Tag Archives: Iowa State Cyclones

Do the numbers support a Derrick Rose-Jimmy Butler beef?

In the aftermath of Chicago’s disappointing loss to the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers this postseason, many wanted to point fingers. Tom Thibodeau took the brunt of the blame and was fired. Joakim Noah, who looked like a Walking Dead zombie for much of the season, has taken heat from fans and analysts alike who worry he’ll never return to his Defensive Player of the Year form. Yet from the rubble of the horrific Game Six loss to the Cavs arose a story I never saw coming.

According to Dan Bernstein of CBS Chicago, a rift had formed between Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Bernstein argued that the body language displayed during the final 24 minutes of the Bulls’ season was indicative of a growing feud between the two All-Stars.

Making such a claim based on a single evening of poorly played basketball is very silly. Chris Terzic wrote a great piece for Blog-a-Bull refuting Bernstein’s aggressive assertion that Rose checked out of Game Six for personal reasons. He used this crazy concept called “visual evidence” to show that Rose’s low number of field goal attempts was not due to indifference, but rather him taking what the defense was giving and trying to make the best play for the team.

But what if Bernstein was on to something? Derrick Rose has been the unquestioned alpha dog in Chicago ever since his arrival. He’d never played alongside anyone who deserved to dominate the ball for stretches, especially not another guard. The argument could be made that Rose was simply not accustomed or prepared to turn over as much offensive responsibility as Butler had earned last season. What I set out to do is parse through some statistics to figure out how the Butler and Rose duo fared last summer, and determine if there’s any statistical evidence to support a rift.

The Rose Effect on Butler

Jimmy Butler took huge strides on the offensive end last season. He set career highs in scoring, rebounding and assists. His improved three point shooting was a vital addition to his game and turned Jimmy into a major threat. After shooting just 28% on threes in 2014, Butler increased his average to 37.8%. There’s no doubt he put in countless hours in the gym improving his stroke from all around the perimeter, but there may have been a hidden reason for Butler’s massive one year improvement.

Jimmy played just over 2500 minutes last season. For 1216 of those minutes, roughly half of Butler’s court time, Derrick Rose was also on the court. According to NBAwowy, in the minutes that Butler played without Rose, his three point shooting fell to 31.6%. When Butler and Rose shared the floor, Butler’s three point shooting skyrocketed up to over 41%. Butler clearly seems to have benefited from the extra attention defenses pay to Rose and was able to find open threes that weren’t available when Aaron Brooks or Kirk Hinrich manned the point.

Having Rose on the court may have helped free up open shots, but it hampered other aspects of Butler’s game. Jimmy Butler was quietly one of the more effective pick and roll ball handlers in the NBA last season. His high efficiency on these plays can be attributed to his ability to barrel through the paint and draw fouls on the way to the basket. On the season, Butler posted a free throw rate (FTr) of .508. According to NBAwowy, when Butler was playing without Rose his FTr increased to .530. But with the ball dominant Rose on the court, that number fell to .410. While Rose definitely had a positive influence on Butler’s shooting, he also curbed Butler’s aggressive play by turning him into a second banana waiting for kickouts on the perimeter.

Rose Just Isn’t The Same Player Anymore

For all the excitement surrounding Derrick Rose’s first (somewhat) healthy season in two years, the truth is that he was not good enough the justify how much he dominated the ball. Rose shot just 40% from the field and 28% from three on an absurd 5.3 attempts per game. He was often reluctant to drive to the basket and draw contact. He averaged under four free throw attempts per game and a FTr of just .224, his lowest since his rookie season. Rose was ineffective shooting the ball and initiating the offense, but it never stopped him from trying. Rose posted a usage rate of 31.7% last year, the fifth highest in the NBA–a higher rate than James Harden, a guy who basically ran an entire offense on his own at times.

If there is truly any bad blood between Butler and Rose, the source of it is Rose’s inefficient play and wild overconfidence in his three point stroke. When Butler played without the former MVP on the court, he posted a healthy usage rate of 24.6%. But with both starting guards on the court, Butler’s usage dropped to 21.8%, around league average. With both guys on the court, Rose still soaked up 30.6% of offensive possessions.

I can’t blame Jimmy for being frustrated with his teammate looking at these numbers. After spending countless grueling hours to improve his game, Butler was still being treated like a complimentary piece in the Derrick Rose show. Anyone who watched the Bulls last season could tell that Butler was the best all-around player on the team. The only person who might not have realized it was Derrick Rose.

Why It Doesn’t Matter

Some of the usage imbalance will hopefully be cleared up by new coach Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system. Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams were great about whipping the ball around the court in an effort to create open looks for everybody. Far too many Bulls possessions last season resulted in the ball sticking on one side of the floor. The basic offensive scheme the Bulls used last year was too often snuffed out and forced Chicago to take bad shots as the shot clock ticked down. With a more uptempo offense in place, Rose and Butler will both be able to put themselves in better position to score without having to force the issue. A more free flowing offense with better ball distribution should keep everyone happy.

Jimmy Butler knows this better than anyone. It’s why he agreed to return to Chicago for at least four more years when he could have fought to re-enter free agency after three. He knows that this group has a championship window right now, and should he and Derrick learn to use each other more effectively that window could stay open for years to come. There may have been some tension at the close of last season, but any “beef” has certainly been squashed.

