Bulls Fire Head Coach Tom Thibodeau

The Chicago Bulls fired head coach Tom Thibodeau on Thursday in what could be easily classified as a disappointing, but not shocking move.

Thibodeau wrapped up his fifth season with the Bulls with a second-round exit at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The loss marked the fourth straight year in which the Bulls did not make it past the second round. It also marked the third time in five years in which the Bulls were eliminated by a LeBron James-led team.

Tough break, coach.

In the end, Thibodeau’s time with the Bulls might be most remembered for its ugly ending. But should it be?

Derrick Rose missed nearly two-thirds of the games coached by Thibodeau between 2012 and 2015, playing in 100 in 312 of those games. Further, Rose only played 181 of the 394 regular season games coached by Thibodeau — or 45.9 percent for those of you who like to look at things in percentages.

The Bulls were 137-46 when Rose started in the Thibodeau era. That .749 winning percentage is pretty good, if you ask me. Without Rose, the Bulls had a respectable .559 winning percentage with a 118-93 record.

Not bad considering the Bulls’ offensive ranks under Thibodeau:

  • 44.5 FG% (24th of 30 teams)
  • 46.9 2PT% (25th of 30)
  • 96.5 points per game (24th of 30)
  • 48.4 eFG% (22nd of 30)
  • 105.8 points per 100 possessions (18 of 30)

All things considered, Thibodeau made good with what he had more often than not, especially considering he spent most of his coaching tenure without his best offensive weapon. The Try-Hard Bulls weren’t pretty to watch. Nor were they much fun on most nights. But they gave an honest effort despite being short-handed more often than not.

That is a testament to their coach.

Well, former coach.

Now that we’ve reached the end, Thibodeau goes down as the third winningest coach in team history. His 255 wins rank behind Phil Jackson’s 545 and Dick Motta’s 356. And despite only making it to the conference finals once in his five-year tenure, Thibodeau’s 23 playoff wins is second in team history behind Jackson’s 111. Thibodeau’s 28 losses rank third on the Bulls’ all-time coaching list. Then again, he didn’t have Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in his starting line-up, either.

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Bulls Season In Review: The Starters

[Next in a series in which we reflect on what happened to the 2014-15 Bulls. In this post, we’ll look at the starting line-up and its future. Previously, we recapped the season-ending loss.]

The Bulls were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs six days ago.

Feels like ages ago, doesn’t it?

And while I wanted to be more prompt with my Bulls-related writing, I didn’t want to dive into some of the nitty gritty stuff right away, for I did not want to write or analyze without a clear head. I needed the space after that demoralizing loss in which the Bulls were out of it for more than 30 minutes.

Alas, here we are. A week removed from elimination and ready to take a look at the roster that took us through the season that was.

DERRICK ROSE

THE GOOD:

For a moment, Derrick Rose was back. The missed games, mixed messages and up-and-down play that plagued his regular season were in the past.

He played in 51 regular season games — his most since playing 39 in 2011-12. But he missed 31, many due to having surgery on his right knee — again. Still, he returned in time to average 37.8 minutes per game in the postseason,  second most on the team behind Jimmy Butler’s 42.2.

All things considered, Rose’s relative health throughout the year (coupled with finishing the playoffs with all limbs in one piece) should be considered a positive.

THE BAD: This season left no doubt that the one aspect of Rose’s game that needs the most work this offseason is shot selection.

He averaged a career-high 5.3 attempted 3-pointers per game, making 28 percent of his attempts. Had Rose played enough to qualify for the scoring title, his 3PT% would have been the lowest for a player averaging 5.0 attempts per game or more. Jason Williams owns the dubious distinction of being the worst in that category as his 1999-00 season with the Kings ended with him making 28.7 percent of his 3-pointers, of which he shot 6.2 per game.

Further, 47.9 percent of Rose’s field goal attempts came from 16-feet and out. His FG% on those attempts was around 33 percent. When Rose was healthy from 2009-12, only 41.1 percent of his shots came from 16-feet and out — and he made approximately 42 percent of those attempts. To shoot that much with minimal success is a detriment to an offense that was already streaky at best.

While 3-pointers went up, free throws went down. While the 3.7 attempted free throws per game wasn’t a career low for Rose, the lack of visits to the charity stripe was awfully telling for Rose, who too often settled for jump shots this season.

CONCLUSION: Rose isn’t back just yet. Note that in 279 games pre-injury, 85 percent of Rose’s field goal attempts were 2-pointers. This season, only 68 percent of his attempted field goals were 2-pointers. The average distance of Rose’s attempts was 14.2 feet, a career-high. It can’t be that moving forward if the Bulls are to be a championship contender. If he can’t be a better shooter, then he needs to be a better distributor. His assist rate was 30.7 percent, a significant dip from the 39.2% assist rate he posted in his two best seasons in 2011 and 2012. There were 18 lead guards who posted higher assist rates than Rose in 2015. Meanwhile, his 14.9 percent turnover rate is also trending in an unfortunate direction compared to his peak seasons, in which his TO% was 13.1 percent.

