Taj Gibson

After trading Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, where do the Bulls go from here?

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Jimmy Butler is now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. In a draft day trade, the Timberwolves received Jimmy Butler and reunited him with his old coach from Chicago Tom Thibodeau. In exchange for the shooting guard, the Chicago Bulls received the No. 7 overall pick — Chicago took Arizona’s Lauri MarkkanenKris Dunn, and Zach LaVine.

The question now in Chicago is this: now what?

Butler, 27, was the superstar the Bulls needed post-Derrick Rose. Now, with Butler gone, the Bulls will need to rebuild in a year in which they have young assets mixed with older, more expensive players that don’t seem to match up. After a year in which Chicago just barely made the playoffs with the eight seed, they are going to need to readjust their entire roster. That could mean new landing places for Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Robin Lopez.

Forget on the on-floor performance for a moment, the real question for Chicago will be how to properly allocate their resources when it comes to salary in the coming season. Wade, 35, will reportedly opt into the final year of his contract to play for his hometown team despite Butler moving to Minnesota. Chicago will earn the right to pay Wade $23.8 million for this upcoming season. Rondo is in much the same boat, with $13.4 million left in the final year of his contract.

From a wins perspective, both players would no doubt be highly crucial to any wins this new Bulls team would garner in the coming season. But both players have a staggering amount of salary left, and would no doubt take up valuable playing time for the young, newly acquired players that the Bulls should want to develop.

The most obvious choice for both Rondo and Wade would be waivers or buyouts. Rondo’s contract only has $3 million left on it if he is bought out before June 30. Despite a solid playoff performance, Rondo does not have a $13 million value to the Bulls in terms of playing time, and they don’t have a need for whatever erratic play he may bring to the table.

While the Butler trade created a $15.3 million exception for the Bulls, Wade’s contract stands as an albatross that is in the way of both free agency this season and extensions for young players in the coming season. Chicago is facing restricted free agency for Nikola Mirotic come July, and will need to figure out what to do with younger players like Michael Carter-Williams and Cristiano Felicio.

After decisions are made this summer for those players, the Bulls will need to figure out how to sign LaVine to an extension. Given the market for players of his caliber and position, LaVine will almost certainly command a number comparable to what Wade’s salary currently occupies on the Chicago cap space.

This is all before we even get to Lopez, who has $26 million left on his contract for the next two seasons. While he is still a productive player, at age 29 it’s unclear at how much Lopez factors into Chicago’s future plans. Given his contract situation it might be better to try to move him as a means to acquire new assets that are closer in age to the Bulls’ new core.

If your head is not spinning by now, you’re one of the lucky ones. It just gets worse from here.

It seems highly probable that Rondo will be waived or bought out in order to minimize the impact he has on the cap this season. He doesn’t glean much on the trade market given his current full contract value, and his an uneasy play (despite his playoff prowess) is something that that has driven potential trade suitors away.

What to do with Wade is an entirely different conversation. If Chicago decided to buy him out this summer it would be a clear choice of direction in terms of both the roster makeup and the playing time allotted to the new young backcourt at the United Center. The Bulls would immediately become ultra flexible, and able to match a restricted offer for Mirotic without fearing any kind of retribution down the line for when they try to sign other players in free agency or offer LaVine an extension.

Then again, they could wait to buy him out until later in the season, say, around the All-Star Game, all the while taking in ticket sales for Chicago fans to see their hometown star. There is no doubt that Wade would be a good influence on younger players in the locker room, despite the high price tag. If they want to buy him out later in the season, he could join another team in time for a playoff run. That might convince Wade to take a larger amount off of his contract come buyout time.

Lost in the sauce of all this contract talk is just what the Bulls are doing with their future. LaVine looked excellent before his ACL injury in 2016-17, and Dunn had promise despite a disappointing first season in Minnesota. By all accounts, the Bulls gave up too much in their trade with the Timberwolves, with most lamenting their decision to send the No. 16 pick to Minnesota despite Chicago giving up the best player in the swap.

There’s also the matter of the Bulls trading Jordan Bell to the Golden State Warriors straight up for cash considerations. Bell was an excellent player at Oregon, and would have a fit right in with Chicago’s new young core. Given that there is an issue with the Chicago front line when it comes to Mirotic’s RFA contract and Felicio’s free agency, the idea that Bell would not have fit in with the young Bulls is sort of baffling.

