We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:
How will Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler coexist?
Usually, when a team adds a player the caliber of Dwyane Wade — three titles, Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star — the first thought is “good move.” This is a guy who averaged 19 points a game last season, is dangerous with the ball in his hands, cuts well off the ball, and showed in the playoffs that he can still dial it up for a stretch and take over games.
But when the Bulls brought him in, along with Rajon Rondo, the reaction around the league looked more like Seth and Amy saying “Really!?!”
The Bulls had finally made the right move — they traded Derrick Rose, let Joakim Noah walk, and moved on from the teams crafted for the Tom Thibodeau era. The Bulls were Jimmy Butler’s team, and they could go out and get players that fit the up-tempo, selflessly share-the-ball style Fred Hoiberg wants to play.
Which is why Wade and Rondo had people saying “really?”
How is this anything but treading water? Given the chance to rebuild and think strategically, the Bulls front office went for a quick fix move that isn’t really a fix.
It’s fair to ask how Rondo, Wade, and Butler can coexist on a playoff team?
Butler, Wade, and Rondo are three guys who work best with the ball in their hands slashing to the rim. Three guys doing the same thing is defendable. Plus, NBA rules still allow just one ball on the court at a time.
Even more concerning, in a league where every team is clamoring for more shooting, more floor spacing, the Bulls core guys now are not dangerous threats from three. Rondo, Wade, and Butler combined to make 133 three-pointers last season — an aging Kobe Bryant made that many by himself (in just 66 games). C.J. Miles made more by himself. Rondo was the most accurate of the three at 36.5 percent, and if he lines up beyond the arc this season, opponents will give him the shot.
It’s not hard to imagine a defensive strategy against the Bulls: Pack the paint, clog driving lanes, go under picks, and if anyone except Nikola Mirotic wants to shoot the three don’t run them off the line.
And we haven’t even gotten to the defensive end of the court. Rondo and Wade are not near their vintage selves on that end, key contributors like Mirotic and Doug McDermott struggle to get stops, and Robin Lopez is solid as a backstop but can only clean up so many messes.
All that said, we may be overestimating the issues with the Bulls. Somewhat. Maybe.
If the Bulls can do what Fred Hoiberg wants and get out and run — get offense before the defense sets — the slashing skills of Wade/Butler/Rondo can be put to good use. Have them slash, have Moritic and McDermott run to the arc, and you have a fairly dangerous offense.
The problem is last year’s Bulls were not built for that, and in this “rebuild” I’m not sure the Gar/Pax front office solved that problem. The Bulls didn’t get much more athletic.
The Bulls have talent on the roster — Butler spent his summer winning a gold medal in Rio, Wade can still get a team buckets, and there is depth with Lopez, Mirotic (who should have a big season), Taj Gibson (unless he’s traded), Tony Snell, McDermott, Bobby Portis, and rookie Denzel Valentine (maybe the player most ready to step in and contribute in the last draft).
The good news for the Bulls is in the NBA, talent wins out most nights.
If Hoiberg can stagger the minutes of his three big names and get more shooting on the floor, if he can find some balanced lineups, the Bulls are going to put up points. We also forget, Wade is a crafty player off the ball who makes smart cuts and will get some buckets that way. There is potential.
There are also many questions. Can player-friendly Hoiberg get enough buy in with his system? Is there a system that Rondo hasn’t pushed back against? Will Rondo stat hunt at the expense of the team? Will the ball move, or will it stick when Wade or Rondo get it and decide to pound it and survey the floor for five-plus seconds? Will set defenses just play back, take away driving lanes, and force the Bulls’ three big names to shoot jumpers? How healthy will Wade’s knees stay, and how what will the Bulls’ Wade maintenance program look like? If the Bulls are scoring, can they get enough stops for it to matter?
Rondo, Wade, and Butler can coexist — these are three competitive guys, two of whom have rings and one who is willing to learn — but not in a “this team can put a scare in the Cavaliers” kind of way. More in a “with those three guys the Bulls could beat out enough of the Miami/Atlanta/Charlotte/Washington kind of teams to make the playoffs” kind of way. Maybe. If the Bulls come together for Hoiberg.
But is that the way that Gar/Pax wanted to rebuild around Butler? Really!?!