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Surrounding Jimmy Butler with shooters works, chapter 853

It’s necessity, not Hoiball

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Back when Dwyane Wade was ruled out for the season, it wasn’t an uncommon belief that the team may be better off without him. Wade, though far from the team’s best player, had its highest usage rate. So getting those possessions out of his hands and into, if not more accomplished, more efficient and better-fitting players, could improve the shooting, spacing, and ball-movement.

It’s even better than that when you just look at the starters, as Mark Karantzoulis did at his new blog BullsHQ:

In limited minutes (73), a five-man combination of Rondo, Butler, Zipser, Mirotic and Lopez is scoring 139.1 points per 100 possessions whilst holding opponents to 100.7 points. This is an insanely favorable proposition for the Bulls, and it’s dominance has been visible when the unit has shared the floor together.

Though the sample size is small, we shouldn’t be surprised that this lineup has had some success. In a very broad sense, only one weak defender exists in the unit (Rondo). There are two capable three-point shooters (Mirotic, Zipser) and three shot creators (Rondo, Butler, Mirotic). With Lopez’s manning the middle, rebounding efficiency is still present, particularly offensively. Relative to the five-man units the Bulls have played, there’s also a hint of athleticism.

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In effect, the Bulls have replaced Wade and Gibson with two 3&D options — or at least two players capable of imitating such a role for stretches. In doing so, Butler has more lanes to operate in, which has enabled a better balance between Butler the scorer and facilitator.

Now, it certainly helps that both Zipser and Mirotic are hitting their threes at a solid rate, Niko in his usual March bonanza. And that Rajon Rondo went from being the goddamned worst to being serviceable (that’s a whole ‘nother topic).

But it also shows, yet again, that Bulls management can’t get out of their own way when it comes to building around a superstar. Jimmy Butler, though looking increasingly hobbled, has had another flourish now that Wade is out of the way, especially in drawing double-teams and creating assist opportunities. Of course, if the rest of the team can’t hit shots (it’s happened, and will again) then those are merely opportunities and not actual assists, but overall you can at least see the formation of a workable NBA offense.

Bulls management will always take opportunity to whine about how difficult their jobs are, but to accomplish their very modest goal of being ‘competitive’, it was always this: get Butler shooters, including increasing the role for Nikola Mirotic, and good things can happen. Instead it was acquiring old ‘names’ who didn’t fit, holding on to Taj Gibson until he was given away, and having a dummy coach DNP Niko at a juncture that got the team out of the playoff race.

A ‘race’ they’re now back in, behind a philosophy that could’ve been implemented all season. Gar’s plan is working!