Dwayne Wade is not the best player on the Chicago Bulls but he is the most important player. His leadership, professionalism and championship experience, not to mention his other side of the pillow coolness is a necessary compliment to Jimmy Butler who is the Bulls best player but is inexperienced in playoff basketball. The Butler/Wade combo has proven to have very few kinks in the armor, they play off each other well. But there still are some troubling spots for the Bulls and item number one is their health, particularly Wade who has seen a lot of NBA minutes and is known to limp into the postseason. Second on the list is their three point shooting. They Bulls came into the season projected to be one of the worst three point shot takers and makers in the league and, bingo, they are God awful. They make 30.8% of threes which is a NBA worst, dead last. They take the fewest threes at 19.7. And so you see the strategy of teams once the season shrinks. Pack the paint, give them open shots from distance and see what happens.
On the other hand, the Bulls are 6th in fast break points, 3rd in rebounding, 10th in blocks, 5th in points allowed, 9th in defensive rating, 10th in offensive rating. That is good enough for a top-4 seed if the Bulls remain consistent and avoid a major injury pitfall like what happened to Jimmy Butler last February. But who or what needs to improve?
Dwyane Wade: He is playing the second fewest minutes in his career which is smart considering his age and NBA wars. He is shooting a career low 45.5%. He has bounced back with the three though. Last year it was 15.9%. He has doubled that, a respectable 34.3% of his threes go through the net. He has a three year high in steals and a 20 point Wade is the 11th such time in his 14 year career he has scored 20+. He has the highest offensive rating in three years and his defense has been strong. His defensive rating has not been at this level since 2012-13, the season he won his third and last NBA title. Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranks him 7th best among shooting guards. Grade: A-
Jimmy Butler: The best thing about Butler is his slow growth. He didn’t enter the NBA as All-Star potential which meant he could develop without pressure, with Derrick Rose being the center of all things. Now that Butler has developed as a two way player he is shooting a career high 46.7%. He is rebounding the best he has ever rebounded. He has upped his scoring to 25 points a game which makes him a bona fide NBA star. His defense is A-level and his offensive rating is an off the charts number, 126, a career high. Butler has a PER of 27.3. He is connecting on 59% of his drives and 69% of his paint touches. Grade: A.
Rajon Rondo: Rondo was going to go Rondo crazy because that is the Rajon way and newsflash, people do not change. Rondo has been a mixed bag. He can’t make a shot, posting career worst shooting numbers. Don’t expect Rondo to make a three. But he’s rebounding the ball at the same rate as Jimmy Butler. His assists aren’t the Rondo in his prime variety but 7.0 assists per game is still pretty good. Rondo’s defense hasn’t been this good since he was with Boston. He’s ranked 25th among point guards. (Defensive Real Plus-Minus). What cannot be measured is Rondo’s toughness which is also Rondo’s arrogance and often is translated into Rondo immaturity. But for the most part he has stayed in his lane and has been an asset to the Bulls. Grade: B.
Taj Gibson: This is Gibson’s finest year because he doesn’t have elite protection up front and he is still getting it done. No one is confusing Robin Lopez with Pau Gasol or Joakim Noah. Gibson is the Bulls unsung hero. He is playing a career high in minutes and shooting a career efficient 54.7%. Gibson has been a good defender much of his career, slipping a little last season but he’s back to his usual form of protecting the rim and contesting shots. He is the 9th ranked power forward when measuring defense. That surely will take the Bulls far in the playoffs. Grade: A-.
The Bench: A huge weak spot for the Bulls and they need to make a trade to bring in more talent. Their bench scores 28.1 points a game which makes them the third worst bench in the league and only puts more pressure on their starters to be perfect. Their bench can’t jumpstart anything nor can they hold leads. They are 21st in rebounding, last in assists, last in field goal percentage. If the Bulls stay pat, it just may be their bench that keeps the Bulls out of the Conference Finals.
photo via llananba