The State of the Bulls

Published by Axel on 12th November - 23:21 (CET)
Being a Bulls fan has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride in recent years. When Thibs arrived in 2010 he transformed the team to a low paced, high effort, high rebounding team with the best defense in the league. In '10 - '11, the Bulls won 62 games. Tom Thibodeau won the NBA Coach of the Year Award, Derrick Rose became league MVP and Gar Forman won the Executive of the Year Award for bringing in Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Ömer Asik and the rest of the bench mob in a free agency where Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were lost to the Heat.

When the Bulls repeatedly ended up with a first seed in '11 - '12, giving them a league best .757 winning percentage over the first two seasons with the new team, it really felt like there was something special going on. You all know the story by know, with Derrick and other key players going down over the next years things went south. In '15 - '16 it was clear that the team needed a minor rebuild. What most of us didn't expect was the rebuild would revolve around Jimmy Butler instead of hometown hero Derrick Rose.
Many of us were ready to join the lynch mob and head out for GarPax when news broke about the trade of Rose and release of Noah.

Then came the signings of Chicago native Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The latter whom in recent years have had such a bad reputation that almost no team wanted to sign him even though he ended up with a league high 11.7 assists per game in 15 - 16.

Wow... Did not see that coming! After claiming a need to get younger and more athletic it just seemed weird to bring in Wade, Rondo and Lopez as center pieces. And then Michael Carter-Williams. Weak three point shooters, three of them quite ball demanding. Was that really going to be a great fit for the high paced, ball moving system Fred Hoiberg wants to run? Lots of naysayers wondered where the spacing was going to come from, if "the three alphas" could coexist and how long it was going to take for Rondo to make coach Hoiberg cry. But the contracts were short and maybe it could become an entertaining season with some new star power. Perhaps even showing some effort and making the playoffs this time?

Well, the start of the season was great, winning the first three games with a great three point field goal percentage and league high rebounding numbers. Before the season even began Jimmy Butler claimed that scoring the ball would be the easy part with this team, it's the defense that will need the most work. Going down to a 3 - 3 after three straight losses against the Celtics, Knicks and Pacers, it became clear that Butler was right. The Bulls are currently sitting on a 5 - 4 record, but they allow league high numbers in free throw attempts and free throws made. The defensive struggles remain but the upside of the season have been the performances of Butler and Wade.

Wade is averaging 17.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.4 blocks in 29 minutes per game.
In Miami, 9.0% of the shots Dwyane Wade took were three pointers. He hit 28.4% of them. To this point in Chicago, 25.4% of Wade's shots have been threes. He's making 37.5% of them. That's some difference.
Butler once again seems to have done his work during the summer and is currently averaging 22.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.9 steals in 33 minutes per game while shooting 48% from the field and 44.1% from deep. But Butler and Wade won't be able to carry the team by themselves for much longer.

When Rajon Rondo arrived in the summer nobody knew what to expect. He said all the right things in media the first weeks and quickly impressed both staff and players in Chicago with his professionalism, even asking to join the young guns for summer league, something very rarely seen by veterans. Joining coach Hoiberg and the training staff on their video sessions. Inviting the whole team, including staff to dinner for team building. Staying late in practice, again to mentor the younger guys, even getting praised for his leadership by veterans like Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. Everything pointed towards a bit of changed Rondo. But as Rondo himself phrased it, perhaps it's just about perception.

His performance on the court hasn't been equally impressive as he's averaging a modest 6.7 assists to go along with 5.4 rebounds and 8.4 points per game. He needs to get his passing game on. A player in a permanent shooting slump in yet another shooting slump is bad. 36.5% from the field-bad.
I guess that the only way to get out of a slump is to shoot but please no more forced shots late in the clock.
Chicago's offense often starts with a sideline hand off from the point guard to the wing, who then hands off to the a trailing big. This is usually followed by reversing back to the top to look for a pick and roll before attacking. When the pick and roll doesn't come quickly the offense tends to get a bit stagnant.
In recent years when the ball has been in the play makers hand with the clock going down it has often been Derrick Rose. He can bail you out, but Rondo is not the same. These kind of plays really need to be avoided. They need to get more easy baskets in transition before things start to look ugly.

Nikola Mirotić hasn't looked very good at all. If a stretch four who's unable to guard other fours doesn't make his shots he's not very useful. And Mirotić is currently averaging 29.2% from three. If things don't get better soon I wonder if it's not time to pull the plug on this project and make a trade while the value is fairly high? Isaiah Canaan is sharing some similar problems. He's not very useful in the games where his shot if off, and that's way too often. I kind of sort of hope that MCW gets healthy fast.

Meanwhile Bobby Portis is leading the team in field goal percentage, but I'm not sure that qualifies as he's only attempted 28 shots up to this point. What I am sure about is that he sure as hell does not qualify to play over one of the largest specimen in the NBA - Cristiano Felício. His presence have been missed in some of those losses. It was especially apparent against Dwight Howard and the Hawks. Lopez and Gibson could use some rest in such games, even though they both have been doing their part this season.

Rookies Paul Zipser and Denzel Valentine haven't gotten many opportunities at all, despite some good performances in the summer league. With a team this deep they probably shouldn't expect to either.
Someone who should be getting much more opportunities is Doug McDermott. He's averaging 11.3 points per game while shooting 53% from the field and it starting to resemble his fellow Creighton attendee Kyle Korver a bit. This is one of the best shooters in college history, he should be making much more than one three pointer per game. He needs to get out of the corner. I don't know if it's Hoiberg who's sticking him there or if it's McDermott who doesn't want to move off-ball, but it needs to change!

A win in tonight's game against the Wizards without John Wall could be crucial as the team heads out for the annual "Circus Trip" after that game. The Circus trip is a tradition that the Bulls share with the Blackhawks of the NHL. Every year the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus takes over the United Center for two weeks, forcing both teams to go on extended road trips. This year's Circus Trip include games against the Blazers, Jazz, Clippers, Lakers, Nuggets and 76ers before going home again to face the Lakers and the Cavs. That's a very tough schedule...

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