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.

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