Central Division Power Rankings: #5 – Bulls

Mar 14, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (7) attempts a shot while Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) defends at Air Canada Centre. The Bulls beat the Raptors 109-107. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 14, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (7) attempts a shot while Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) defends at Air Canada Centre. The Bulls beat the Raptors 109-107. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Last Season’s Record: 42-40

Players Added: Isaiah Canaan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade

Players Lost: Cameron Bairstow, Aaron Brooks, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol, Justin Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah

Rookies: Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser

Coaching Changes: N/A

2016-2017 Record Prediction: 36-46

Team Ratings: 105.0 ORtg (23rd in NBA), 106.5 DRtg (15th in NBA)

In a league where offense is predicated on shooting, the Chicago Bulls are daring to be different. The Bulls’ starting lineup contains just one average or above-average shooter, power forward Nikola Mirotic. This is a major oversight by the Bulls management. Having shooters helps space the floor for other offensive opportunities. The space afforded by playing three or four shooters would allow Chicago’s driving, cutting, and post-up talents to show. Instead, they have become one of the easiest teams in the league to guard. Now, opposing teams can get away with: going under screens, sagging off the pick and roll, and packing the paint. The Bulls’ offensive troubles do not end here. Rajon Rondo, the starting point guard, needs the ball in his hands at all times to be even remotely useful. He displays a constant reluctance to shoot; knowing this, teams never play tight on him. Rondo’s only effective scoring method is finishing at the rim, however, his abysmal 58% free throw percent gives opponents an out when he tries to finish at the rim. Despite his deficiencies, Rondo led the league in assists per game last season with the Kings, averaging 11.7. Although, for all his acclaim as a distributor, Rondo has only led a top ten offensive twice, with the last instance being in 2010 with the Big Three Celtics.

The main issue with guards and small forwards who can’t shot is that as they get less touches, they become less effective. This projects to be the case with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. As Rondo is so ball dominant, it is expected that those two will primarily play off ball. Fred Hoiberg, head coach of the Chicago Bulls, has stated of Wade, Butler and Rondo, “Great players figure it out.” He may be onto something. Despite their non-complementary skillsets, two All-Stars should still be able to find a way to be effective. Last season, Butler was an elite cutter, ranking in the 93rd percentile. Wade’s combination of strength and skill make him a viable post-up threat. Centre Robin Lopez will find his offense around the rim, as a roll man or in the post. Finally, Nikola Mirotic can work as a spot up shooter, as he shot 39% from beyond the arc last season, or run pick and pop with the Bulls’ guards. If the Bulls play their options right, they can put together an unorthodox offense that ranks somewhere around league average.

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Defensively, the Bulls may fall even further from their Thibodeau-era grace. Rondo had a poor defensive showing with the Kings last season, on all two pointers he defended, opponents shot 6.1% better than their average. Ever since his ACL injury, Rondo hasn’t been able to live up to the defensive reputation he’d cultivated. In addition, his effort issues are well-documented. After being traded from the Celtics, Rondo himself said, “I haven’t played defense in a couple of years.” Following the complete meltdown of his relationship with Rick Carlisle, this lackadaisical attitude resurfaced, which resulted in him being benched for the remained of the Mavericks’ playoff run. Dwyane Wade, while not the elite defender he once was, is still adequate. On all field goals contested by Wade, opponents shot 1.6% worse than their usual averages. Fleeting athleticism and injuries could case the Bulls’ backcourt’s defensive presence to shrink even further as the year goes on.

Jimmy Butler’s status as an elite defensive wing is well known and with a lessened offensive load, it is expected that he maintains this performance. As for the frontcourt, Mirotic is a poor interior defender. Last season he allowed opponents to shoot 60% in the paint. His frontcourt mate, Robin Lopez, will be tasked with anchoring the Bulls’ defense. He is a proficient pick and roll defender and held opponents to a lowly 48.5% field goal percentage in the paint last season.

The Bulls attempted to field a competitive team that can return them to the playoffs, but their efforts are misguided. This latest iteration of the Bulls features a cramped offense and potential disastrous defense. The combined star power of Rondo, Butler, and Wade can only do so much to combat poor team building, which lands the Bulls last in the Central Division.