Chicago Bulls

Julian Phillips' athleticism, potential intrigued Bulls

Tennessee freshman projects to make defensive impact with length, active hands and leaping ability

NBC Universal, Inc.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

After all the workouts and interviews, scouting and background research, NBA Draft night is fairly straightforward.

If a team has a player valued higher on their draft board than to where he has fallen, you try to trade up---or, as was the case for the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night, into the draft---to acquire that player.

So who is Julian Phillips? And what did the Bulls see in him to motivate them to send the Washington Wizards future second-round picks for his draft rights at the 35th pick?

Executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas called the 6-foot-8-inch Phillips “one of the best athletes in the draft.” And his 43-inch vertical leap, the highest posted at last month’s NBA Draft Combine, speaks to that.

But he’s also very raw offensively, to which his 24 percent 3-point shooting on 1.4 attempts per game in his lone season at Tennessee attests.

“He can step in right now and probably can defend on our level,” Karnisovas said. “He has a lot of things to obviously improve. He’s very young, but he’s very talented.”

Phillips owns a 7-foot wingspan, so he projects to be a switchable wing defender that is so essential in today’s offensive-minded NBA. He also averaged 0.6 steals in 24.1 minutes over 32 games with a 1.6 percent steal rate, a nod to his length and active hands.

One NBA scout from another team who watched Phillips twice in college told NBC Sports Chicago that his athleticism and defensive mindset alone project him to eventually be a rotation player.

Here’s what Tennessee coach Rick Barnes told local beat writers about Phillips last season: “His time here, it’s been incredible, almost like a dream to coach him. . . . There’s no sense of entitlement on his part at all.

“He’s got a wealth of talent. But it’s his overall mindset that is really so much fun to be around. He really is about all the right things and wanting to get better.”

With NBA Summer League and the Bulls’ training camp for those games starting shortly, Phillips’ coachability will immediately come into play.

Second-round picks aren’t always roster locks. But as was the case with guard Ayo Dosunmu in 2021, Phillips appears to have staying power depending on how the rest of the Bulls’ offseason plays out.

For starters, general manager Marc Eversley alluded to his similarities to Derrick Jones Jr., who declined his player option, although Karnisovas didn’t completely rule out Jones Jr.’s return.

But Phillips projecting to be a cheaper version of Jones Jr. could be essential for a team that has grand designs in free agency to address shooting and the point-guard position, while also retaining Nikola Vucevic, Coby White and Dosunmu.

Phillips is a project. But the Bulls saw enough in his potential to trade into Thursday’s draft to acquire him.

Click here to follow the Bulls Talk Podcast.

Contact Us