The Bulls biggest need is no longer PG

I started this as a comment, but figured it'd be good to reformat it a bit differently.

Everyone always wants to fight the last war.

Going into the season with Coby White as the "starting PG" and Sato as the "backup PG" was extreme folly. This was especially true when the biggest goal was to learn about and develop guys who needed to play with a quality PG (Lauri, Carter, Gafford to some extent Pat) to get a good evaluation of them, just by the nature of their game and position.

Without debating whether it’s better or worse, our strategic situation now is a lot different. Carter and Gafford are gone. Lauri is almost certainly going to be gone. Vooch is here, and he might literally be the second best "point center" in history behind Jokic. Thad is also capable of playing like that. Zach is a ball dominant guy and while there’s gains to be had by having him off the ball more (think about how the Suns have blossomed with Paul), what I’m saying is the need for a "traditional" PG is substantially less than it was at the beginning of the year. The fixation we have now on Coby and on getting "a legit PG" is somewhat OBE.

That’s one issue.

The second issue is that we need to understand how much more important offense is than defense.

One way to look at this is the spread in ratings on both ends of the court. The standard deviation of teams’ defensive ratings relative to league average is the lowest it’s been since the 1984-85 season, while the standard deviation in offensive ratings is the second highest we’ve seen since 2007-08. That’s one way of showing that offense is not just winning the battle with defense but also controlling it.

Another way to show that is the correlation between a team’s defensive rating and its overall win percentage (.546). That’s the lowest it’s been since 1985-86. Meanwhile, there’s a far stronger correlation between a team’s offensive rating and its win percentage (.848). In general, offense tends to relate better to winning games than defense in the NBA. Typically, the two figures are much closer together than we see now.

This is from ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton, and it’s been obviously true for the Bulls.

It’s not that defense doesn’t matter at all, but offense matters a lot more, and the Bulls’ worst stretches of the season have clearly been when they struggled on offense because they were missing guys (obviously Zach) or playing guys a lot of offense with only 3 or 4 players because having Arci, Sato, and at times Pat out there is typically close to not having a player on the floor at all.

Combine these two issues together and what I see as that PG is no longer the Bulls biggest problem. It’s not that I have "Coby earmarked as a starter" or am particularly high on him, but I take these two facts (the Bulls declining need for "traditional PG" play and the primacy of offense) and it underscores what we’ve seen we played supposed "Defense 1st" guys like Sato. It’s a complete dead end as far as developing what the team can do. Even if he’s a better defensive option, playing 4 on 5 offense is a non-starter. Even with Zach and Vooch. You need to be Nets or Lakers level talent to pull that off, and we’re obviously not.

Put simply, Coby represents an offensive floor. If you want to replace him, fine, but the replacement has to be someone like Ball, who's at least a comparable offensive player (I'm not actually sure he's a better offensive player... he's got some skills that are better but some that are obviously worse than Coby's). But the thing is, that's a pretty marginal upgrade offensively. You're not moving the needle on offense and while you're improving the defense, and that's good, we know that perimeter defense is the least impactful area we could improve in.

That means that I absolutely wouldn't add anyone who's an offensive non-entity. No Justice Winslow or Derrick Jones Jr.

Likewise, you can't hope we improve by adding guys who have the same flaws and similar strengths as Coby. I don't see how Tim Hardaway Jr is an upgrade over Coby. Hardaway's always played small and been an at best adequate defender. There's no path forward with him and Zach on the wings. At least with Coby you can conceivably play them at the 1 and 2.

We need to think carefully and make a real improvement on both sides of the ball.

(In that way, it's similar to looking at Vooch as an all-star center. The distance between all-star center and decent center is pretty small right now. On the other hand, the distance between all-star wing and decent wing is huge. Thus an all-star wing is worth way more than an all-star center.


So let’s apply that to what we’d want the Bulls to look like.

