The Bulls season is currently enjoying a brief upswing, as they knocked off a pair of top Eastern Conference teams in their last two games. Jimmy Butler’s heroic 52 point night to beat the Hornets without Wade, followed by last night’s win over the (depleted) Cavaliers in Cleveland, could be seen as signs of a turnaround after the Bulls slogged through most of December.
But please do not enjoy the last two wins too much. Today, Kevin O’Connor at the Ringer dumped a bucked of cold water on Bulls Nation with the gentle reminder that, recent success aside, the Bulls are destined for a massive letdown.
O’Connor began with a critique of the job Fred Hoiberg has done implementing the fast, pass-happy offense that intrigued Bulls management at Iowa State. After nearly a season and a half’s worth of time to impose his system on the team, the Bulls rank well below league average in pace, assist percentage, assists-turnover ratio, and dead last in three point attempts and percentage.
O’Connor dug through some interesting statistics to really point out how terrible the Bulls have been shooting the ball compared to the rest of the league:
“Hoiberg likes his teams to space the floor and launch 3s, but the Bulls are one of the most 3-point-averse teams in NBA history: Only 23.2 percent of the Bulls’ shot attempts come from behind the arc, which is 7.8 percent less than the average rate leaguewide this season. Only 13 teams in history have ever had a lower 3-point attempt rate relative to the rest of the league in their respective seasons. Hoiberg wants to play Rocketball, but he’s forced to play like the Grit ’n’ Grind Grizzlies (who, by the way, have evolved to attempt 3s at a near-average rate this season).”
The real problems with this organization go far beyond the up and down performance we’ve endured this season. After promising to add youth and athleticism to the roster, GarPax acquired Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, and Robin Lopez. Sure, in a vacuum, all of these moves made sense and addressed some flaw with the team, but within the context of the personnel already on the Bulls, these moves reveal that, as O’Connor puts it, “there’s no plan at any level of the organization”
The reality is that the Bulls do have a lot of young players that need opportunities to play so that management can have some clue as to what kind of team they can grow into. Doug McDermott, Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio have all been shoved aside into minor supporting roles while the alphas and their non-shooting front court shoulder most of the crunch time duties of the team. At least Rondo’s recent banishment from the rotation has given Hoiberg a chance to better evaluate MCW and Grant, while also giving Butler more opportunity to grow as a facilitator.
O’Connor revisits the draft day trade rumors that surrounded Butler and the Bulls and reveals that the Bulls were (rightly) asking for a king’s ransom from the Celtics or Timberwolves in return for their All-Star. After trading Rose right before the draft, I totally understand the interest in exploring a complete tear-down and rebuild.
But the Bulls were never really serious about moving Butler unless they felt like what they got in return would be enough to re-start another glorious run of playoff appearances. Here’s O’Connor again:
“Based on what we know, it seems the goal was to sustain a competitive team with or without Butler. That became even more of a priority after they decided to retain Butler, since they made the decision to trade Rose (Butler said one of them had to go) and then they signed Rondo and Wade (Butler recruited Wade). The moves were half measures. It kept them floating in the middle and didn’t bring them any closer to contention. That was obvious from the jump. Maybe that was the goal for management: make moves to keep Butler happy in Chicago, even though they must’ve known they had no shot of building a winner through 2016 free agency.
What’s impossible to understand is this: The front office essentially committed to Butler by trading Rose, but chose not to add additional pieces that fit around their franchise player or fit Hoiberg’s system. The team’s decision to drag aging veterans into their starting lineup this season runs contrary to how they’ve bolstered their rotation since 2013, largely through the draft. Their picks have been hit-and-miss like any other team, but all of their choices — at least potentially — make sense in the context of Hoiberg’s offense and as pieces surrounding Butler.”
That’s right boys and girls, the Bulls front office willingly adopted the shrug emoji as their team building strategy. They hired a coach who loves pace and threes and gave him slow, ball dominant veterans allergic to the long ball. They promised a youth movement, but have done their best to make sure that youth is unable to move.
The GarPax dream team is the luckiest front office in league history. They somehow managed to win the Rose lottery with just a 1.8% chance of leapfrogging the field, and have remained employed up until now because the last pick of the first round in 2011 has willed his way into becoming a top player in the league. Despite their good fortune, the Bulls have committed themselves to a roster with no upside in the near or long term future, and seem perfectly content to keep it that way.