Yes, Chicago selected Lauri Markkanen with the No. 7 overall pick, but the University of Arizona product is not projected to be enough of a influence to suggest Bell had to be moved. Bell is almost certainly getting sent to the G-League for the Warriors, but he could have played a role for a team in Chicago that needs theirs defined. If the Butler trade was symbolic of their new direction, perhaps the Bell-for-cash swap was most emblematic of how the Bulls do business.

At the end of the day, Chicago’s trade with Minnesota sending Butler back to Thibodeau feels hilariously lopsided, and pushes the full reset for the Bulls in the years since Rose, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson led the team. Unless either LaVine, Markkanen, or Dunn exceed Butler’s performance for Chicago, it’s unlikely that history will look kindly at this trade. When the Bulls brought in Wade and Rondo last season, it looked like the team that once challenged in the Eastern Conference had started their decline. Once Rondo and Wade are gone, we’re likely to see the bottom for Chicago.

Thunder’s Andre Roberson entering free agency after impactful playoff series

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The Rockets were starting to pull away from the Thunder in Game 5 of their first-round series, and the Houston crowd was looking for a reason to erupt. The Rockets provided one by intentionally fouling Roberson despite holding Oklahoma City without a basket for the previous five minutes. The Thunder wing stepped to the line in the loudening arena and, of course, missed both free throws.

But Roberson didn’t go down quietly.

On the ensuing defensive possession, he picked up James Harden in the backcourt and hounded the Rockets star on the perimeter. Harden passed to Nene, and Roberson doubled the center in the post and stole the ball. Roberson passed to Russell Westbrook then laid out Patrick Beverley with an open-court screen, freeing Westbrook to score.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. Oklahoma City fell in five games, Westbrook’s supporting cast unable to keep up enough with its MVP candidate.

“That’ll definitely be one thing that haunt me, Roberson said of his free-throw shooting against Houston, “and something I’ll work on extremely hard this summer.”

Roberson’s postseason confirmed everything we thought we knew about him: He’s a defensive dynamo, and he can’t shoot.

But understanding Roberson’s skill set is only a small step in evaluating him. Teams are better than ever at exposing perimeter players who can’t shoot, and that makes Roberson’s price point difficult to read as he enters restricted free agency. The Thunder delayed the decision – extending Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo last year while allowing Roberson to complete his rookie-scale contract without an extension – but time is practically up.

For better or worse, it was all there in the playoffs.

Roberson made just 3-of-21 free throws (14%), the worst percentage by anyone with so many attempts in a postseason series (since 1964, as far as Basketball-Reference go back). Here are the worst free-throw percentages in a series since 1964 (minimum: 100 attempts):

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This was hardly out of the norm for Roberson, who made just 42% of his free throws during the regular season.

His postseason 3-point percentage (41%) was way better than his regular-season baseline (25%), but he attempted just 17 3-pointers in 185 playoff minutes. Not only is that a small sample, it speaks to another problem. The Rockets typically left him open, and he was reluctant to shoot. That allowed Houston to defend 5-on-4 elsewhere with only minimal repercussions. Despite playing more than 90% of his minutes with Westbrook, the Thunder still scored worse with Roberson on the court.

So why did Roberson receive such a prominent role in the series?

He’s a defensive stud. Roberson ranks fourth among players who regularly defend opposing guards in defensive real plus-minus:

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Roberson shadowed Harden for too much of the series to gauge on-off splits, but adding regular-season Thunder-Rockets games reveals a clearer (though still limited) picture:

James Harden Roberson on Roberson off
Minutes 320 16
Points per 36 minutes 25.3 51.8
Turnovers per 36 minutes 6.0 0.0
Free-throw attempts per 36 minutes 10.9 22.5
2-point percentage 50.5% 60.0%
3-point percentage 21.1% 60.0%
Effective field-goal percentage 41.9% 75.0%

Harden, arguably the NBA’s best offensive player, was held in relative check with Roberson on the floor. When Roberson sat, Harden went wild.

There has to be a place for a defender like Roberson in this league.

Is it in Oklahoma City?

