Sorting Out the Chicago Bulls' Guard Trio
There's no question that the Chicago Bulls intend to return to the playoffs after missing the postseason for the first time since 2008.
But with an unorthodox roster overhaul and a lot of egos to manage, how they'll accomplish that task is a big question mark.
With these departures, the assumption of most observers was that the roster would be more tailored to an uptempo style to suit head coach Fred Hoiberg better. But when they signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to contracts in the offseason, most were confused about the direction of the team.
Slotting Wade and Rondo alongside incumbent Jimmy Butler certainly gives the Bulls a boost in talent and star power on the surface level. But Hoiberg will have his hands full when it comes to running an efficient offense and managing these personalities.
It's Jimmy's Squad
Butler is clearly the Bulls' brightest star on the current roster. This was true last season, but despite this, Rose (27.1%) and Gasol (24.6%) still had higher usage rates than Butler (24.4%). With their departure, Butler was likely excited at the prospect of seeing more touches.
Instead, he may have been a little miffed at why two veteran guards who prefer having the ball in their hands were brought in. Butler still should be go-to-guy offensively, but it will require him knocking down some shots from the outside. After hitting close to 38% from three-point range in 2014, Butler dipped to 31.2%, hitting just 64 of 206 three-point attempts.
Rondo is coming off his best two seasons shooting from the outside but is hardly trustworthy, and Wade only managed to hit a woeful seven three-pointers last season. The three combined for just 133 three pointers in total. That number has to be higher to help space the floor.
Our projections reflect this potential uptick, with Butler slated nearly to double his total and hit 108 triples. Wade and Rondo are projected for similar totals, 14 and 59 respectively, but getting this boosted production from Butler would be very helpful.
Fitting in Rondo
If the Bulls are going to reach their potential this season, Rondo will have to maximize his teammates’ ability to get to the rim. Butler is already one of the leagues’ best cutters, and Wade has become more viable off the ball in recent years. This team will need to be in constant motion because their opposition will be begging them to fire it from the outside. And while they did lose the passing ability of Noah and Gasol, they gain a pass-first point guard in Rondo who sees angles some other point guards don’t.
Robin Lopez and Taj Gibson are solid pick-and-roll players, so keeping them in harmony with Rondo will go a long way to making everyone better. Lopez and Gibson might not have the passing ability of the departed bigs, but their ability to absorb minutes at the center position will allow Hoiberg to mix his only two three-point marksman, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, at the small and power forward positions.
We project Rondo to average close to a double-double at 10.2 points and 8.9 assists per game, numbers most Bulls fans would be satisfied with.
What About Wade?
It’s hard to imagine that a lot of the offensive burden will be on the shoulders of Wade. He’s turning 35 in January and has missed handfuls of games in each of the last few seasons. To expect him to raise him game and production at this stage of his career would be unfair. It's hard to know when the steep decline will begin, but statistically, it has already started.
His averages haven't necessarily been skewed in a major way, but his Player Efficiency Rating from the last two seasons (21.4 in 2014-15 and 20.3 in 2015-16) is his lowest since his rookie season rating of 17.3.
He and Rondo have echoed that this is Butler’s team, and that’s how it should be perceived. Wade is projected to score a shade over 15 points per game, but it's certainly feasible that he could match his 19-point per game average from a season ago.
It also helps in some sense to have a two-time champion who has hit big shot after big shot. If the Bulls can just get more of the same-old Wade, the two-year contract will be a win for them.
The projections are not too optimistic for the Bulls. They have a nERD score of 44.4, which is predictive of the team's winning percentage, and are slated to win just 38 games. That win total likely wouldn’t make the playoffs in the East, and you don’t sign Wade and Rondo if you aren’t interested in the playoffs.
There is quite a bit of pressure on Hoiberg to make this roster work. It doesn’t align well with the pace-and-space philosophy he envisioned when he took the job, but by no means is it devoid of talent, knowledge, and experience.
But ultimately, the Bulls will likely go as far as Butler can take them this season. If he becomes a better leader while continuing to be one of the league’s top players, he can return to Bulls to the postseason.