NBA Draft: It’s not a Finals, but it’s a big exam

It’s difficult to attach a letter grade to the Arturas Karnisovas drafting era.

The Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations seemingly hit a home run by keeping Illinois star Ayo Dosunmu in his backyard with some second-round thievery last summer, while the jury is still out on Patrick Williams carrying the burden of being the No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 draft.

Then there was that sneaky draft-and-stash second-round pick in that same ’20 class: Marko Simonovic, who has put up some stellar numbers. . . for the Windy City Bulls of the G League.

Let’s play it safe and call it a B-minus.

The real test comes on Thursday. Karnisovas & Co. are drafting in the land of mediocrity — that place where a team is just good enough to make the playoffs but not a threat to go deep.

It’s the place where an organization can gamble on a Goga Bitadze, while a Matisse Thybulle falls just out of reach.

Picking, and hitting, at No. 18 is a testament to the front office and the trust it has in the scouting department, which is still trying to establish where it fits in the NBA drafting hierarchy. This year’s draft will tell a lot.

Hopefully, much more than the annual “NBA Mock Draft Sure to Go Wrong by Pick No. 4.”

1.Orlando Magic

Jabari Smith, PF, Auburn

Great shooting touch at 6-10 and a willing defender in the switch game. Big man Chet Holmgren is a strong possibility, especially with the Minnesota connection he has with Jalen Suggs.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

Chet Holmgren, C, Gonzaga

His frame is still a concern, but the skills for the 7-footer are guard-like in many ways. The newest version of a “unicorn”? Holmgren very well could be.

3.Houston Rockets

Paolo Banchero, PF, Duke

The safest pick of the top three, Banchero seems to be the most NBA-ready. If he can continue to stretch the floor offensively, he could prove to be the draft’s best player.

4. Sacramento Kings

Jaden Ivey, SG, Purdue

Here’s where the draft could take a series of strange turns. It usually does with the Kings. No. 4 will be the trade-up spot for other lottery teams, especially if they covet Ivey.

5. Detroit Pistons

Keegan Murray, F, Iowa

Detroit would love to team Ivey with Cade Cunningham, but unless there’s a trade the up-and-coming Pistons can pull off, Murray is the next logical choice to fit a serious need.

6. Indiana Pacers

Bennedict Mathurin, SG/SF, Arizona

Malcolm Brogdon could be on the move, and Mathurin continued gaining momentum in his private workouts. The Pacers could play wild card on draft night.

7. Portland Trail Blazers

Shaedon Sharpe, SG, Kentucky

The understudy for Damian Lillard or the immediate replacement if “Dame Time” is moved? Either way, Sharpe is a solid piece for the Portland rebuild.

8. New Orleans Pelicans

Dyson Daniels, G/F, G League Ignite

The Pels have most of the roster under contract and hopefully a healthy Zion Williamson. Daniels is a great gamble who instantly would give them better wing defense.

9. San Antonio Spurs

Jalen Duren, C, Memphis

Jakob Poeltl could be out of San Antonio at some point this season, and Duren is a force in the paint with a 7-5 wingspan.

10.Washington Wizards

Ochai Agbaji, SG, Kansas

He defends the perimeter and can make the three. What’s not to like, especially with Bradley Beal always a rumor to be traded.

11. New York Knicks

AJ Griffin, SF, Duke

The son of former Tom Thibodeau assisting Adrian Griffin, AJ would give the Knicks three-point shooting and a player with the skills to develop at a high level defensively.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder

Johnny Davis, PG/SG, Wisconsin

With Holmgren picked, Davis gives the Thunder a versatile guard who makes players around him better. OKC also could trade out of this spot for future assets.

13. Charlotte Hornets

Jeremy Sochan, PF, Baylor

Charlotte was a punch line defensively at times, and the Baylor product excels on that side of the ball. It makes almost too much sense considering the Hornets’ draft history.

14. Cleveland Cavaliers

Malaki Branham, SF/SG, Ohio State

Collin Sexton could be out sooner than later, and Branham could develop into an upgrade because of his three-point shooting and willingness to play defense.

15. Charlotte Hornets

Mark Williams, C, Duke

Could Charlotte package Nos. 13 and 15 to move up? Safe. But if not, they grab a rim-runner in Williams whom LaMelo Ball will love in the open court.

16. Atlanta Hawks

Tari Eason, PF, LSU

John Collins could be on the move, and Eason would be an instant plug-and-play replacement because of his defensive mindset.

17. Houston Rockets

Ousmane Dieng, SF/PF, NZ Breakers

A lot of raw skill and a pick that could be a homer with a few seasons of development. The rebuilding Rockets can afford the gamble.

18. BULLS

EJ Liddell, PF, Ohio State

The jumper continued improving, he was reportedly impressive in his workout with the Bulls and he plays with physicality and a high motor. Patrick Williams needs a push.

19. Minnesota Timberwolves

Walker Kessler, C, Auburn

With Karl-Anthony Towns continuing to want to play like a little big man, Kessler would give Minnesota a willing rim protector.

20. San Antonio Spurs

Jalen Williams, SG/SF, Santa Clara

Few have been as aided by the pre-draft process as Williams, who could emerge as a steal at No. 20 because of his potential to be an elite two-way player on the wing.

21. Denver Nuggets

Blake Wesley, SG, Notre Dame

Another athletic cutter for playmaking maestro Nikola Jokic to take advantage of? Absolutely.

22. Memphis Grizzlies

Kennedy Chandler, PG, Tennessee

Tyus Jones could be on the move, and the speedy Chandler would be a great fit coming off the bench, especially in pick-and-roll.

23.Philadelphia 76ers

Jaden Hardy, SG, G League Ignite

The ego is still bigger than the game for Hardy, but he has top-20 talent that just needs to be harnessed.

24. Milwaukee Bucks

Nikola Jovic, SF, Serbia

For the team that already has almost everything, here’s a prospect who could develop into the best international player in the draft.

25. San Antonio Spurs

Ty Ty Washington, PG, Kentucky

The build-out continues as the Spurs land the secondary ball-handler for Dejounte Murray and the point guard with the second unit.

26. Houston Rockets

MarJon Beauchamp, SF, G League Ignite

His inconsistent jumper is an issue, but Beauchamp’s motor and athleticism fit nicely with a young roster looking for an identity.

27. Miami Heat

Dalen Terry, SF, AZ

Another winner in the pre-draft circuit, Terry is a perfect fit for “Heat Culture” and has the ability to outplay his talent with effort and attitude.

28. Golden State Warriors

Caleb Houstan, SF, Michigan

A first-round sure thing now turned enigma, Houstan could be a steal or simply flame out. The Warriors can afford the gamble.

29. Memphis Grizzlies

Jake LaRavia, F, Wake Forest

A “Jake” of all trades, master of none, La-Ravia brings a smart presence to both sides of the ball.

30. Denver Nuggets

Kendall Brown, SF, Baylor

“Joker” & Co. could use some more athleticism off the bench, and Brown checks a lot of those boxes on both ends.

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