Are the Bulls Better Without Dwyane Wade?
Put simply, the Chicago Bulls haven't lived up to expectation this season, but the team owns the 7 seed in the East with just a handful of days left on the NBA calendar.
And there is other potentially good news on the horizon, too.
Wade has missed only 11 games since initially being ruled out for the regular season. The Chicago Bulls have gone 7-4 since Wade's injury, and overall this season, they are 12-10 when the veteran misses a game.
All that being said, the leadership and championship experience that Wade brings to the Bulls is invaluable and hard to measure. With Chicago needing to keep winning to stay in the playoffs, Wade's return is looking like a welcomed sight.
However, based on some advanced statistics and their win/loss record without Wade this season, it's worth questioning whether or not Chicago is a better team with Wade off the court and what they can do to keep their momentum with Wade coming back.
If you look at the Bulls' numbers this season, they have clearly been better when Wade is not playing or on the bench.
According to Basketball-Reference, Chicago's offensive rating goes up, and their defensive rating goes down. Their effective field goal percentage jumps a full two and a half percentage points, too.
|Dwyane Wade On/Off Court 2016-17||eFG%||Ortg||Opp. eFG%||Opp. ORtg|
|Dwyane Wade On||47.2%||105.8||0.517||109.3|
|Dwyane Wade Off||49.7%||108.4||0.507||107.3|
Since Wade has been injured, the Bulls have deployed a new starting lineup. Nikola Mirotic and Paul Zipser play the two forwards while Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo run the backcourt. This lineup is plus-36.8 points per 100 possessions in just under 89 minutes on the court together this season.
According to NBA Wowy, with Wade off the court this season, the Bulls are averaging 1.08 points per shot attempt with over 61% of the team's field goals being assisted.
With Wade on the court, the Bulls are averaging 1.03 points per shot with 55.2% of their field goals assisted.
Wade also owns a -0.4 nERD this year, which means he has been a below-average player for the Bulls this season, according to our metrics.
There has also been issues when Wade and Rondo share the court at the same time with Butler off the court. When that happens, the Bulls only average 0.94 points per possession (an offensive rating of 94) and 0.93 points per shot, according to NBA Wowy.
This likely is occurring because of the lack of shooting and spacing. With all three guards on the court at the same time, Rondo has a 39.1% effective field goal percentage while Butler and Wade are also shooting below 50.0% by this measure.
|2016-17||eFG% With Wade on Court||eFG% With Wade on Court|
Playing without Wade has some obvious benefits for the Bulls' offense, especially for Butler and Rondo, but it also has some intangible benefits that cannot be ignored.
Could the answer be to bring Wade off the bench in the playoffs to give the first unit more spacing and give Butler and Rondo more time to operate with the ball in their hands?
Playing Wade With the Bench
Looking back at the Bulls' five-man lineup combinations, it's hard to judge the right combination of Bulls bench players and Wade because of the trade to send out Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott. However, when there were two or fewer starters on the court with Wade this year, the Bulls have been a net positive squad.
The Bulls' bench ranks 29th this season with a 48.1% effective field goal percentage, and while Wade owns only a 45.8% mark this season, his scoring and playmaking ability could do wonders for the Bulls' bench, which ranks a mediocre 17th in the NBA with 33.9 bench points per game.
Even if it comes down to starting all three Bulls guards together and staggering their minutes so that Wade plays more with the bench and less with Rondo and Butler on the floor, it could be beneficial to the Bulls.
If they can hold on and make the playoffs, the right guard rotation and some improved floor spacing could make them a tough out.
Right now our projections have the Bulls at a 90.4% chance of making the playoffs, so while they stand a good chance of getting into the postseason, they will need to address these rotation issues if they want a chance of advancing past the first round.