In five days of basketball work, the Chicago Bulls have managed to push the NBA into re-considering its initial assumption behind the team’s formation. Presuming there was a settled assumption to begin with, of course, because just about everyone following this league admitted to having absolutely no clue as to what the Bulls were on about when they signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to pair alongside incumbent All-Star Jimmy Butler over the 2016 offseason.
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The team is 3-0, though, and coming off of a sterling 30-point thrashing of the Brooklyn Nets on Halloween night. The Bulls are tops in the NBA in offensive efficiency and in the top seven defensively, opponents aren’t exactly packing the paint on this group of non-shooters, and thus far TV’s Dwyane Wade has impressed with his 34-year old sense of derring-do:
This, via Hoopshype, had the understandably stagnant BKN crowd cheering for an encore:
Barclays is literally cheering on Wade to school Bogdanovic again. This is something.
— David Vertsberger (@_Verts) November 1, 2016
Wade with nasty cross overs on Bogdanovic..the Nets crowd cheering for Wade to do more..crazy–a home crowd supporting a visitor to score
— chuck swirsky (@ctsbulls) November 1, 2016
This is Dwayne Wade talking about Barclays Center: "I always get support. The fans are amazing. It feels like home."
— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) November 1, 2016
Wade is averaging 16 points per game as a Bull thus far through those three contests, second on the team to Jimmy Butler’s 20.7 points per game. Bench contributors Doug McDermott and Isaiah Canaan (who will be forced into extended minutes at ostensible point guard with Michael Carter-Williams out for 3-4 weeks due to a knee injury) have hit 11-22 from long range, while fellow reserve Nikola Mirotic is averaging 13 points per game thus far.
Only three games, but …
31 three pointers made by #Bulls are the most in franchise history through first 3 games of a season.
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) November 1, 2016
Just a three-contest span, but …
Only 144 minutes to count, but …
Jimmy Butler on Hoiberg: "Maybe I judged someone too quickly."
— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) November 1, 2016
Butler on Hoiberg: "He's definitely changed for the better. He knows his guys a lot better now, which is great."
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) November 1, 2016
Butler, you’ll recall, infamously chided his then-rookie coach Fred Hoiberg for not coaching “harder at times” last season as Chicago (for the second season in a row) moped its way to an underwhelming campaign in 2015-16. With Hoiberg ($25 million) and Butler ($95.5 million) similarly working under five-year deals signed during the summer of 2015, neither was going anywhere soon. Someone had to budge.
It’s unclear at this point (not sure if you’ve heard, but we’re just three games in …) as to whether anyone has. NBA observers rightfully laughed at Chicago for presenting Hoiberg with a litany of non-shooters during the 2016 offseason, hamstringing the former Iowa State coach that made his hay with ball movement and heaps of spacing with ball-dominant types that could not be trusted to make a defense blink from 25-feet away.
Famously, Dwyane Wade already had a whack at that. Butler has hit 6-11 long range shots to start the season and Rondo … listen, Rajon Rondo (1-5 from deep this year) will forever stink at lining up a distant jumper.
What Rondo is doing is giving the rock up earlier in possessions, and helping encouraging ball and player movement by only applying his brand of basketball stylings when needed. Rajon is down to sixth in the NBA in assists after leading the league in dimes during 2015-16, hitting for under nine a game, but the Bulls lead the NBA in assist percentage and, again, are tops in overall offense.
This is no coincidence. Neither is the reflection coming from that schedule, though.
The Bulls led off the season by plying the Boston Celtics with October sting on the second night of a back-to-back for Brad Stevens’ crew. Chicago then took on the Indiana Pacers on Indy’s second game in as many nights prior to appearing before the Brooklyn Nets on Monday. The Nets are a walking back-to-back, and they played like it during the 118-88 loss.
This grooved start, and the All-Star level play of Taj Gibson, helps explains Chicago’s dominance on the offensive glass, and the team’s ability to both get to the line and stop opponents from subletting time at the charity stripe. At the very least, the Bulls are taking care of poor and/or hamstrung teams – something that couldn’t be counted on in previous years.
The Bulls have an intelligent roster. This has never been in question. For as much as we talked up Rondo, Wade and Butler’s mitigating factors regarding their ability to shoot the basketball, however, much more should have been written about the team’s potential ability to ignore its significant basketball IQ in the chase for something smaller.
For Dwyane Wade to give up on plays and remind everyone within ear shot that he has Pat Riley’s number on the ready. For Rondo to chase stats. For Butler to alternate preening and (at understandable instances, especially over the last two years) moping. For Fred Hoiberg to give up on pushing that playbook, staying silent to his team’s detriment.
Three games in, and it is working. Teams with this sort of payroll and this sort of potential, however, shouldn’t be applauded for doing what they’re supposed to do.
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