Rose will return to the Bulls for another season. That’s a given. He will have his first healthy offseason in quite some time and he would be best served working on his game the way he did in the offseason before his MVP season.

JIMMY BUTLER

THE GOOD: You can read everything good about Butler’s season here as he became everything Bulls fans perceived they were getting with Luol Deng, but with more efficient shooting and at the fraction of the cost. Of course, Butler will get a significant pay raise this offseason, making that aspect moot. If Butler can replicate his season of efficiency during his age 26-30 seasons, he’ll easily out-produce Deng and probably shake the comp, becoming a new standard for Bulls wing players.

THE BAD: Not much fault in Butler’s game this year as he improved in all aspects. He bet on himself and won.

CONCLUSION: With Rose in tow, the Bulls will have one of the most expensive backcourts in basketball. If they’re healthy, the can carry a team to a playoff spot. But admittedly, that’s a low bar.

MIKE DUNLEAVY

THE GOOD: Dunleavy was the Bulls’ best perimeter shooter, making 40.7 percent of regular season and 38.2 percent of postseason 3-pointers. At $3.3 million, Dunleavy was a relative steal. Other than 3-point shooting, he’s not great at anything, but he’s not a complete liability anywhere. He’s not a great defender, but he’s a willing defender. He’s not a great passer, but he makes good decisions with the basketball. He’s a floor spacer and there is value in his game.

THE BAD: Someone will likely overpay for Dunleavy’s services. At that point, we’ll probably realize that if Doug McDermott doesn’t do an apt job in replacing him on the offensive end. Without Dunleavy being on the floor for spacing purposes, I’m not sure if Butler has that breakout season, especially considering that duo was worth +5.3 net points per 100 possessions.

CONCLUSION: All things considered, Dunleavy was more valuable to this team than he should have been. That’s a scary thought.

PAU GASOL

THE GOOD: Gasol ranks favorably among the best free agent acquisitions in Bulls history. He shot better than 80 percent from the free-throw line for the first time since 2011, had an eFG% of 50 percent for the first time since 2012 and had career bests in rebounds per game (11.8), defensive rebound percentage (27.6%) and total rebound percentage (18.6%). He also added a new wrinkle to his game, making 52.4 percent of his attempted corner 3s.

Under Tom Thibodeau, Gasol was able to get back into an offensive comfort zone, with 31 percent of his attempts coming from 3-feet and in. That number had not been in the 30s since 2011. In his last three years with the Lakers, Gasol was pushed off the block as only 26.7 percent of his attempts came from in close. Way to take away a player’s most efficient weapon, Mike D’Antoni.

THE BAD: Not much fault in Gasol’s game. Defensively, he was a liability at times, as that was a product of having two centers on the floor at the same time when he and Noah were out there together. Even then, Gasol was a premier shot blocker for most of the year, which helped make up for certain defensive shortcomings. Hamstring issues in the postseason hindered the Bulls’ chances to beat the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semis. And that might stick with Bulls fans the most this offseason as Gasol enters his age 35 season.

CONCLUSION: Moving forward, the Bulls could ease up on Gasol’s minutes at this stage of his career in an attempt to save him for when it really matters. Gasol has one more guaranteed year on his contract with a player option for his age 36 season which could lead to some issues down the road.

JOAKIM NOAH

THE GOOD: Noah’s expiring contract could be the most valuable asset the Bulls have between now and next year’s trade deadline. That says a lot

THE BAD: There isn’t much good to say about Noah’s injury riddled year as he reached career lows in the following categories: 2PT% (44.7), eFG% (44.5%), FT% (60.3), True shooting pct. (48.2%), total rebound percentage (17.1%) and PER (15.3). The most alarming stat was Noah shooting a career low 51.5 percent on shot attempts from 3-feet or closer and 49.2 percent on shot attempts at the rim. That simply is unacceptable for a guy who spends that much time at or near the rim.

CONCLUSION: I’m unsure about Noah’s future with the team. His contract expires after this year, which will be his age 30 season. Best case scenario might involve him finding enough efficiency after an offseason of rest and full recovery. Still, to be reliant on a frontcourt that will feature three 30-year-olds (Gibson turns 30 in June 2015) is dangerous living if you’re a Bulls front office member.

All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com. You can check out the 2015 Bulls page here.

Out With A Whimper: Bulls Season Ends In Blow Out

[First in a series in which we reflect on what happened to the 2014-15 Bulls. In this post, we’ll look at what happened in the team’s Game 6 defeat, which ended the season.]

