If the Chicago Bulls have specialized in anything over the last half decade, it’s emitting a false sense of hope that, this year, things might finally work out. The best example of this is also the most recent, when the Bulls held down the No. 2 seed in the East at 22-12 on Jan. 7 last season before an embarassing collapse resulted in missing the playoffs.
It’s not just a one-year trend, either. The Bulls have hit the under on Vegas’ preseason line each of the last four years. This season’s over/under of 38.5 wins seemed downright disrespectful until you realized the best statistical projection systems in the sport saw them as even worse than that. There were real reasons to believe this would be a trainwreck.
Just 15 games into the new season, it doesn’t feel too early to say the Bulls are on their way to proving everyone wrong. Even after a frustrating loss in Denver on Tuesday, the Bulls are 9-6 with the fourth best point differential in the league at +5.7. They are No. 9 in offensive efficiency and No. 14 in defensive efficiency with the NBA’s sixth best net rating.
The Bulls have proven they can blow teams out and win on the road. They’ve proven they can build an above-average offense even with personnel that goes against the core philosophies that got Fred Hoiberg hired. They’ve also proven they have some fight in them, which is perhaps the most encouraging thing after the way the last two seasons ended.
Of course, Bulls fans have been excited in November before only to be disappointed later. Will this season be different? Here’s three reasons why it can be.
The rebounding is not a mirage
The Bulls were always a great rebounding team under Tom Thibodeau. They were No. 1 in rebound rate twice during Thibodeau’s five years and never finished lower than No. 9. That started to change last year, when the Bulls finished No. 12 in rebound rate in Hoiberg’s debut season.
If there’s one thing we can say definitively about this year’s team, it’s that they’re once again a force on the glass. The Bulls are lapping the field with a 30.7 offensive rebound rate (No. 2 Denver is 28.6) and are No. 2 in the league overall.
The Bulls dominated the boards last night, 56-37. I love this quote from Larry Nance Jr: pic.twitter.com/uZCDI0Lurn— ChicagoBullseye Fred (@cbefred) November 21, 2016
That delightful quote came after the Bulls stomped the Lakers 56-37 on the glass on Sunday. Pau Gasol’s impressive dedication to never boxing out anyone is long gone. Now every member of the rotation rebounds hard except for Doug McDermott and Isaiah Cannan. This is something the Bulls can count on every game.
I have a theory on the exact moment Jimmy Butler made the leap. It was in the preseason before the start of Butler’s first All-Star campaign in 2014-15. The Bulls were down 2 against the Hawks with 1.5 seconds left when Butler did this:
“THEY SHOULD CALL HIM JIMMY JORDAN BECAUSE HE LOOKED LIKE MICHAEL JORDAN TONIGHT.”
It’s unbelievable how much better Jimmy has been able to get every year. The jump from 2013-14 to 2014-15 was the most significant, when he bumped his scoring average from 13.1 to 20.0 and his field goal percentage from 39.7 to 46.2. Last year he made major strides a playmaker, moving his assist rate from 11.4 (in ‘13-14) to 14.1 to 21.4.
This year, it’s everything. His true shooting percentage is a ridiculous 62.5 (it was 56.2 last year). His PER is up to 29 after back-to-back years at 21.3. He’s also getting to the line more than ever, and he was always one of the best in the league at that as it was:
Jimmy Butler’s spike in free throw attempts is off the charts this year. Getting to the line 9.4x per 36 this year, 6.9x per 36 last year.— Sean Highkin (@highkin) November 21, 2016
It feels like the only thing we’re missing right now are some half-baked MJ comparisons.
Here’s a take: maybe it was fair to reason the Bulls wouldn’t be good this year. But what’s now looking more clear is that a team with Jimmy Butler can’t be bad.
The man is a legit star and maybe the second best player in the East. Not trading him for Kris Dunn is the best move the front office has ever made.
The Wade effect
When did you realize this Bulls team was not going to be total trash? I remember the exact moment for me:
Dougie & Jimmy turning up with DWade at Gabby Union's birthday party. Bulls winning the title this year. pic.twitter.com/SNoiJdv8Dm— Nillz (@TheBullsShow) October 30, 2016
Second game of the year, Bulls wreck the Pacers at home. Afterwards, Wade invites the whole team to the club for his wife’s birthday. We’ve got MCW and Isaiah Cannan vibing in the background. We’ve got Doug doing the classic Drunk White Guy act by singing in Jimmy’s ear. We even had Chance the Rapper shouting the words to his own song:
Chance the Rapper + Dwyane Wade + NO PROBLEMS— Alysha Tsuji (@AlyshaTsuji) October 30, 2016
: mrdwyanewade pic.twitter.com/Wtfa2hLhIJ
Make Gabrielle Union’s birthday an official Chicago holiday, because this changed everything. This is my No. 1 Bulls moment since D. Rose’s stone-faced game-winner against the Cavs in the playoffs and I do not regret admitting that publicly.
Wade’s leadership has been felt away from the club, too, here’s Hoiberg after the Jazz game:
"... We messed up a coverage late in the game and Wade jumped them, he absolutely jumped them. He said, 'We talked about that for 10 minutes at shootaround today, that can't happen.' That stuff's huge. That's going to carry over into the next game the rest of the season. So when you have a group of guys that can sit there and look each other in the eye and hold each other accountable, it goes a long way."
The difference between Wade and Pau in terms of being a healthy veteran presence is .... stark. No shots at Pau who I’m sure is a nice guy, but D. Wade is just the man. I was skeptical when they signed him, but I’m a full believer now. Having him around has been a huge help for this team.
Let’s get to some other stuff, This Week in the Bulls-style.
Do not confuse Harvey Grant’s son with Harvey Grant’s other son
I’ve fully enjoyed the Jerian Grant experience so far in small part because of this burn.
On loop forever.
Miss you, Thibs.
D. Rose invites himself to Carmelo’s for Thanksgiving.
"I just asked where his family's (going) and asked if it was cool if I came over. He said yeah so I don't think I have to bring anything but an appetite. Yeah, that's the only thing I have to bring right now."
I don't think I have to bring anything but an appetite.
Rondo acting a fool
Man, Rondo was awful in the last two minutes against Denver. This is not the first time we’ve seen that happen with the game on the line. On the plus side, this possession was so brutal it remind me of one of the funniest plays in Bulls history:
Rondo screaming for Big Macs
If you don’t think I’m embedding this video every week you don’t know me very well.
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