When Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL a year-and-a-half ago, it was an awful moment in Chicago Bulls history, but it also was a blessing in disguise. The next five years of Chicago Bulls basketball will be better because of the hardships that were incurred.
There are three key improvements that are a direct result of the injury which can be directly tied to the injury:
- The expected improvements to Derrick Rose’s game in efficiency and passing.
- The emergence of Jimmy Butler.
- The addition of Mike Dunleavy, which should result in a reduction of injuries.
The Expected Improvements to Derrick Rose’s Game
Rose personally benefitted by getting injured because the two greatest weaknesses he had were addressed during his recovery. Those weaknesses are shooting efficiency and an over-reliance on shooting.
The following chart shows how the Bulls fare when Rose reaches various benchmarks.
Now, here’s the same chart showing the same data represented by percentages.
The first chart shows how frequently those benchmarks are reached, the second how successful Chicago is when Rose meets them.
As you can see, when he’s scoring efficiently and distributing the ball, it has a more favorable impact on the Bulls winning than when he’s scoring in volume. Regardless of whether it’s with his scoring or passing, he makes the Bulls better, but when he’s scoring efficiently and passing, the Bulls are nearly unbeatable.
Because of his injury, he spent massive amounts of time on those two areas, and there have been numerous reports that his perimeter game is significantly improved. There are also reports that he spent lots of time studying film and improving his understanding of the game.
He only hit the .500, eight-assist mark 23 times in 120 games the previous two seasons, but the Bulls were 21-2 in those games. The frequency of those occurrences should come up, which if the winning percentage even stays within 10 or 15 percent of where it is now, could mean a mid-60s-win season for the Bulls.
The Emergence of Jimmy Butler
The Chicago Bulls have had a three-year search for a starting shooting guard, and they may have accidentally found the answer. Their backup small forward has taken up the mantle as starting shooting guard. That’s not an easy mantle to take.
You may be aware that they have a pretty decent legacy there, and no, Butler is not going to fill those preposterously large shoes. Yet the more recent history is like filling kiddie shoes. To replace Keith Bogans he only needs to play marginally well. To replace Richard Hamilton, he only needs to play, period.
Over the two-year span from 2011 and 2012 when the Bulls shooting guards collectively outscored their counterparts, the team was 46-9. When they won the won the efficiency battle they were 65-11.
That means two things. First, it means that they didn’t win that battle very often. Second, it shows that when they do get the “win” from their 2-guard, they get the win in the game.
It’s like the two guys and the bear, where the one guy tells the other, “I don’t need to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun you.” Butler doesn’t need to carry the team, or beat them. He just needs to outplay his opponent to almost assure the Bulls win the game.
The Bulls are such a balanced starting five that if they get just a little from their shooting guard, it’s enough to put them over the top.
Before, Butler was seen as a defensive specialist who had trouble shooting. But, according to Butler himself, Rose deserves a lot of the credit for his breaking out as a shooter over the second half of the season. Butler told the "Waddle and Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000 (h/t ESPNChicago.com):
He was a big part of the success I had later in the year because he was constantly telling me I've seen you do this, I've seen you make those shots, you take those shots. Every shot you take, think it's going in, think you're going to make it. When you have somebody like that on your side who is constantly building you up it makes it easier to go out and perform and do well.
Now Butler does this.
Because of Rose’s injury, he adopted more of a coach’s mentality, and suit jokes aside, that coaching had an obvious impact. After the All-Star break Butler was a ridiculous .475 from deep. Now Butler represents a bona fide two-way threat who should outplay his opponent well over half the time.
The Addition of Mike Dunleavy
In part, because of Rose’s absence there was a cascading effect of injuries on the Chicago Bulls last year. The Bulls missed 113 games due to injury last year alone, and that’s not even including the Rose injury.
If you want to put things in perspective, consider this. Over the last three years, the Bulls have had their preferred starting five 43 times. They’ve started Kurt Thomas 37 times, and he hasn’t even played for them in two years.
In many ways, it’s shocking the degree of success they’ve had with the plethora of injuries they’ve incurred. Yet no team can go on like that forever.
A big part of the problem has been that the Bulls bench has been composed of one-way players. There have been players who were good defensively, i.e. Ronnie Brewer, and there were players who were good offensively, i.e. Kyle Korver, but there haven’t been players who were effective two-way players.
This all came to a head this summer with the firing of Ron Adams. There was a conflict between the coaching staff and front office over the caliber of Bulls backups. In short, Tom Thibodeau was overplaying his starters because he didn’t have confidence in his bench. Then when his starters were injured— possibly in part due to that extended play—he would overplay his bench players because that’s all that was left.
It seems that the upshot of all of this is that the Bulls went out and got Mike Dunleavy, by far the best two-way wing to come off the bench for Chicago since Thibodeau arrived. He’s not quite as good of a shooter as Korver, but he can hit from deep. (He was .428 from deep last year to Korver’s .457).
And he’s not the on-ball defender that Ronnie Brewer is, but he’s a far better team defender than Korver.
Looking at what Rose and Korver did on the court together provides an interesting perspective. Here are their wins and losses based on how many minutes they played together during Korver’s tenure.
Over 20 Minutes
Under 10 Minutes
Now, what’s interesting here is that when Korver hardly played with Rose, the Bulls won a lot. When he played over 20 minutes with Rose, they were likely to win. When he played between 10 and 20 minutes with Rose, they weren’t as likely to win.
The reason for that is not as complicated as you might think. Chicago had a defensive rating of 116.7 when Rose and Korver were on the court together in losses. They had a defensive rating of 101.0 when they played together in wins.
In games where the Bulls offense was clicking, Thibodeau would hold Korver on the bench. When Korver was having a rare good defensive game, Thibodeau was happy to leave him out there for extended minutes.
Most of the time, it was something in the middle. It was a constant juggling act, trying to keep Korver’s offense in without letting his defense give up whatever benefit his offense gave the team.
My personal conclusion is that in a compromise, the Bulls front office fired Ron Adams because he was frankly disrespectful but went out and signed the player that Thibodeau wanted in Dunleavy to appease him. Dunleavy will be able to help the team on offense without hurting the team defensively.
This, in turn, should mean that Luol Deng will be given more bench minutes than he’s been getting the last few years.
Without Rose’s injury, the entire injury situation may not have come to a head producing the best backup Deng has had.
Now the Bulls are authentically eight players deep, including Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson. The Bulls are committed to giving Marquis Teague more playing time, and Nazr Mohammed earned some trust last year after Joakim Noah’s injury.
The one big hole left at the backup wing was filled with the signing of Dunleavy, and that should help tremendously with the biggest issue the Bulls have had. Ironically, Rose’s injury may have solved the injury bug.
The 2013-14 version of the Bulls should be the best yet in the Thibodeau era, and it probably wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Rose’s injury.