Nov 2, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg reacts on the side line during the second quarter against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
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There’s a bit to process from the Chicago Bulls in the first two weeks of the season. Let’s take a deeper look at what to like (and not like) about the first six games.
In the first three games of the season, the Chicago Bulls appeared to be on their way to an 82-0 season and the franchise’s seventh title without much problem at all.
After their 3-0 start, the Bulls lost three straight — including an embarrassing performance in a 111-94 loss to the Indiana Pacers this past Saturday — and sit at .500 through the first two weeks of the season.
For every Dwyane Wade triple made, there was a lapse on the defensive end to go with it. With every good pick-and-roll set with Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez, there was a lack of effort on the defensive end from the Bulls’ new point guard.
There was plenty of good that came from the Bulls’ first two weeks, but there was also plenty of things not to like about the Bulls.
During this breakdown, we’ll alternate between things to like and not like about the first six games for the Bulls, including the Bulls’ implosion as of late on the defensive side of the floor.
Oct 29, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) controls the ball during the first half against the Indiana Pacers at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
What to Like: Dwyane Wade’s offensive production early on
It’s no secret that Dwyane Wade is one of the greatest two-guards to ever play the game.
The 12-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion is bound for Springfield, Mass. and the Basketball Hall of Fame someday, but before he takes his place among the game’s greatest, he’s putting on quite the show back near his hometown.
Two things revolved around Wade’s summer: 1) The fact that he actually bolted from Miami after years of teases in free agency and 2) He, Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler are horrendous 3-point shooters.
Wade is debunking the latter by the day and it doesn’t make an ounce of sense.
Take a look at Wade’s shot chart through the first six games this season:
Inside the arc — where Wade has made his millions over a tremendous career — he’s shooting about 41 percent on the season so far (24-for-59).
Beyond the 3-point line, Wade is shooting 47.6 percent (10-for-21) from 3-point range. Sure, that’s 38 less attempts than inside the arc, but being that Wade was 7-for-44 all season with Miami last year from deep, that feels significant in the early going.
Especially if Wade is hitting shots like this one against the New York Knicks this past Friday night with former Bull Joakim Noah right in his grill and the game clock winding down.
Is Wade’s hot shooting from deep sustainable this season? That’s debatable, but probably not.
The most 3-point attempts Wade has made in one season during his career was 88 back in 2008-09; arguably the best season of his career. He also shot 31.7 percent from deep, which is his percentage in one season for his career.
Since the 2011-12 season a couple years later (his first age-30 season) to the present day, Wade has made 87 total 3-pointers in 321 attempts. That’s 27.1 percent.
So, while Wade’s shooting from long range has been needed and a rather pleasant sight for the Bulls in the first six games, it’s very likely that his numbers will come back to Earth soon.
Mar 17, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Doug McDermott (3) drives around Brooklyn Nets guard Sergey Karasev (10) during the second half at the United Center. Chicago won 118-102. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
What to Not Like: Doug McDermott handling the ball off a screen
This has carried over from last season, but something that’s been an issue (among the laundry list of things for the Bulls) is Doug McDermott, specifically creating something other than a shot off a screen.
McDermott’s defense has been well-documented as poor, but his shooting has been a bright spot (and needed) for the Bulls since he started seeing extended playing time in the NBA.
But, something that hasn’t been talked about as much as those two topics is McDermott as a ball-handler.
Take note of this McDermott turnover from Opening Night against the Celtics in his first stint off the bench this season.
The Bulls ran a set they like to run with McDermott with “elevator doors” set up by the 4 and 5 on the floor (in this play, it’s Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez) that allow McDermott to run through and away from his man, and shooting an open look (preferably a 3).
McDermott got through the doors, but with Terry Rozier closing quick, McDermott hesitated for a split-second, so the shot opportunity was gone.
With Rozier back in front of him, McDermott looked for another option. Al Horford‘s man was Mirotic, but Horford kept his eyes on McDermott to help Rozier in case of a drive. As McDermott realizes he has two guys on him, he whips a pass across the floor to Mirotic, not knowing that Isiah Thomas is watching him the whole time, and steals the pass easily.
In this play from the Knicks game, McDermott got a screen from Cristiano Felicio with Brandon Jennings guarding him. Felicio rolled, but Noah took McDermott off the screen on a switch.
