Change was omnipresent when the Bulls opened their season against the Cavaliers on Tuesday.
New head coach and schemes.
*Salutes Fred Hoiberg*
*Head nods to Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott*
And a new vibe around the United Center.
*Side-eyes Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler*
There is always talk about change when a new season begins in sports. But seeing is believing and if it isn’t to you, then you’ll fall for anything.
But as far as I’m concerned, nothing signified that change was real and coming more than the fact that Kirk Hinrich was a DNP-coach’s decision in the Bulls’ 97-95 win.
Hinrich was a crutch for Tom Thibodeau, despite a significant decline in skills. The former Bulls coach would lean on Hinrich to get the Bulls through significant portions of ballgames on grit, heart and heady plays on both ends of the floor. And unless he was physically unable to give it a go, Hinrich answered the call more often than not.
Unfortunately, the production simply wasn’t there for Hinrich, who has spent 10 of his 13 seasons in the Bulls organization. He was the worst player in the NBA among regulars as far as the Player Efficiency Rating goes, and posted a higher turnover rate (15.3 percent) than assist rate (13.8). In fact, that 13.8 percent assist rate was a career worst. That’s bad considering Hinrich’s duties included being lead distributing guard off the bench on most nights.
With that apparently sidelined, the Bulls can move on to bigger and better things with a new approach and some fresh ideas.
Jimmy Butler will star for the Bulls this season and they will go as far as he carries them. This isn’t to slight Derrick Rose, but until he can prove to be healthy and get his game back to an elite level, Butler is the go-to-guy here.
Butler did everything Bulls fans have wanted Rose to do over the years. He honed his craft and improved multiple facets of his game, all while remaining one of the league’s best defenders.
He improved his field goal (from 39.7% to 46.2%) and 3-point shooting efficiency (28.3% to 37.8%), while maintaining good numbers from the free-throw line as the 80% career free-throw shooter connected at a career best 83.4% clip. The advanced numbers jumped, too, dropping his turnover rate to 7.7% and increasing his assist rate to 14.4%. All this helped Butler lock up The Association’s Most Improved Player award.
After Butler, it will be interesting to see how Holberg sets up his role players.
Can Joakim Noah ease into a role as a high-energy reserve whose primary job is to clean up missed shots and facilitate in the offense when necessary? Can he stay healthy enough to be that guy in the first place?
Will Taj Gibson be able to continue being a force on both ends of the floor with quality rebound skills and possible improved offensive efficiency? At times, Gibson became too much of a black hole when he got the ball in the post. That won’t stand in Hoiberg’s offense that is predicated on ball movement and finding open shooters.
Speaking of which, will Doug McDermott, Nikola Mitotic and Tony Snell thrive in a new environment where young players won’t be saddled to the bench simply for missing a defensive assignment?
Can McDermott find the kind of confidence it will take for him to regain his touch from the perimeter?
Will Snell find a level of consistency on either end of the court after showing flashes throughout the last two seasons?
Can Mitotic be more of the player Bulls fans saw down the stretch and less of the guy they saw struggle against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals?
The one player who should thrive in this system is Pau Gasol. A true professional who knows his body and his game and how to make it work at this stage of his career. He is the player Bulls fans should have the fewest concerns about.
Then, there is Derrick Rose. Rose will have the biggest adjustment to make moving forward. After being the alpha dog on the court since his arrival, injuries have held him back and currently have him paying in a supporting role.
Honestly, it’s a role Rose should thrive in. Before he was the guy the Bulls relied on to score big buckets in big spots on a nightly basis, Rose was an elite distributor. He did it at the high school level at Simeon for some of the best teams in Illinois high school basketball history.
Rose moved on and did it again at college under John Calipari at Memphis. As a freshman on a veteran squad, Rose set up his teammates and always put them in a great spot to get off a good shot. If not for Mario Chalmers’ miracle 3-pointer, the talk of that game likely would’ve been Rose’s composure as a freshman point guard on a national title team.
While it might be considered a step back for some, the Bulls offense could reach new heights if Rose reprised his role as more of a traditional point guard in Holberg’s offense.
If he can accept his new role and thrive in it, I like the Bulls’ chances against any team in the East if they can stay healthy.
If not, the Bulls still have enough pieces to win 50 regular season games and a playoff series. But that simply won’t be enough for a team that has championship aspirations.