The Bulls’ 2016-17 opening-night starters combined to make 133 3-pointers last season.
Twenty-nine players made more themselves.
Chicago was always going to face questions about floor-spacing with Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler starting on the perimeter. But Fred Hoiberg intensified the concern by naming Taj Gibson the Bulls’ starting power forward with Robin Lopez at center.
No NBA team has started a season with such a meager 3-point-shooting lineup in years.
Here’s how many 3s each Chicago starter made per game last season:
- Rondo: 0.86
- Wade: 0.09
- Butler: 0.96
- Gibson: 0.00
- Lopez: 0.00
Grand total: 1.91.
Sixty-three players made at least two 3-pointers in their 2016-17 debut.
Obviously, we don’t know how players will shoot this season – especially for the Bulls, who open their season against the Celtics tonight. So, to get a rough estimate, let’s assume each 2016-17 opening-game starter makes the same number of 3-pointers per game he made last season. Here’s how each team would rank. (Because the Clippers, Wizards and Hawks have also yet to play this season, I projected their starters.)
Keep in mind: These rankings give zero made 3s to anyone who didn’t play in the NBA last year, and 2016-17 starters who were in smaller roles last season get no adjustment upward.
That the Bulls are starting five players who started last year and still rank last speaks volumes.
This rough projection gives the Bulls’ starters 1.91 3-pointers per game, but we don’t need to project for previous seasons. We know how many aggregate 3-pointers per game each prior team’s opening-game starters produced that season.
The last team with so few was the 2012-13 New Orleans Hornets with 1.58 – and it had been two years before that since another team had less than Chicago’s projection. Those Hornets went 27-55, though their offense ranked 16th in the league.
These Bulls are truly a throwback to a different era. Teams have come to understand the value of 3-pointers, both for their efficiency themselves and the floor-spacing they provide. There’s a reason no other team dares to start a lineup like Chicago’s.
The Pelicans come closest, but they’re relying on E'Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill taking larger roles. New Orleans’ outside shooting will also improve when Jrue Holiday returns.
The Bulls essentially have their full roster available, and they opted for this lineup – even though there are other options. The simplest would’ve been starting Nikola Mirotic, a stretch four who seemed certain to start given Chicago’s constraints. Gibson might be a better player. He ‘s definitely a better defender and offensive rebounder. But Mirotic’s fit seemed so natural.
Hoiberg can stagger minutes, and Mirotic and Doug McDermott should play key roles as floor-spacers. But the Bulls are committing to starting each half with several minutes of this non-shooting lineup.
Of course, it doesn’t have to go as poorly as history would suggest.
Wade has shown an improved ability on 3-pointers in the preseason. Butler has been up and down from beyond the arc, so it shouldn’t be assumed last year’s poor outside shooting is truly representative.
But Rondo is coming off the best 3-point season of his career, and it seems it might be a fluke outlier. Gibson and Lopez have shown no proficiency from downtown.
Still, there other ways to space the floor. Rondo passes extremely well. Wade excels as a cutter. Butler’s drives demand attention. Gibson can out-muscle opponents to spots. Robin Lopez is exceptionally quick around the paint for a big man.
But 3-point shooting is the simplest and most direct method for creating space. The Bulls will be working from behind there – years behind.