Are the Chicago Bulls in Big Trouble?
The Chicago Bulls took the 2016 offseason to completely renovate their roster.
Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Paul Gasol, among others, are all gone. At first, Bulls fans assumed the team was diving into full rebuild mode; however, that wasn’t the case. With plenty of cap space to work with, the team signed free agents Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to join Jimmy Butler and Robin Lopez, who was acquired in the Derrick Rose trade. If this was 2010, Chicago would be looking at contending for a seventh NBA championship.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, it is not 2010. Both Rondo and Wade have seen their abilities decline significantly over the last 6 or 7 years. So although the names shine brightly at the box office, it won’t be the same show on the court.
Although we see flashes (no pun intended) of it here and there, Wade has lost the lightning quickness and explosive leaping ability that made him an elite slasher. He no longer gets to rim as easily, and his ability to finish when he does get there has suffered as well.
As you can see from the above data, Wade’s FG% at the rim is almost 10% lower than what it was 4 seasons ago and the number of dunks he’s completed has dropped by over 60% over the same time frame.
With Rajon Rondo, we’ve seen his game fall off in other aspects. Rondo has been lauded as one of the elite defenders at the point guard position for years now, yet over the last few years, that just hasn’t been the case. The average shooting percent of players while being guarded by Rondo was 46.0%, while their usual shooting percent was 43.9%. That means players actually had an easier time scoring against Rajon, than the rest of the league. When a player who is very limited offensively becomes a below average defender, what value is he bringing to his team?
In fact when you compare Rondo’s defensive statistics with the league average for starting guards who played in 20+ games last season, you can see he is a decidedly below-average defender:
Turnovers are another huge problem for Rajon. Last season he was the second most turnover prone point guard in the NBA, with only Kendall Marshall being more likely to throw the ball away. His turnover ratio was 24.7% last season, which means he turned the ball over once in every four plays and when you compare this to other turnover prone players, you really start to see how big of an issue this is for him:
But the decline in talent and production isn’t even the biggest problem with this backcourt.
Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo simply do not fit into today’s NBA. They are both poor 3-point shooters by today’s standards, each shooting below 30% from behind the arc on their careers. You can get away with pairing one of them with a competent perimeter shooter but playing them together doesn’t spread the floor and allows the opposing defense to collapse and protect the paint. This problem is only compounded by the fact that their other starting wing player, Jimmy Butler, can’t shoot the three-point shot with consistency either. Just look at how the Bucks defended when Chicago has their starters on the court:
So while the rest of the league is trying to piece together backcourt and wing players who can play defense and shoot threes, the Bulls have managed to put together a backcourt that can’t do either of those things. Out of 8 playoff contenders in the Eastern conference, Chicago’s new backcourt has the worst 3P% and the third worst Defensive FG% - every other team at least balances out their weakness in one category with strength in the other.
Another huge issue for the two former superstars is their ability to stay on the court. Injuries have plagued both Wade and Rondo for years now and at a combined age of 65, the problems will likely only get worse from here. In the last three seasons, Wade has missed a total of 56 games and Rondo missed a total of 76 games. With Chicago likely needing every win possible to clinch a playoff berth, they can’t afford to have their starting backcourt miss 15-20 games each. Not only does the team perform worse when the starters miss extended periods of time, but when players who generally play heavy minutes are constantly in and out of the rotation, it destroys the team’s chemistry and rhythm.
Now, do I think the Chicago Bulls are doomed from the start? No. Do I think they will be championship contenders in the East? Absolutely not. Each player had somewhat of a ‘bounce-back ‘year last season and who knows, perhaps that renaissance will continue for a year or two. But after signing both Wade and Rondo for a combined $75 million over the next two years, if they got this one wrong, it’s going to be a while before the fans at the United Center get a chance to watch playoff basketball.