Chicago Bulls: 5 Midseason Takeaways From 2016-17

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Dec 31, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler (21) celebrates with teammates during the first half against the Milwaukee Bucks at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bulls are a .500 team through 42 games. Here’s a quick look at the main takeaways from the first half of the 2016-17 season. 

The Chicago Bulls defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 108-104 on Sunday night, moving them back to the .500 mark. Their victory over Memphis was impressive for two reasons.

First, second-leading scorer Dwyane Wade was out of the lineup due to a scheduled day off. Secondly, Jimmy Butler had a sub-par game with 16 points on just 6-for-14 shooting from the field and a very uncharacteristic 1-for-5 effort from the charity stripe.

With the Bulls having a difficult time putting the ball in the basket in the early going, they turned to none other than Doug McDermott, who torched the Grizzlies’ defense for a career-best 31 points, including 20 in the second quarter.

This was the shot in the arm the Bulls needed considering the fact that McDermott scored a combined total of 21 points in his previous four outings. Despite getting off to a surprising 3-0 start, the Bulls have been hovering right around the .500 mark ever since.

Through their first 42 games of the season, a number of narratives have emerged during that time. Today, we will take a closer look at a few of them.

Dec 16, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) is fouled by Chicago Bulls forward Paul Zipser (16) during the second half at the United Center. Milwaukee won 95-69. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 16, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) is fouled by Chicago Bulls forward Paul Zipser (16) during the second half at the United Center. Milwaukee won 95-69. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

5. Zipser Sighting

The Bulls selected German small forward Paul Zipser with the 48th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft. In 25 German League appearances last season, the 22-year-old posted averages of 7.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 18 minutes of action.

But aside from a 26-minute outing against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the preseason, Zipser had seen very little court time this season. In fact, through the first two months of the season, the rookie averaged just six minutes per outing.

However, with Jimmy Butler out of the lineup for two games with an illness, and McDermott not being able to find his shooting touch, Fred Hoiberg opted to give the seldom-used Zipser a more prominent role as of late.

This includes two starts against the New York Knicks and Grizzlies. In those contests, Zipser scored seven and five points, respectively and is averaging 19.3 minutes per game during the month of January.

Taking this recent turn of events into consideration, it will be interesting to see if Zipser will remain in the rotation during the second half of the season.

November 19, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg watches game action against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

November 19, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg watches game action against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

4. Hoiberg’s Communication Needs A Little Work

Prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, Hoiberg decided that Joakim Noah — a veteran player who had been in the starting lineup since midway through his second year in the league — would be better suited coming off the bench.

Not only that, Hoiberg also stated that Noah was the one who approached him about that idea. The caveat here is that Noah later denied the story, thus putting the then rookie head coach and veteran big man at odds early on in the season.

This season, a similar situation has taken place between Hoiberg and Rajon Rondo. Despite going out of his way to praise Rondo shortly after the Bulls signed him during the offseason, Hoiberg benched Rondo for five-plus games.

While Hoiberg advised that he and Rondo had discussed the situation, Rondo expressed that he received feedback from one of the assistant coaches, but he never got lengthy explanation from the second-year coach.

It is said that if we don’t learn from our missteps, then we are doomed to repeat them, and that is exactly what appears to be taking place with Hoiberg in regards to how he communicates with his players.

Here’s to hoping that the two sides can continue to find a way to be cordial with one another as the season plays out.

Dec 2, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo (9) grabs a rebound over Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) during the second half at the United Center. Chicago won 111-105. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 2, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo (9) grabs a rebound over Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) during the second half at the United Center. Chicago won 111-105. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

3. Speaking Of Rondo

The Bulls were without their two leading scorers heading into a game against the Washington Wizards last week. With no other options to choose from, Hoiberg was forced to put Rondo back in the rotation.

Rondo didn’t disappoint as he scored 12 points, handed out six assists and grabbed four rebounds in 27 minutes of action. Due to his effective outing, Hoiberg decided that Rondo has earned more playing time going forward.

Wait for it … AS A RESERVE!

This is yet another interesting choice by Hoiberg for a couple of reasons:

1) When the Bulls decided to sign Rondo, it was with the intent of having him take over the lead guard position after they parted ways with former-MVP Derrick Rose.

2) With Rondo now being relegated to the bench, what does the future hold for a few of the other new faces — namely Jerian Grant and Isaiah Canaan?

Although the Bulls have managed to avoid the injury bug to some extent — something that could not be said over the past few seasons — questions with establishing a regular rotation continue to be an issue.

Will Hoiberg find an effective lineup or will the team continue to play musical chairs during the second half of the season?

Stay tuned.

Dec 23, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) stands on the court prior to the game against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center. The Hornets defeated the Bulls 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 23, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) stands on the court prior to the game against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center. The Hornets defeated the Bulls 103-91. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

2. D-Wade Still A Closer

One of the feel-good stories during the offseason was Dwyane Wade choosing to sign with the team he grew up rooting for during his childhood.

However, with Wade turning 35 years old this season, one of the concessions the Bulls were willing to make was to allow the 13-year veteran to sit out games as needed.

This especially holds in back-to-back situations, as was the case in a weekend set of games against the New Orleans Pelicans and the Grizzlies.

From Chicago Sun Times’ Joe Cowley:

“Unfortunately, you don’t have that crystal ball in front of you to see how things are going to play out with Dwyane and with the back-to-backs,’’ Hoiberg said. “The biggest thing with getting Dwyane was getting a guy with experience, getting a guy with great leadership, [a player who could teach] our young guys what it’s like to be a pro at this level.”

While Wade has missed a handful of games thus far, the guy still knows how to deliver when the game is on the line. We need to look no further than Chicago’s 107-99 win over the Pelicans on Saturday afternoon.

After shooting just 2-for-11 through the first three quarters, Wade turned things up a notch in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of his 22 points to help the Bulls snap a three-game losing streak.

So even though Wade missing games may in fact cost the Bulls a few games in the standings — depending on the opponent of course — he has been everything the Bulls hoped he would be despite being on the backside of his illustrious NBA career.

Dec 6, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Pistons won 102-91.Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 6, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Pistons won 102-91.Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

1. Butler Is An MVP Candidate

Jimmy Butler’s rise to stardom has been nothing short of remarkable. After seeing very little playing time during his 2011-12 rookie season (8.5 minutes per game), the sixth-year guard/forward has become the face of the franchise.

Not only has Butler increased his scoring output every year he’s been in the league, he also leads the Bulls in several categories. This includes points (24.9), minutes played (36.7) and steals (1.8).

Additionally Butler ranks 10th in scoring and has a player efficiency rating of 25.9, which is the fifth-highest mark in the league among small forwards.

While those numbers certainly stand on their on merit, what makes Butler’s stats even more impressive is the fact that he puts up great numbers while having the unenviable task of guarding the opposing team’s best player.

Not an easy feat to say the least.

That being said, Butler has definitely established himself as one of the best two-way players in the association, and it would be a surprise if he did not finish in the top-five with regards to the MVP conversation.

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