The Bulls scored 31 points in the first quarter looking as if they showed up to an elimination game on their home court with something to prove.

As a team, they shot 56 percent (13 of 23) from the field despite shooting 1-for-6 on 3-point attempts. When it came to ball control, they had 7 assists and only 2 turnovers.

As far as individuals are concerned, Pau Gasol gave them 8 points in 7 minutes. Derrick Rose scored 10, handed out 3 assists and turned it over only once.

The Bulls were down 33-31 after the first, but they looked like they had a puncher’s chance with LeBron James not looking to hot (2-for-7 from the field including 0-for-2 from the 3-point line) and Kyrie Irving on one leg.

Then the other 36 minutes — in which the Bulls scored a grand total of 42 points — happened.

The breakdown isn’t pretty.

  • 14-for-43 on 2-pointers (32.6 percent)
  • 3-for-14 on 3-pointers (21.4 percent)
  • 17-for-57 shooting from the field overall (29.8 percent)

As you might’ve guessed, the Bulls stunk individually, too, after the first:

  • Rose: 2-of-7 (28.6 percent)
  • Butler: 6-of-18 (33.3 percent)
  • Dunleavy: 1-of-6 (16.7 percent)

Joakim Noah playing on bum wheels being a non-factor on offense is one thing. The Bulls’ bench — which was supposed to give the Bulls some sort of depth edge — shot 8-for-41 (19.5 percent) from the field and 1-for-6 (16.7 percent) from the 3-point line is something that shouldn’t happen.

It looked ugly on TV. It looked awful while in attendance. And it somehow feels worse after dissecting the box score.

The Bulls last led 40-38 with six minutes left in the second half. From that point forward, the Bulls were outscored 56-33 over the game’s final 30 minutes.

It’s bad when the Cavaliers’ 21-of-52 shooting (40.4 percent) on 2-point attempts looks good. But that’s how bad the Bulls were offensively on Thursday.

“You can’t win if you don’t score.”

It’s one of sports’ most simple-to-understand adages. Yet, it was something the Bulls failed to comprehend as its offense sputtered and stalled during the most important 36 minutes of the season.

How Jimmy Butler Won The NBA’s Most Improved Player Award

Among the many questions I asked prior to the Bulls’ 2014-15 campaign, I wondered aloud if Jimmy Butler could have a career year.

Butler won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, running away with it by getting 71.3 percent of the first-place votes. But it’s how Butler got there which is most impressive and a primary reason why the Bulls are where they are today.

It’s easy to cite the increase of his scoring average from 13.1 points to 20.0 points per game, but look how he made that leap.

Butler increased his offensive efficiency behind the strength of his improved field goal shooting (up to 46.2 percent from 39.7 percent), 3-point shooting (up to 37.8 percent from 28.3 percent) and free-throw shooting (up to 83.4 percent from 76.9 percent). Further, Butler found himself getting to the charity stripe with more frequency, a needed skill considering the stagnant nature the Bulls offense has at times. Butler increased his free-throw attempts to 7.1 per game, which ranked sixth in all of basketball.

While Butler’s improvement in regard to the traditional stats will garner much of the attention today, it was his improved shot selection that dictated how much he would improve this season.

Last year, long 2s and 3-pointers made up 59 percent of his shot attempts — and he only made 30 percent of those attempts. One year later, those kinds of shots only represented only 43 percent of Butler’s shot attempts. He increased his efficiency on those attempts, too, making 37 percent.

This season, 56 percent of Butler’s shots came from 16-feet and in — an improvement over last year when only 48 percent of his shots came from that distance. Again, Butler saw increased efficiency on those shots, making nearly 53 percent of his attempts. Much of Butler’s damage here was done in the paint, where 45 percent of his attempts game from in 2014-15. A year ago, we were looking at Butler’s shots in the paint representing only 36 percent of his attempts.

I might not ever find my answer, but I’m curious to know what got into Butler this season. And I don’t want to hear anything about it being a contract year as the reason why he has increased productivity. His shot selection and efficiency improved dramatically in one season. So much so that it should be a story itself.

Did the increased shooting efficiency come as a result of hard work put in during the summer? Did he hire a shooting instructor to guide him? Did improved shot selection come from within? Watching and analyzing game tape? A helping hand from coaches?

These are legit questions I would love to have asked and answered in regard to Butler’s year-to-year improvement.

All in all, Butler’s breakout year should have made a lot of fans forget about Luol Deng. In fact, Butler has provided the Bulls more than Deng did by being more efficient with his shot selection, while also bringing top-notch defensive effort. He is the balanced player the Bulls wish they could have gotten out of Deng on a more consistent basis.

Butler’s work isn’t done yet, as the Bulls find themselves tied 1-1 with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semis. A place the Bulls wouldn’t be without Butler’s improved performance.