After back-to-back losses to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Chicago Bulls find themselves at 13-13, a far cry from the record many were expecting after starting 3-0. Considering the poor offensive output, it’s time for the Bulls to hit the panic button.
The dynamic transformation the Bulls underwent this summer was both confusing and exciting for fans. They traded away beloved, injury-prone, hometown point guard Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks in exchange for Robin Lopez and more, a move that angered many fans but pleased others bothered by Rose’s inconsistency and general decline.
Joakim Noah followed Rose to New York, Pau Gasol signed with the San Antonio Spurs, and suddenly the team felt very different. Then, they signed veterans Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, moves that seemed contrary to Gar-Pax’s goals for the team. On June 28, Gar Forman said,
“But we’ve got to put this back together now, going younger, more athletic and building it back up moving into the future.”
As a result, the direction of the franchise was very unclear heading into this season, as well as the perceived output with so many new players. After three games, it appeared the Bulls were about to prove everyone wrong, as they started off with a dazzling 3-0 record. Then they lost three. Then they won four.
Now, they’ve lost three in a row again and sit at .500 for the year. The inconsistency is both mind-boggling and way deeper than one may imagine. Aside from the record, the Bulls also make little sense in who they are beating. Right now, the Bulls have victories over the Celtics, Blazers, Cavs’, and Spurs.
They also have losses to the 11-16 Nuggets, the 11-19 Lakers, the 7-19 Timberwolves, and a humiliation at the hands of the 7-20 Mavericks. This trend was evident last year, and is quite odd. However, it shouldn’t be the focus of any deep discussion, as the overall performance of the team matters more than a frustrating habit at this point.
Over the past six games, the Bulls are averaging 93.1 points, which if was true for the whole season, would be good for last in the NBA. Unfortunately, it isn’t a fluke. For the entire campaign, the Bulls are still just sitting at 101.1 points per game, 23rd in the NBA. The problem certainly doesn’t originate from the two star players- as Jimmy Butler has played tremendously overall, with Wade also performing well.
Butler and Wade have averaged a combined 44.3 points per game, a quality output from two starters. The duo, along with Taj Gibson, seem to be holding up the fort, while the other two starters are dragging it down. For the most part, Rondo has been a disappointment, as he only averages 8 points per game. More troubling are his recent stats, over the last three games he is averaging 5.3 points per game.
Now let’s look at Robin Lopez. His shooting averages are down from last year, as is his field goal percentage, which went from 53.9 percent to 46.7 percent and his points per game went from 10.3 in 2015-2016 to 9.6 this season. Like Rondo, it’s his recent stats that add to the Bulls’ concerns. Over his first seven games, Lopez didn’t have a single one without 10 or more points.
He only has had two such games in the last seven. As a starting unit, the output is reasonable for a .500 team, but it’s the recent games of the newly-acquired Rondo and Lopez that are becoming a grave cause for concern, because let’s be honest, Wade is aging by the day and Butler is likely exerting too much effort carrying the team, and could easily tire out.
“OK Tim, so the Bulls have some issues in the starting lineup, but they’re nothing major,” one might say. And to that I respond, Alright, but have you looked at the bench play?
First off, the Bulls have virtually no front-court bench players. Their best “big man” bench player is Nikola Mirotic, who gets his 8.7 points per game by mainly chucking up threes. He’s shooting 38.1 percent from the field, and most importantly just 28.4 percent from three point land, a far cry from the 39 percent that he averaged last year.
He’s a sad excuse for a power forward, and now he’s performing poorly for the small forward that he really is, or seemed to be from his former long-range abilities. That leaves just Cristiano Felicio and Bobby Portis. Relative to expectations, Felicio’s played decently, but he still posts just 3.2 points per game. Portis is looking like a real bust at 4.5 points per game and just 3.6 rebounds per game.
While he wasn’t supposed to be an amazing addition, the three NBA players drafted right after him are still faring better for their respective teams. Obviously, the departure of Noah and Gasol really hurt the depth of the Bulls’ front-court. Moving on to the front-court, the outlook is still relatively bleak. Isaiah Canaan is shooting even worse than Mirotic. Jerian Grant isn’t much better. Denzel Valentine still has time to develop but in 19 games at 11.5 minutes per game, certainly no minuscule sample size, the first-rounder out of Michigan State is shooting a dismal 26.2 percent from the field.
There are no real bright spots here, only potential ones, as McDermott and Carter-Williams have a chance to bolster the bench output as they return from injury, but presumably will not boost the group in any major way.
I’ve pointed out all the negatives so far, so it might seem like the Bulls are a sub-par team. If you were to look at the positives: Butler’s rise, Wade’s contributions, the returns of McDermott and MCW, one could argue the Bulls are in decent shape moving forward. But when you look at both, it leaves Chicago right in the middle, at .500 where they are now. But don’t let that fool you, it’s a bad place to be in, folks. Average, and on the rise is one thing, but average and on the decline does not bode well for playoff chances.
So, it leaves them lost in no-man’s land. They probably won’t be competing for a championship, and they haven’t gotten younger, like they originally said they were looking to do. Which means it’s time to hit the panic button. Forman and Paxson need to figure out something quick, because in the middle with no direction is a simply an unacceptable place for a franchise to be.
Trade for Rudy Gay, or DeMarcus Cousins. Go the more subtle route by trading variables like Carter-Williams, Mirotic, Portis, Valentine, or Grant for proven bench players that can bolster your team from the back. Or do what the White Sox are doing, rebuild. Trade away Wade, Rondo, and more for draft picks. Either way, get something done.
The days of Jordan are long gone. The run of Rose and Noah has passed. It’s time for the Bulls to define the next chapter of their franchise.