Are the Chicago Bulls Destined for a Rebuild?
Throughout the year at times, the Chicago Bulls looked like the second best team in the NBA's Eastern Conference.
During a stretch in early January, they certainly looked like it. But as we head down the stretch, Chicago is 27-26, the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference and only a half game away from missing the playoffs altogether.
They are 17th in our power rankings with only a 59 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Losers of five straight and seven of their last eight games and with only six wins in their past 20 games, their season is spiraling away quickly. With all of the misfortune handed to the Bulls, by themselves or otherwise, it is looking more and more like the time is now for Chicago to rebuild.
Before we can answer if they should blow up the roster, we need to begin by taking a look at the how and why a season filled with hope has gone so wrong.
The Walking Dead
The Bulls have struggled with injuries this season. Starting with Mike Dunleavy missing the first two-plus months with a back injury to Derrick Rose’s collection of ailments, Chicago's once heralded depth has had its limits tested. In context, though, it is not that unusual, as the Bulls do not even rank in the top 10 of games missed due to injury this year. However, in the last month, the injury bug has laid waste to the Bulls' roster.
Joakim Noah, the heart and soul of the defense even as he came off the bench, tore up his shoulder in mid-January and is done for the season. Versatile offensive weapon Nikola Mirotic needed an emergency appendectomy on January 27 but had complications requiring another surgery and leaving him sidelined indefinitely.
The biggest blow, though, has been the scary-looking knee strain leading-scorer and up-and-coming superstar Jimmy Butler suffered one week before the All-Star break that will leave him out of action for at least another three weeks. Not coincidentally, the Bulls' current five-game losing streak started when Butler went down against the Nuggets on February 5.
Power forward Taj Gibson is the only Bulls player to play in all 53 games this season, but even he has left games early on multiple occasions due to injury. The overall lack of health has led to an absence of stability on the roster, the starting lineup in particular. Coach Fred Hoiberg has mixed and matched players, using 13 different starting lineups this season with only two combinations having played 12 games, hopelessly trying to find the right fit for his offense.
All Style, No Substance
The Bulls brought in Hoiberg to transform what has been a pretty mediocre offense over the last few seasons with Tom Thibodeau as coach. The weapons seemed to be there; just the points weren't.
It was believed the Bulls needed an offensive-minded coach to design a more free flowing system to take advantage of the talent on the roster. This season, they have the system, but the problems have remained.
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The Hoiball offense came to Chicago with the promise of a faster pace, and there it has succeeded with 98.66 possessions per 48 minutes compared to 95.35 last season. The Bulls are consequently getting off more shots with 15 or more seconds left on the shot clock than before, 31.4 percent of shots this season compared to 29.8 last year and 23.6 in 2013-14. The extra shot attempts are not translating into more points for one simple reason: the Bulls are an awful shooting team.
While Pau Gasol and Butler post decent field goal percentages, 47.9 and 45.8 percent respectively, Rose and Mirotic are two of the worst shooters in the NBA this season in terms of volume. Mirotic, while only playing 24 minutes per game, still finds a way to hoist 8.8 shots per game but manages to make only 38.6 percent of them. Rose is one of only three players in the league to average 16 or more attempts per game and make fewer than 41.5 percent of his shots.
One of Rose's weaknesses is his affinity to take contested shots. More than two-thirds of all his shots come with a defender within four feet of him. These tightly defended shots are not paying off for him or the Bulls, as the club is only making 41.5 percent of shots with a defender two feet or closer, third worst in the NBA behind only the Suns and Lakers. Perhaps ball movement is to blame for not enough open shots.
For an offense that is supposed to be free flowing and all about putting the defense on its heels with crisp passing and sharing the ball, the Bulls flop with only 21.7 assists per game, a 16.2 Assist Ratio, and a dismal 56.5 percent Assist Percentage. All three rank them in the bottom half of the league.
Maybe it is time for Chicago to find a new floor general.
The Bloom Is Off the Rose
During the trade deadline, the Bulls were rumored to be close to a sell-off, but only Kirk Hinrich was shown the door. The opportunity to do more was there. The question is should they have?
There were talks of sending the potential free agent to be Gasol to Sacramento, but ultimately the 35-year-old Spaniard will stay with the Bulls for the remainder of the season. Gibson was also rumored to be on the move, as the Bulls looked to free up close to $9 million next season with Gibson gone. Both moves would have made sense if the Bulls are looking past this season and toward reshaping the roster. Another move that was not discussed much -- but could still happen this offseason -- is moving on from Rose.
While the former MVP and three-time All-Star was once clearly the face of the team, the emergence of Butler as the Bulls' real superstar and leader has left Rose expendable. When you factor in the deterioration of his game, the 27-year-old point guard seems to be holding the Bulls back.
Rose holds a Net Rating of -3.8 this season. The only players on the Bulls' roster with a worse rating are rookie Bobby Portis and second-year forward Doug McDermott. According to NBAWowy.com, the Bulls' offense scores 1.063 points per possession (translates to a 106.3 Offensive Rating) with Rose off the court compared to 1.026 with him on the floor. In the seven games Rose has missed this season, the Bulls are 5-2. Not the kind of numbers you expect from a man getting paid $20 million this year and $21.3 million next season.
While there may not be much of a market for a poor shooting, oft-injured point guard, the Bulls would be doing themselves a disservice if they did not try.
Playoff Appearances or Championships?
As an unabashed Bulls fan, it pains me to see what the team has gone through this season. While the injuries will ultimately be to blame if Chicago misses the playoffs, the reality is that the Bulls' offense has not allowed them to be legit title contenders even with everyone healthy.
Years of false hope and mediocrity have left the Bulls hanging on by a thread. Making the playoffs in 10 of the past 11 years, including seven straight, looks nice, but when you get bounced in the first two rounds nine of those 10 times, was it worth it?
The goal of any franchise should be championships, and by revamping the roster now, the Bulls will give themselves the best chance for a title and not just another token postseason trip.
If the Bulls' organization is serious about returning to the realm of title contenders, the path is there for them this summer. Let Gasol and Noah walk, and trade Gibson and Rose. The potential of two lottery picks and a lot of cap space is a dream scenario to start a rebuild. Especially when you already have your superstar, Butler, in place.