1. Offense is most important, and our area of biggest single weakness there is obviously Patrick Williams. I love his potential, but I don't think this is even debatable. And getting the kind of improvement we'd need out of him would be almost unprecedented. He's a multi-tool player on offense who's being molded in a way to only make use of the weakest of those tools, which is his spot up shooting. It's the weakest of those tools because of his slow as Christmas release.

2. Defensively, we need help everywhere, and the sort of guys who would be the biggest help defensively are super long, athletic forwards who can defend most any position. Again, this describes what we want Patrick Williams to be. But not what he is at age 19 (or will be at age 20 or 21).

Through no fault of his own, just his age, inexperience, and tentativeness, he is the obvious weak link on both sides of the ball. As a simple exercise, consider which lineup wins more:

  1. Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, Daniel Theis, Nikola Vucevic
  2. Coby White, Zach LaVine, OG Anuoby, Daniel Theis, Nikola Vucevic

I think it's obviously 2 and it's not even close.

Here's their Lebron Ratings:
  1. Lonzo Ball (1.4), Zach LaVine (1.1), Patrick Williams (-3.4), Daniel Theis (1.5), Nikola Vucevic (0.9). Total "Rating" is 1.5.
  2. Coby White (-1.0), Zach LaVine (1.1), OG Anuoby (0.3), Daniel Theis (1.5), Nikola Vucevic (0.9). Total "Rating" is 2.8.

A guy like Ball makes sense, I think, in that he’s basically Coby with better defense. At least, reportedly… he doesn’t seem to actually produce wonderfully. Offensively, a lot of the things we don’t like about Coby will be things we don’t like about Lonzo either. But in the context of having a better, and more switchable defender who will also bring the ball up the court and shoot lots of 3s, Lonzo would be a good guy to add. Truth be told, I’d consider regularly running out a Coby / Zach / Lonzo / Vooch / Theis lineup. That’d be getting close to the kind of offensive firepower you need to win in today’s NBA. Lonzo’s big and long enough that this lineup can work in quite a few cases defensively.

But what we see is, we get a much bigger gain by replacing Pat in a lineup than we do by replacing Coby. Even if you don't like the particulars of the Lebron rating, it's true in most cases, and it's more true offensively than defensively. And to underscore, offense is most important.

Thus, adding a player like OG Anuoby makes more sense than adding a player like Lonzo Ball. The first priority move for the Bulls this offseason should be to offer Pat and, say, Sato as an expiring contract for OG Anuoby. More if it was necessary. I’m a really huge fan of Pat, but when I look at the clock ticking on the Bulls, I just don’t see how they can wait for his development and I don’t like the approach they’ve taken with it either. OG is basically a pre-developed Pat. Maybe he doesn't have the ceiling that Pat does, but he's actually longer and a better defender.

If we could only make one change to the starting lineup, we’d get more bang for our buck by swapping Pat for OG (Coby/Zach/OG/Theis/Vooch) than we would by swapping Coby for Ball (Ball/Zach/Pat/Theis/Vooch).

The best of both worlds would be getting Ball as an FA and trading Pat for OG. In that situation we would probably be starting a core 4 of Ball/Zach/OG/Vooch, and then situationally playing Theis and Coby and having Thad as the more traditional "sixth man" who’s backing up Vooch.

That kind of lineup has a lot of options. You can go offense heavy but still have a workable defensive framework. If you need to run, you can put Theis at the 5 OG at the 4, and Ball at the 3 and still be respectable. If you want to grind a team down, you go half-court with Vooch, Theis, OG, Ball and Zach. You've got a range of options in between.

I know lots of people won't like this, but the Bulls need to prioritize trading Pat for a guy like OG who’s so much further ahead on the development curve. Do I like Pat as a player more than I like Coby? Yep, I do. But what I see is that Pat just isn’t going to be anywhere close to the kind of defensive lynchpin that OG is. And not as competent in the offensive role he'll be needed for here. I think he’ll eventually be, and probably will be better offensively. But the Bulls have already mortgaged that future. To make it worthwhile, they need to follow through and have their entire team ready to play next year and the year after.

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