: He’s an eraser of shots around the rim. The 7-foot-1 center and reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year led college basketball in blocks (155) and was second in blocks per game (4.6) during the 2021-22 season. He also pulled down 8.1 rebounds per night and displayed offensive ability as a roller.

While not as positionally versatile as prospects like Sochan or Eason, Kessler would certainly fortify the Bulls’ front court depth – particularly at the backup center spot – in his own way.

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