It’s not quite Thanksgiving, but Artūras Karnišovas has a full plate of responsibilities to parse through before the start of the 2020-21 NBA season.
First up is the Nov. 18 draft. Karnišovas has emphatically said that, with the Bulls’ No. 4 overall pick, he’ll pursue the best talent available. Might that philosophy end up aligning with the team’s greatest positional need — a building-block, defensive-minded wing?
It’s certainly possible. On a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday, Auburn’s Isaac Okoro revealed that he’s interviewed with — but not worked out for — the Bulls.
Okoro also said he’s worked out for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who draft first overall, the Golden State Warriors, who pick No. 2 and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who pick No. 5. He’s interviewed with the Atlanta Hawks (No. 6), New York Knicks (No. 8), Washington Wizards (No. 9) Phoenix Suns (No. 10) and San Antonio Spurs (No. 11). In a coronavirus-affected predraft process, teams are afforded in-person meetings with just 10 prospects (and up to two visits per prospect).
That should give some idea of Okoro’s draft range. He’s widely lauded as the preeminent perimeter defender in the class and averaged 12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and nearly a steal and a block each in his freshman year at Auburn. He turns 20 in January.
“I feel like I could fit in with the Bulls by just bringing a winning culture that I have and also just coming in and being a two-way player,” Okoro said on the Zoom call. “Stopping the [other team’s best] player and also going out on the offensive end and contributing on that end.”
No one questions Okoro’s motor, athleticism or NBA readiness — he reportedly stands 6-foot-6 with a 6-8.5 wingspan, weighs in around 225 pounds and draws praise for his high IQ and competitiveness. Auburn finished the 2019-20 season 25-6, ranked No. 20 in the country and second in the SEC, so he’s been integral to a winning program.
At the offensive end, he’s already an explosive and ambidextrous finisher and a terror on the fast break. But his biggest NBA swing skill will be his ability to space the floor, having hit just 28.6 percent of his 3s, 16 percent of his 2-point jump shots (per Hoop-Math) and 67.2 percent of his free throws his freshman year.
“I would say during the college season it was probably like a C+,” Okoro said of his jumper. “But I feel like right now I’ve been working every day just putting up a lot of shots and I feel like right now it’s around a B+ / A.
“Just taking more time with my jump shot, just being more fluid with it. Just learning how to get the ball higher. During the college season I shot a lot of flat balls, so I’m just learning right now to shoot that high and get a higher arc on it.”
If the Bulls pluck him at No. 4, they’ll hope his outside game blossoms and, combined with already stalwart defense, elite finishing and burgeoning playmaking, he grows into the type of multi-skilled two-way wing that can jumpstart a team-build.
Asked how he’ll handle the unnaturally rapid transition to professional life for this class of rookies — training camps are scheduled to open Dec. 1 — Okoro flashed the determination that has so enamored talent evaluators.
“I’m just ready,” he said. “I’ve been mentally and physically ready all my life preparing for this day and this moment to happen.”
As are we all.