Dwyane Wade to the Bulls Could Impact the NBA for Years to Come
The Chicago Bulls are a team in NBA limbo.
Not long ago, talks of trading budding superstar Jimmy Butler buzzed around the front office, which would have signaled a concerted rebuild for the once-dominant franchise.
So much for the rebuilding mentality.
But when you consider that the team shipped out incumbent point guard Derrick Rose and lost a stud in the frontcourt, Pau Gasol, to the San Antonio Spurs, it's hard to figure out exactly what the Bulls are trying to do.
If it's winning and contending for an NBA championship in 2016-'17, does the addition of Wade really help? If not, does the move make any sense at all?
In 2015-'16, Wade's per-game average of 19.0 points was the second-lowest of his NBA career, tied with his 2013-'14 campaign and better than only his 16.2 points per contest as a rookie back in 2003-'04.
The decline wasn't from a limited role at an older age: his 31.6% usage rate was in line with his career rate of 32.0%. Rather, his effective field goal percentage of 45.9% was a career low -- and noticeably worse than his 47.5% as a rookie.
Wade converted on 64.8% of his shots from three feet or closer, per Basketball-Reference.com, which ranked 11th among his 13 seasons, though only 29.5% of his shots came from this distance, just the 12th-most in his career.
However, if you know Wade, you know that he hasn't replaced his game at the rim with a three-point shot. This year, his three-point attempt rate all but vanished, as just 3.7% of his field goals came from beyond the arc, the 12th-lowest in his 13-year career.
A full 23.0% of his attempts came from between three and 10 feet this year, a career-high, and 17.9% came from between 10 and 16 feet, the second-highest rate of his career.
In his defense, he didn't necessarily settle for long two-pointers from beyond 16 feet -- his 25.9% attempt rate from that distance was on par with his career average of 26.1% -- but could Wade's shot selection lead to spacing issues for the Bulls?
Among the 155 guards this season with at least 200 field goal attempts, Wade ranked second in two-point attempt rate (96.3%), trailing only Shaun Livingston's 96.8%. No other guard attempted more than 91% of their field goals from two-point range.
Problematically, 80.1% of Jimmy Butler's field goal attempts were two-pointers, which ranked 19th in the subset. Rajon Rondo's 78.2% ranked 23rd.
If we raise the baseline to the 775 attempts that Rondo posted, Wade ranked first in two-point attempt rate among 47 guards, Butler ranked sixth, and Rondo ranked seventh. Of note, Derrick Rose (85.7%) ranked third, but the Bulls are taking on one more player who relies on the two-pointer at a high rate than they had last year with just Rose and Butler.
How much does that matter?
In today's NBA, the three-point shot reigns supreme. And there's some truth to that, but in 2015-'16, three-point attempt rate had a correlation coefficient with Net Rating, Simple Rating System, Margin of Victory, Win Percentage, and nERD ranging from 0.248 to 0.279. A perfect correlation would be 1 -- so there's a weak relationship between the two -- but simply shooting threes at a high rate isn't enough to be successful. Three-point percentage and those measures of success led to a coefficient of between 0.606 and 0.642, so it was a stronger relationship, but the three-point shot isn't a shared trait by only winning teams.
And the Bulls will have to try to buck the long-ball trend, given their expected starting five.
But That Defense
This year with Wade on the court, the Miami Heat surrendered 107.3 points per 100 possessions (defensive rating). As a standalone team, that would have ranked 18th in the NBA this year, and it was worse than the league average defensive rating of 106.4. Without Wade, the Heat's defensive rating was 101.2, which would have ranked second in the NBA.
Of course, we need to factor in that Wade didn't always play with Hassan Whiteside, who started 43 of his 73 contests. According to NBAWowy, though, teams scored 107.9 points per 100 possessions against the Heat with Wade and Whiteside on the floor. With Wade off and Whiteside on, we see the same 101.2 mark. This doesn't look promising for Wade as a defender.
As for Rondo, the Sacramento Kings surrendered 107.6 points with him off the floor but 109.3 with him on the court. Then again, the Bulls allowed 108.5 points per 100 possessions with Rose on the floor compared to 104.4 without him last season.
Perhaps the hardest thing to comprehend is that, ultimately, the Bulls got rid of Rose, a high-usage player who didn't shoot or convert threes at a steady rate and whose on/off splits suggest he made the defense worse, only to bring in two of that same type of offensive threat.
But there is a reason for that.
The Bulls didn't want to rebuild. They made that clear. How these three backcourt pieces will fit together in Fred Hoiberg's system appears puzzling on paper, but they have some name recognition, which is apparently something the Bulls want to offer fans.
And, hey, this team might have enough firepower not to have to scrap for a playoff spot. They landed a big-name free agent or two, which could help establish a precedent for others to join the Bulls as the salary cap continues to increase in future seasons. And it's hard to knock a move too harshly that effectively swapped out Mike Dunleavy and Jose Calderon for Wade.
Maybe -- just maybe -- this means that the Bulls are helping to usher in a new wave of front-office decisions that don't require years of basement-dwelling before trying to reload the roster, a strategy made possible by the unchartered territory that is the new salary cap.
I'm not sure if the Bulls think this move is brilliant or know that it's partially foolish, but Wade's decision to join the Bulls could have personnel ramifications for years to come -- for better or for worse.