The Bulls are currently 30-30, a perfectly average record. Unfortunately, they haven’t played quite as good as that record suggests, as a recent run of wretched play has dragged Chicago’s net rating down to -1.5, good for 18th in the NBA. They now sit a half game out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, on the outside looking in for the first time in months. As we sit at the third quarter mark of the season, the DRaT crew decided to once again take stock of the franchise. (You can find the Quarter Season Breakdown here and the Midseason Breakdown here).
Fortunately for the Bulls (depending on your perspective), they should have plenty of juice to make a push as the team gets healthy. Jimmy Butler is set to return this weekend from a scary knee injury and should instantly boost the team on both offense and defense. Nikola Mirotic is still making his way back from a nightmare appendectomy, but all signs point to a return this month.
While the Bulls have been one of the league’s worst teams of late, there’s also been a few bright spots. Derrick Rose continues to look excellent, easily getting into the paint and converting a solid percentage around the rim. He’s also maintained strong efficiency on his newest weapon, the bank jump shot. While Rose’s inability to stay completely healthy can be quite frustrating, he’s on place to play in nearly 70 games this season. That’s awesome.
Jacob Bikshorn is going to tell you about Doug McDermott‘s surge; Jared Wyllys has the impact of Jimmy Butler’s absence; Drew Hackman digs into the return of DRaT favorite Mike Dunleavy; Jason Schwartz analyzes the emergence of E’Twaun Moore. Enjoy!
-Jake Weiner, (D)Roses and Thorns Editor
Hot Doug — Jacob Bikshorn
Since we last checked in, things have not been going well. Injuries, lackadaisical defense and an improved Eastern Conference have the Chicago Bulls on the outside looking in to the playoff picture. But if you carefully sift through the rubble of this season, you will discover one glimmering ray of hope.
The Bulls front office pushed all their chips to the middle of the table on draft night in 2014, and over the last twenty games, it’s starting to look like that bet might pay off. After a disappointing rookie season and a discouraging start to his sophomore campaign, I was ready to throw in the towel on Doug McDermott. But the developments over the last twenty games have me believing that Doug can grow into a potent offensive weapon.
The absence of Jimmy Butler has forced everyone to shoulder a bigger offensive load, and Doug has answered the call. McDermott has scored double figures in each of the last seven games and nine of the last 10. Prior to the All-Star break, McDermott had a 16.1% usage rate. In the eight games since, McDermott has raised his usage to 20.1%.
An increase in usage is often accompanied by a decrease in efficiency, but thankfully that has not been the case with McDermott. For the season, McDermott’s true shooting percentage is 55.1%. In his last 10 games, Doug’s true shooting has jumped to 59.4%, a number that puts him in the upper echelon of NBA wings.
McDermott has actually seen his three point shooting slip just a bit during this prolonged stretch of effectiveness. He’s shooting over 41% for the season, but just 38% in his last ten games. So how has Doug managed to increase in true shooting percentage?
Before the month of February, only 28.5% of McDermott’s field goal attempts were dunks, layups, hook shots or bank shots. In that same time frame, Doug only shot 51% on these type of shots. But, per NBA Savant, 33.8% of Doug’s field goal attempts have fallen into these shot categories and the former Creighton star is scoring on 63% of these attempts.
I would be lying if I said that I watched much of Doug McDermott in college, but there’s no way he gained his reputation as a prolific scorer by standing in the corners for four years. Forcing McDermott to be nothing more than a floor spacer is an improper use of his skill set and severely limits the impact he can have on the game.
Doug already has a well established reputation of being a knock down shooter. Now, he’s using that reputation to open up other parts of his game. McDermott has become a smart and dangerous cutter and has greatly improved his finishing skills in the paint. This play in particular highlights the full Doug package. He notices his defender overplays the three point threat, makes a smart cut, catches the ball on the move and finishes a reverse and-1.
McDermott still has a long way to go in other aspects of the game. He is still a total defensive liability and is on pace to record the lowest block and steal total ever for a rotation player. But offensively, Doug is developing into a dynamic player able to hurt a defense multiple ways.
The Importance of Jimmy Butler — Jared Wyllys
I don’t think many of us had grand visions for the Bulls’ success this year, but missing the playoffs in a league where so many teams get in would be unexpected. Much can change in the next six weeks or so, but even if they ultimately sneak into the playoffs, it’s difficult to envision any kind of real success at that level.
A lot of this is just the natural consequence of a new coach with the same flawed roster of last year, but so much of the team’s philosophy seems to have shifted. Once known for its defense, they are routinely giving up over 100 points, and even allowing teams to shoot franchise records (nearly 70%!) from the field.
They haven’t been helped, though, by the recent absence of Jimmy Butler. In the grind of midseason, to lose Butler is very hard to recover from. They have gone 4-8 without him, but fortunately, Jimmy is expected to return for Saturday’s game.
