After the signing of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, there has been much hand-wringing about the floor-spacing in Chicago.
Chicago was supposed to be rebuilding around youth? Those three only made 133 three-pointers combined last season! Rondo is their best three-point shooter! Why would you build this team in today’s NBA?
These are all valid points, but if you are going to buy into this Bulls team, you and Fred Hoiberg will need to do some creative thinking.
In the league’s rush to pace and space the daylights out of every single team, many have forgotten that players like Wade (and now Jimmy Butler) have made their careers on getting to the basket, getting to the line and creating tough points from inside the arc. Combine that with the addition of Rondo who — for better or worse — led the league in assist ratio, and you have a recipe for an effective offense that can live outside of the pace and space mantra.
The bigger problem is that Rondo, Butler and Wade all need the ball in their hands to be fully effective. Last season, the Bulls were 8.4 points per 100 possessions better with Butler on the floor without Derrick Rose. This is when the offense ran through Butler, and he was able to create with the ball in his hands. Wade learned to play off the ball in Miami when LeBron brought his talents to South Beach, but he still looks his best when he is allowed to create with the ball. Rondo might be the best example of needing the ball to be effective. He was second in touches and seventh in time of possession among players who averaged more than 30 minutes per game last season.
This is where the Bulls should be taking a lesson from the pace and space Warriors. When David Lee and Andre Iguodala moved to the second team, it changed the way the league looked at traditional rotations and how the Warriors matched up for all 48 minutes. Creativity with the rotation is a must for a team lacking in the space department, and it fits with the talents of the Chicago’s backcourt.
Wade and Butler score with the ball in their hands, while Rondo is a master distributor. Playing Butler and Wade together on the first team negates the effectiveness of their abilities. Wade doesn’t need a full workload and has benefited from fewer minutes and rest throughout the previous seasons. Moving Wade into a first-off-the-bench role where he can overlap between the first and second teams would allow him to play fewer minutes throughout the season but maximize his impact against opponents’ second teams. This would open up a starting spot for Doug McDermott or Niko Mirotic to increase spacing on both the first and second teams.
Hoiberg’s system relies not only on space but on ball movement, quick decision making and taking advantage of teams in transition. Rondo’s court vision and ability to push the ball fits into this aspect of the game. Getting younger players running with Rondo should be a priority for Hoiberg. There is evidence that Rondo’s assist-first philosophy can actually improve Niko and Doug’s shooting beyond the arc.
The lack of three-point shooting is a problem the Bulls need to overcome. Throwing two former NBA champions who have been cracking that code their whole careers is the best chance any team will get at succeeding against the space and pace trend. Chicago will need to spread out those talents during the game, intermixing players who can provide space and complement the talents of their backcourt. If Hoiberg can get creative with his rotations and play calling, the Bulls can actually compete against a league that is headed in the opposite direction.