Roberson was effective in last year’s playoffs as a small-ball big. He cut and crashed the offensive glass. That got harder with two of Adams, Taj Gibson and Enes Kanter occupying the paint. The Thunder maximizing Roberson’s production might mean losing a big man or two. Gibson will be a free agent and said he wants to return. Adams and Kanter are locked into lucrative long-term deals.

When it comes to Roberson, it’s always complicated.

Bulls’ Rajon Rondo has fractured thumb, out indefinitely

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Rajon Rondo, after a rough start to the season blending in with the Bulls, accepted his role the second half of the year, grew in importance to the team, and has been crucial to Chicago going up 2-0 on Boston in the first round, setting up a potential 1/8 upset.

Now Rondo is out indefinitely with a broken thumb, the Bulls have announced. Here is the entire press release:

Rajon Rondo injured his right hand in Game 2 at Boston on Tuesday night. Rondo underwent a subsequent exam and x-rays that confirmed a thumb fracture. Surgery is not required for this injury, and he is out indefinitely.

Rondo has averaged 10.2 points and 6.6 assists in the first two games of the playoffs against Boston, running the offense on one end and, more importantly, being a key part of the defense that has stymied the Celtics on the other. Chicago has been +14.5 per 100 possessions with Rondo on the court through the first two games, -5.4 without him (there is other noise in that number, obviously).

Rondo is tough, but it’s obviously unclear when he could return.

This means a lot more Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, and maybe some Cameron Payne for the Bulls at the point, although in practice it means Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade handling the ball. Coach Fred Hoiberg likely will try some no point guard lineups, but the mid-season trade of Taj Gibson (and Doug McDermott) make that much harder.

After two games where the physical Bulls knocked the Celtics around — in Boston — it was challenging to come up with things the Celtics could do differently to change this series around. Chicago has owned the paint and the glass, and their length and physicality has bothered Boston up and down the roster. But this injury changes the dynamics of the series and opens the door to a Boston comeback that seemed nearly impossible 24 hours ago.

Raptors, Bulls, Clippers, Thunder big risers when adjusting for playoff rotations

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Kyle Korver played 894 minutes for the Hawks this season. Ed Davis played 789 minutes for the Trail Blazers. Lucas Nogueira played 1,088 minutes for the Raptors.

All three players factor into any season-long evaluation – including won-loss record and net rating – for those teams. But Korver (trade), Davis (season-ending injury) and Nogueira (fell out of rotation) won’t factor into those teams’ first-round series.

So, to account for rotation changes like that on every playoff team, I’ve found how many points per 100 possessions teams score and allow when five players projected to be in the postseason rotation are on the floor together.

This is hardly a perfect measure. Teams rarely announce their playoff rotations, so we’re left with my predictions of which players will receive regular playing time. The minutes distribution among players in the adjusted rating can vary from what it’ll be during the playoffs. This doesn’t take into account opponent quality. Some teams have larger samples than others.

But I find it useful, another data point among the many necessary to evaluate the upcoming playoffs. It shows how the players we project to see on the court for the next few months have played together, without someone else affecting the chemistry.

Here’s each team’s offensive, defensive and net ratings adjust from the regular season to counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the play rotation (using nbawowy! to calculate):

Eastern Conference

3. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 113.1 to 116.8
  • Defensive rating:  108.9 to 106.6
  • Net rating: +4.2 to +10.2

8. Chicago Bulls

  • Offensive rating: 107.8 to 116.0
  • Defensive rating:  107.3 to 109.6
  • Net rating: +0.5 to +6.4

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 114.4 to 118.0
  • Defensive rating:  111.1 to 112.1
  • Net rating: +3.3 to +5.9

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 116.5
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.7
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.8

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 114.4
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 109.2
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.2

6. Milwaukee Bucks

  • Offensive rating: 110.1 to 111.2
  • Defensive rating:  110.3 to 107.4
  • Net rating: -0.2 to +3.8

7. Indiana Pacers

  • Offensive rating: 109.3 to 110.3
  • Defensive rating:  109.5 to 108.2
  • Net rating: -0.2 to +2.1

5. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 106.5 to 108.0
  • Defensive rating:  108.2 to 106.3
  • Net rating: -1.7 to +1.7

Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 116.6 to 121.7
  • Defensive rating:  104.9 to 102.9
  • Net rating: +11.7 to +18.8

4. Los Angeles Clippers

  • Offensive rating: 113.5 to 120.7
  • Defensive rating: 108.8 to 107.0
  • Net rating: +4.7 to +13.7

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 109.4 to 113.8
  • Defensive rating:  108.6 to 104.2
  • Net rating: +0.8 to +9.6

3. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 115.5 to 118.5
  • Defensive rating: 109.7 to 109.5
  • Net rating: +5.8 to +9.0

2. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.4
  • Defensive rating: 104.2 to 106.9
  • Net rating: +7.5 to +8.5

5. Utah Jazz

  • Offensive rating: 110.7 to 112.5
  • Defensive rating:  106.4 to 107.2
  • Net rating: +4.3 to +5.3

7. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offensive rating: 108.8 to 114.3
  • Defensive rating: 108.1 to 109.3
  • Net rating: +0.7 to +5.0

8. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 111.2 to 121.0
  • Defensive rating: 111.7 to 116.1
  • Net rating: -0.5 to +4.9

Observations:

  • All 16 teams improve with the adjustment, which is logical. When teams tighten their rotations, they’re left with only better players.
  • The Clippers (nine points per 100 possessions better) make the biggest jump.
  • This model predicts two first-round upsets: Bulls over Celtics and Thunder over Rockets. In fact, Chicago (Wizards or Hawks) and Oklahoma City (Spurs or Grizzlies) also rate ahead of either potential second-round foe.
  • The Warriors were better than everyone else in the regular season, and that advantage is only amplified with the adjustment. And I set their playoff rotation 11 deep, more players than any other team. If they need to pare down, they’d get even more dangerous.
  • I projected 10 players in the Cavaliers’ rotation. If they tighten that, they too could get better.
  • Are the Raptors the top team in the East now? They played very well after the trade deadline with Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker providing toughness – all while Kyle Lowry was out. Now that Lowry is healthy, this could be a complete team, which the adjustment indicates. However, because of the mismatched availability (Lowry in the first of the season, Ibaka and Tucker in the second half), Toronto’s sample size is relatively small.
  • Likewise, I’m not convinced the Bulls’ adjusted rating is reliable. It too stems from a relatively small sample, and because all Taj Gibson lineups are removed, time after the trade deadline weighs heavily. So, that includes Nikola Mirotic‘s hot stretch and Rajon Rondo‘s resurgence – which both came with Dwyane Wade out. Now that Wade is back, can Chicago put everything together the way these numbers suggest?
  • The Wizards would’ve rated better, just ahead of the Bulls for second in the East, if Ian Mahinmi were healthy.
  • I don’t know whether the Bucks will use Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic or Spencer Hawes as their backup stretch player. I guessed Beasley, who conveniently produces the middle mark in adjusted net rating among the three.
  • The Clippers would have fared a little worse, though still would’ve ranked second in the West, if I included the injured Austin Rivers. That’s not because Rivers is bad, but because excluding any lineups that include him emphasizes L.A.’s powerful starting lineup.
  • I gave the Thunder a narrow eight-man rotation that includes neither Doug McDermott nor Alex Abrines. If Oklahoma City needs one of those wings – and it might – its adjusted net rating would suffer.
  • Deep teams like the Celtics and Spurs aren’t rewarded here. When gluing lesser players to the bench in a stretch of the season with no back-to-backs, other teams can catch up.

Watch Russell Westbrook tie Oscar Robertson with his 41st triple-double (VIDEO)

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Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook has now tied Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in an NBA season with 41. Let that sink in for a moment.

Westbrook made history against Robertson’s former team, the Milwaukee Bucks. The big play that sealed the tie was a defensive rebound followed by an assist to Thunder forward Taj Gibson.

Here’s how the play looked on the court.

Via Twitter:

Congratulations are in order for Westbrook and Thunder fans. This year has been one of the most incredible MVP races in recent memory, and either way you come down on it between Westbrook and James Harden, you’ve got to feel satisfied for witnessing it.

Westbrook still has five chances to take hold of the record for himself. The Thunder play Memphis, Phoenix, Denver, and Minnesota on the road before finishing the season at home against the Nuggets.