The Chicago Bulls are not fortunate enough to enter the summer with just one problem. As Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol prepare for free agency, the future of the front court is in flux. As Mike Dunleavy gets another year older, Tony Snell grows another year closer to hopelessness and Doug McDermott continues to provide more questions than answers, the Bulls have to figure out what they're doing on the wing. It's a team that has to fix a defense that ranked No. 24 in efficiency after Jan. 1 while also boosting an offense that posted the fifth lowest true shooting percentage in the NBA.
And yet, none of that qualifies as the Bulls' biggest problem. Before the Bulls can determine who they are and what they want to be, they must decide if the backcourt of the present can also be their backcourt of the future.
For most of last season, the pairing of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler looked untenable. They posted a -3.9 net rating while playing the second most minutes of any two-man combination on the team. They both shined on isolations (.91 PPP for Butler, .82 for Rose) but struggled to get each other involved. Together, they attempted 355 three-pointers and made them only at a 30.4 percent clip.
That type of production from the starting backcourt is not good enough for any team with real aspirations, and it's definitely not good enough for a team that had 48 percent of last year's salary cap tied up in those two players. Butler is locked up through at least 2019, but there have been plenty of trade rumors. Rose is entering the final season of his post-MVP contract, one that pays him $21.3 million before he enters the open market.
I think I speak for all Bulls fans when I say I badly want Jimmy and Derrick to work. The unfortunate reality of it is that it might not. That's how we've arrived at a point this summer where K.C. Johnson is writing that the Bulls' biggest priority should be trading one of them, and how, for the second year in a row, the Bulls are said to be targeting a point guard in the draft.
One would think that two guards as physically gifted as Rose and Butler could find a way to make things work even with their shooting troubles. That hasn't been the case. If last season taught us anything, it's that the pieces have to fit and everyone needs to accept their role. If the Bulls really are zeroing in on a point guard, the first thing they need to figure out is if Jimmy Butler is still part of the long-term plan. If so, then it's: how does this player fit with Butler?
Fortunately for the Bulls, there one point guard in the 2016 NBA Draft that feels like an ideal fit next to Butler. That would be Vanderbilt's Wade Baldwin IV, a player the Bulls have to hope is still around at No. 14.
The good (watch DraftExpress on Baldwin's strengths)
The first thing everyone brings up about Wade Baldwin is his wingspan. Rightfully so.
Baldwin measured at 6'4, 202 pounds with a 6'11.25 wingspan at the draft combine. That makes him one of the longest point guards the league has ever seen. As the Warriors' defense shines with long defenders who are able to guard multiple positions, Baldwin's physical profile makes him seem like a perfect point guard for the way the NBA is trending.
Baldwin's length would let him switch any pick-and-roll defensively. On the other end, it'll help him shoot over the top of smaller defenders. Wade Baldwin is a pretty good shooter, too.
Baldwin made 40.6 percent of his threes as a sophomore on 3.1 attempts per game. As a freshman he made 43.9 percent on 2.8 attempts per game. He isn't a high volume shooter by any means, but he's certainly a capable one. The ability to spot-up around Butler's drives has to be appealing to the Bulls. Baldwin is uniquely suited for a catch-and-shoot role on offense for a team that desperately needs a player like that in the backcourt.
Baldwin also proved to be a solid assist man as a sophomore. He posted a 33.6 assist rate, which ranked No. 35 in the country. That's much better than Demetrius Jackson (25.1) or Dejounte Murray (25.7) but lower than Denzel Valentine (45.8), Kris Dunn (41.8) and Tyler Ulis (34.3).
If you're looking for a comp, someone like George Hill or Patrick Beverley fits. In a world where the Bulls are letting Jimmy Butler play like James Harden, that type of player is even more valuable. Point guards rarely get the 3-&-D tag, but that's exactly what Baldwin projects as. While that sounds like a great thing, there is a flip side to that coin.
When you think about great NBA point guards, you think about players who can break down the opposing defense off the dribble at will. To this point, Wade Baldwin IV isn't that type of point guard.
In a halfcourt set, Baldwin won't be a one-man shot creator in the same way the league's best point guards can be. He doesn't have the quickest first step or great leaping ability. His biggest red flag might be his struggles to convert at the rim, where he only finished 38 percent of his attempts, according to DraftExpress. That ranked in the ninth percentile of college basketball last season. Not great.
Baldwin's turnovers also have to be a bit of a concern. He 19.7 turnover rate is slightly lower than Kris Dunn's (20.7), but Ulis (13%), Jackson (15.3%) and Valentine (17%) were far better at taking care of the ball.
To put it simply: Baldwin is unlikely to be the type of player who attracts multiple defenders on his forays to the rim. To me, that makes him something of a low ceiling point guard. The Bulls have to determine if his high floor makes up for that with the No. 14 pick in what's considered a relatively weak lottery crop.
Butler's penchant for isolations were a major source of frustration throughout last season. It started when he reportedly asked Hoiberg to put in Thibodeau-era sets and ultimately devolved into what many saw as a sign of his unwillingness to buy into his new coach's offense.
The thing is, Butler was one of the better high-usage isolation scorers in the NBA. For players with at least 120 isolation possessions, Butler ranked No. 15 in points per possession. All that while Rose was junking up the spacing next to him (and Butler was doing the same for his drives). It makes you wonder how effective Butler could be with a better spot up shooter next to him, especially when that player also projects as a potentially elite defender how should be long enough to guard four positions.
Given the strides Butler also made as a creator last season, raising his assists per 36 from 3.0 in his breakout season of 2015 to 4.7 last year, letting him initiate the offense isn't such a bad idea. If that happens, someone like Baldwin would make for a logical backcourt partner.
The other nice thing about Baldwin? If Rose enjoys a breakout season in a contract year, Baldwin's size and ability as a shooter means the Bulls could play the two of them together. This is potentially someone who could play off the ball next to Rose or replace him as the starting point guard long term should Rose leave via free agency.
Wade Baldwin would be a great fit for the Bulls. In a league that values length and shooting, he looks like a great fit for a lot of teams. It now seems like there's a decent chance he gets picked before No. 14. If he's still on the board for the Bulls selection, it would be hard to pass on him.