The Case Against Tom Thibodeau

Let me start this out by making it clear that I’m a Tom Thibodeau fan. If I ran the Bulls, Thibs wouldn’t be halfway out the door right now. However, given the loud and clear signals that only a Finals appearance would save (read: not sever) this relationship, it’s time for Bulls fans to wrap their heads around a divorce.

As great as Thibodeau has coached the Bulls, he undoubtedly has shown major flaws within his coaching philosophy. The area where Thibs is criticized the most loudly is ironically the one where I would argue he’s improved the most: minutes management.

Thibs is still woefully behind the times, routinely making Pau Gasol play entire quarters and running Jimmy Butler up for 40 minutes a night whenever he has the chance. Still, he’s shown a better willingness to manage the playing time of injured players. Much has been made about Joakim Noah’s minutes restriction, but I haven’t had a huge problem with Thibodeau’s handling of it. First of all, 32 minutes is a kind of arbitrary number. While it’s clear Noah can’t handle a 36+ minutes per night workload, establishing a baseline of around 32 seems perfectly reasonable for a stubborn coach like Thibodeau. Noah’s played 30.8 minutes per game on the season and about the same in March. The limit has again become a talking point because the front office is more likely than not just running a smear campaign on the embattled coach.

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Not my fault!

Thibs did an admirable job with Rose’s minutes as well. Derrick averaged under 33 minutes in every month of the season besides January, when he felt great and scored over 20 points per game in 16 matchups. For the season, he sits at 31 minutes per game. Given the Bulls other options at point guard, it’s understandable why Rose wouldn’t be averaging 25 minutes a night, especially because everyone thought he had successfully rehabbed his meniscus injury.

Again, Thibs is not good at managing his players’ minutes. Luol Deng’s body was wrecked by Thibodeau and he’s traveling down the same path with Jimmy Butler if he doesn’t reduce his minutes. But to argue that Thibs should be fired now because of this is playing into exactly what the Bulls’ immature front office desires. This is the same organization that routinely pushed its players to return too quickly from injury until it became a national embarrassment. Twice in Luol Deng’s career, he received medical treatment that was shockingly below standards.

Given the team’s injury issues, you would hope that Gar Forman and John Paxson are ready to turn over a new leaf with minutes management. Additionally, there are other areas where Thibodeau has failed to meet expectations. The most glaring this season has been his rotations.

Kirk Hinrich is probably the least productive rotation player in the entire NBA. He’s dropped to career lows of 36.9% overall and 34% from deep. He’s only averaging 3.4 assists per 36 minutes. Yet Thibodeau insists that the team plays better when Kirk is in and that Hinrich excels at “running the offense”. This is just not true. And while Hinrich can occasionally succeed defensively, considering him a plus player on that end is questionable. Yet Thibodeau has played Hinrich for more than 25 minutes per game this season. Aaron Brooks is at 21.8, Tony Snell 19.8, and E’Twaun Moore just 9.3 minutes a game. Hinrich has only played 39% of his minutes at point guard, destroying any semblance of floor-spacing. This is entirely indefensible.

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I don’t get it either, Jo

As the greater NBA community is coming to realize, Nikola Mirotic is a future All-Star. In fact, he’s been the Bulls’ best player this season by net rating. Per NBA.com/stats, the Bulls are +2.6 points per 100 possessions overall. When Niko plays, they’re +5.4, highest on the team. When he sits, they’re +0.7, lowest on the team. Even though Joakim Noah is on the highly publicized minutes limit, Pau Gasol is playing his highest minutes in a half decade, and Taj Gibson has been injured all year, Thibodeau waited until Gibson’s fourth ankle sprain to unleash Mirotic.

Niko is a dynamic power forward and Joakim Noah is an equally unique center. Together they’ve been ridiculously good, yet Thibodeau doesn’t prioritize this combination. He remains staunchly committed to Pau Gasol playing center, even though it’s Thibodeau’s famous defense that Gasol’s inability to force turnovers is derailing. Pau’s net rating is +1.8 and when he’s off the floor the Bulls jump to +4.1. Niko is the only Bull with a defensive rating under 100, at 99.6 points per 100 possessions.

While I’ve never been high on Doug McDermott, most would agree Thibodeau just hasn’t given him a chance. What’s odder than that is Thibodeau’s general aversion to playing Mike Dunleavy in the fourth quarter. Thibs routinely prioritizes having two ball-handlers in the game, whether it’s Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich or Aaron Brooks and E’Twaun Moore. It just doesn’t make a sense for a team with one quality point guard that can’t even stay on the floor. Even last night against Detroit, Hinrich stayed in for most of the fourth quarter alongside Aaron Brooks (Dunleavy did get some minutes though).

Tom Thibodeau is an undoubtedly great NBA coach, but his relationship with a hard-to-work-with front office is beyond repair. Furthermore, Thibodeau’s shortcomings can’t be ignored much longer and the Bulls might be best served to part ways with his hard-driving attitude and bizarre rotations.

When this basketball marriage (lord knows Thibs doesn’t have a traditional one) does come to an end, you can expect the Bulls to go hard after Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State’s coach. Marc Stein reports:

It is widely — and I mean widely — believed throughout the league that Fred Hoiberg, whose Iowa State Cyclones were bounced in the first round of the tournament Thursday by UAB, is the top choice of the Chicago Bulls to replace Tom Thibodeau in the event that the Bulls and Thibs indeed part company at season’s end.

Hoiberg’s first interview didn’t go so well when his touted Iowa State team was shocked in the first round of the tournament, ruining many brackets. Let’s hope he finds more success when he inevitably winds up in the Windy City.