With nowhere to go and an indecision on whether or not to try and shoot over Noah, McDermott does … something, and throws it back out top.
Luckily for the Bulls, Jimmy Butler reacted quickly and the possession was saved.
It’s not McDermott’s role to dish out 5-7 assists per game, but a lot of the time when he’s in a situation to create for someone other than himself, it hasn’t been going well. Teams are scoring 10.2 points off McDermott’s turnovers, which is the third-highest number on the Bulls roster.
(As you’d expect, Rajon Rondo is No. 1 in that category with 11.8 opponents points off his turnovers.)
When McDermott turns the ball over, it’s usually going to lead to points on the other end without much trouble.
Oct 27, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) makes a move defended by Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) during the first quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
What to Like: Taj Gibson has been a rock for the Bulls
It’s no secret that Taj Gibson is a free agent after the 2016-17 season concludes.
If this six-game start is any indication of how well Gibson is going to play for the Bulls this season, he’s in line for a huge payday.
Gibson has been nothing less than consistent and tough for the Bulls since they drafted back in 2009 with the 26th overall pick.
I snagged this play from the Knicks game because the great move Gibson put on second-year star Kristaps Porzingis. The mammoth 7’3″ big man for New York has a tendency to be a bit jump-happy as a defender and falls for the pump fake more often than not.
Gibson hit the Latvian with a beautiful up-and-under move for a bucket on this possession.
These kinds of plays are the ones Gibson’s been making all season long. He’s been so good for the Bulls as the starting four-man, averaging 11.5 points on 53.3 shooting and 9.2 rebounds per game, which leads the entire Bulls roster.
His advanced numbers through the first three games were outstanding as a underrated piece to why the Bulls started so hot out of the gate.
There’s no telling how much longer Gibson will be a Bull with the “younger and more athletic” mantra hovering over the franchise from this past summer, but he’s going to contribute and do his job night in and night out.
Nov 5, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) is guarded by Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) and forward Doug McDermott (11) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeated Chicago 111-94. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
What Not to Like: The Bulls defense has been putird since the 3-0 start
Even before Tom Thibodeau was fired two seasons ago, the Bulls’ defense was already on a downslide.
Last year — the first under Fred Hoiberg — the Bulls weren’t good, but weren’t completely terrible on the defensive side of the floor, finishing 16th in team defensive rating.
In their 3-0 start, the Bulls were good defensively.
Nov 5, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo (9) brings the ball up court against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Overall thoughts on the Bulls
There’s plenty of good to take from the Bulls’ 3-3 start.
Jimmy Butler has been his usual self offensively. He’s sixth in Basketball-Reference‘s offensive rating (130.0) among qualified players, seventh in the NBA in free throws made (41), eighth in overall attempts (47), 12th in true shooting percentage (63.7), tied with Dwyane Wade coincidentally for 13th in 3-point percentage (47.6), and sits 14th in win shares (0.9) already.
Butler’s averaging 21.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game on 48.1 percent shooting, while only playing 32.5 minutes a game.
Something he’s seemed to improve on this season: Not only finishing at the rim, but finishing through contract around the rim. (He’s shooting a fantastic 62.5 percent at the rim in the first six games. The league average is 55.6 percent.)
But, usually with the good, comes the bad.
Nikola Mirotic is taking six 3-point shots on average per game and making 30.6 percent of those attempts. Michael Carter-Williams is out for at least another 3-4 weeks with a bone bruise in his knee. The Bulls are turning the ball over 15.7 times per game (the league leader is 17.7), with a 19-turnover game this past Wednesday against Boston.
Their youth isn’t fully coming along the way they had hoped it would just yet.
Take Bobby Portis for example. Look at the defense he played against Joakim Noah during the fourth quarter last Friday night. You can’t play this any better than he did, and Noah still drained a hook over him. There’s nothing you can do it about it. It’s a case of “good defense, better offense”.
But, then there’s the play you can control, like not getting beat by your man down the floor in the midst of a fourth-quarter run for your opponent.
The Bulls aren’t completely terrible, but they’re not the team that looked like they were going to win 60+ games right off the bat with back-to-back blowout wins in the first week.