Seeing them without Butler probably exposes one of the major flaws of this team as currently constructed: They lack depth. Gone, truly, are the days when the Bulls’ “bench mob” could come in and handle a game in lieu of the starters. We see perhaps flashes of what used to be there, but it’s ultimately gone. The Bulls now depend on Jimmy to be Jimmy for the most part. Butler leads the team in scoring and is just behind Derrick Rose in assists per game. He leads the team in steals per game. Even with his extended absence, Butler is tops in total scoring by over 100 points, and in total steals, it’s not even close. He and Pau Gasol lead the team in VORP, and Butler’s PER is second only to Gasol.
Jimmy Butler is just crucial to this team having any kind of success. He’s the team’s clear best player on both ends of the court, and they’ve been a legitimately awful squad in his absence. Let’s hope Jimmy’s return gets the Bulls back on track.
The Return of Dunl3avy — Drew Hackman
#THERETURN. It’s a moment Bulls fans have been waiting for all season long. (Nevermind the fact that #TheReturn has been overshadowed by injuries to Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic, sporadic Derrick Rose soreness, and a mediocre team…) IT’S #THERETURN OF MIKE DUNL3AVY! The man, the myth, the legend, the 35 year-old veteran who came to Chicago to win a championship and who found himself out for half of his second season with the Bulls recovering from back surgery. Now, he returns in the middle of a team fighting for the eighth playoff spot. Since Mike’s return, they have gone 3-8, have allowed 100 or more points in all of those contests, and have been sliding out of relevance. Fortunately, for him, and for Bulls fans, the correlation here does not translate to any meaningful relationship due to its coupling with decimating injuries to several of the top Bulls players.
Mike’s minutes have been understandably reduced, averaging just 21.6 MPG compared to an average of 30.3 over the last two seasons. With only 11 games under his belt this season, and in just about 200 minutes, we’re looking at a small sample size. Nonetheless, according to Basketball-Reference.com, Dunleavy is performing better than his career averages in a few important categories. Most notably, Mike is shooting 47.1% from three point range, compared to 37.7% career – lights out – and, he’s attempting a higher rate, at 5.1 per 36 minutes over his 4.5 career. He only gets to the line a couple times per game, but has hit 85%, over his 80% lifetime. In digging into some of the advanced stats, Mike’s PER is slightly up this year from last, along with ORB%, and USG%. His stats in other areas have suffered as a result of the lack of surrounding talent, but the numbers are encouraging for a player whose job is to provide spacing and a three point threat.
The things that Dunleavy brings to this Bulls team – grit, savvy veteran play, off-the-ball movement, and length on defense – are qualities that Bulls fans can enjoy night in and night out. And since his numbers are looking better this year than last in some key areas, the Dunleavy X-Factor will start to peak when Butler returns to the starting lineup on Saturday. It couldn’t come at a better time, as the Bulls make one final push for a good playoff spot and try to show the league that they’ll still be a relevant force come April 16th.
The Emergence of E’Twaun Moore — Jason Schwartz
With the Bulls free-falling out of the Eastern Conference playoffs and countless injuries to the first team, it has been hard to find positives in this mostly miserable season. However, over the past month, journeyman guard E’Twaun Moore has been just that, a ray of light trapped in a dark and gloomy cave.
Moore had himself his best month in his NBA career this past February, when he averaged 13 points per game on 48 percent shooting. Moore’s career average is just five points per game on 42 percent shooting. But he has found some confidence given the increased minutes he’s received. These minutes are due of course to injuries to the likes of Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, and Nikola Mirotic over the last month, but the reserve guard has taken his opportunity and ran with it. Moore is much smarter with the ball than Aaron Brooks, and is much more competent on the defensive side of the ball than his diminutive counterpart.
The Purdue alum will never be a star in this league, but the Bulls have needed consistent backcourt depth for quite some time now. With Brooks struggling with his shot and his other usual short-comings, Moore has been able to wrestle away some vital minutes from the veteran. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and GarPax would do well to bring him back at a bargain price. Finding a backup point guard that can take care of the ball and score on occasion is very important for a contending team (even if the Bulls aren’t exactly that at this point).
If nothing else, Moore is a good example of how Hoiball is supposed to be run. Moore pushes the pace when he sees the opportunity, and doesn’t pass up open looks, even if early in the shot clock. His ability to understand what Hoiberg wants is his best quality. In a rarity for the Bulls, they actually seem to run some semblance of an offense when he is in the game. As opposed to the chuck-it-up Brooks, or the drive at all cost Rose, Moore focuses on ball movement and finding empty space on the floor to attack.
Whether he sees significant playing time going forward once the Bulls get healthy remains to be seen, but they have to be thankful for the second round pick who kept them in playoff contention when so many others on the squad lacked energy and intensity.