Sam: What's going on David? We've been at odds the entire draft season over two prospects, Reggie Bullock and Sergey Karasev. I get the hype with Karasev: the guy has an effortless shooting stroke and produced against men this season in the Russian League. But I just don't believe that he's as complete a player as Bullock. Now is your chance to convince me otherwise.
David: Sam, you will have to tell me what you mean by a "complete player". Offensively, complete is not a word I would use for Bullock. Is he a shooter? Yes. He rebounds well, too. Outside of that, though, I am not sure he brings much else to the table. His passing has improved each year, but as a college upperclassmen in his third year of Roy Williams' offensive system, I would hope he's pretty good by now. He can't create for himself off the dribble, and I don't think you can have him initiate offense either. As a fringe starter, 3 and D guy, I like Bullock. But he is getting old, and I see that as his upside.
Conversely, I think Karasev has a much better chance to be a "complete player", as I see it. He plays with a high basketball IQ, and both his passing and handles are ahead of Bullock's despite being two and a half years younger. He possesses just as good of a shooting stroke as Bullock's, and it might actually be better. Karasev's offensive potential is just on a different level than Bullock's at this point. Defensively, everyone wants to make a huge deal of his defensive struggles, but it seems pretty silly to me. One, he has been playing against guys who are much older than him. He is just as tall, and in fact has a larger wingspan than Bullock. His Russian coach was quick to defend his player's defense, saying he was better than people were giving him credit for.
Now, the Cavs may decide they have enough high upside guys they need to develop, and that immediate shooting off the bench from Bullock with passable defense is the priority right now. I would rather use the draft to go for talent, and perhaps use free agency and trades to find serviceable backups. What do you think? Am I giving Karasev too much credit?
Sam: I actually do think you're giving Karasev too much credit here, and Bullock not enough. But let's start with the first part of your email about Bullock.
It kind of sounds like you're telling me that a shooter with nearly unlimited range who can pass, move without the ball well, and rebound isn't a versatile offensive player? I would fully concede that Bullock isn't good at putting the ball on the deck and creating offense for himself. It's far and away his biggest weakness as a player. However, there are other ways to create for youself, and one of those ways is by getting open without the ball -- something that Bullock does very well. The NBA is always looking for offensive players who can produce without needing the ball in their hands, and that's something Bullock does exceedingly well with his quickness. I can just imagine pindown screens along the baseline by Tristan Thompson freeing Bullock from his man and getting him into open space. That kind of player is super valuable in the league, just ask Zach Lowe who wrote about it at length here.
I don't even particularly disagree with you that Karasev is a strong offensive player. Like Bullock he has an effortless shooting stroke with perfect upper body form (although I think he keeps his legs kind of stiff from what I've seen, which decreases the amount of leg strength within a shot, but that just may be a tactic to help with his balance. It certainly isn't hindering him in any way). I just believe he's going to struggle more than Bullock getting separation from defenders because he's not as athletic or quick, which I think is going to be the most important part of their successes on that end. Yeah, Karasev is probably better initiating offense and putting it on the floor, but do you think any NBA team is actually going to want him to do that? It's not a weakness of his, but it certainly isn't a strength.
I'll stop there and let you respond before we get to defense.
David: If I thought Bullock's passing would be as good at the next level as you do, then this wouldn't be a conversation. My point is that as a 22 year old comfortable in Roy Williams' system, playing against kids who were mostly younger than him, I would hope he would be as efficient as he ended up being. He had a great year, and made North Carolina's offense appreciably better. As you have pointed out North Carolina's Offensive Rating was almost 25 points higher with Bullock than without.
But he doesn't have great quickness, he can't be part of the pick and roll (though he can spot up from the wing). I also worry a bit about his quickness defensively. He won't have any trouble guarding small forwards, especially with his great strength, but I can't see him guarding very many shooting guards. I think of him as Jeff Taylor with better shooting. Now, I loved Jeff Taylor, and still do. But if you want to aim a bit higher I think you go somewhere else. Like Karasev.
You say you don't want Karasev in the position to be creating. Why not? This guy played for a good Russian team in the Olympics at the age of 18. He is a better passer than Bullock, with Draft Express calling him "extremely savvy" when distributing. He was a good scorer, yes, but everyone that sees him notes that he plays unselfish basketball and stays within himself. He could very well be a better shooter than Bullock, already shooting 85% from the free throw line at age 19. I know I am harping on his age, but that is exactly the point. He had a greater offensive role than Bullock at a much younger age and produced. There is no reason to limit his offensive potential, in my opinion.
His defensive potential is questionable, but he has great length and already weighs more than Otto Porter, with the frame to add more weight. I think his perceived lack of athleticism is overplayed. At the Nike Hoops Summit he spent a good amount of time guarding Andrew Wiggins, and did quite well. His upside makes him the choice here for me, but if you are looking purely at fit, Bullock is a wonderful option as well.
I will give you the last word.
Sam: I think that the experience that he has in Roy Williams system passing will only help his development in that regard. And I'm sure that sometime within the next two years he'll probably get comfortable passing in the Cavaliers' system. He finished second among ACC wings in assists and was tied for 10th in the conference. His passing ability is nothing to be scoffed at, and the fact that he's efficient should be respected, not thrown away. It shouldn't be a given that he is this good.
The fact that his offensive rating was 130.4 and UNC's as a team was 106.8 is absolutely incredible considering he was playing over 30 mins per game. The offense was absolutely atrocious when he left the floor, and absolutely incredible when he was on it. Here's why: according to DraftExpress, Bullock is the most efficient scoring small forward in the class at 1.11 PPP, mostly thanks to an absolutely ridiculous 1.29 PPP on catch and shoot jumpers. He also was among the best transition players in the class, averaging 1.37 PPP, which goes to show his athleticism and quickness in the open floor.
And I'm sorry, but I don't think the quarter-inch of arm length that Bullock gives up to Karasev is going to be that important to their careers. However, the amount of quickness and tenacity I see in Bullock defensively (when he wants to, it was admittedly hit or miss in college) makes me believe strongly that can defend the 3 at an above-average level, plus be adequate at defending the 2. Unless Karasev has taken the pill to magically become the world's best shot blocker of jump shots like Kyle Korver, I just really don't see how he defends at a high level in the NBA. I think he can be an adequate defender, much like Korver (god I hate that we pretty much divided this racially with our player comparisons), but I never see him becoming an above-average one like Bullock. Plus Bullock is a better rebounder and tied for third among ACC wings in steals per game. The guy is a legitimate difference maker on both sides of the floor, and I only think that his compete level is going to get higher in the pros on that side of the ball because he won't be expending as much offensive energy.
Either way this was fun. I'm sure the regular FTS commentariat will pick a winner and loser of this debate because they enjoy trolling us, but it's really not a cut and dry selection in my view. Karasev does bring a lot to the table, and at 19 years old he certainly has more upside. I just feel a lot more confident in the game that Bullock is going to bring to the table, and at 19th overall I think you're going more for a guy you know will fit into a role than you are an upside pick -- especially if Chris Grant's job may be on the line.
Maybe we'll revisit this next year after their rookie seasons and see what happened. Either way, I think we're going to do this type of format a lot more often with free agency coming up and positional battles eventually happening on the horizon.