With their season emphatically over, the Chicago Bulls focus their attention on how not to repeat this process a year from now. Before the chase for Carmelo Anthony and other prized free agents can get underway in July, the 30 NBA teams will look to add talent and fill roster holes through the draft.
Chicago will have two opportunities in the first round (16th and 19th picks), and one in the second (49th) to help re-enter into the discussion of the league's elite teams.
Bulls fans with thick enough skin to continue following the playoffs after their team's pathetic ousting in Round 1 got served a dose of REALITY watching Los Angeles demolish Oklahoma City on the Thunder's home floor Monday night.
Clippers scored 69 points in 24 minutes. Bulls scored 69 points in 48 minutes.— BullsBasketball (@SEE_RED_) May 6, 2014
The 2013-14 schedule is littered with examples of a competitive team that suffered offensive woes. According to Basketball-Reference.com, only Utah (30) failed to reach 90 points more times than the Bulls (29). While the league average was 13.8, Brooklyn (18) had the most among remaining playoff teams.
Not that you need more evidence, but there was also that little 12-minute stretch in the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 2 against the Wizards in which Chicago mustered four made baskets and eight free throws, all while blowing an eight-point lead.
Not to mention the 13-point advantage they threw away the game before it.
The bottom line is they couldn't score in both the bigger picture—finishing third worst in offensive efficiency per ESPN—and on a situational basis (see depressing paragraph above). These Bulls need help.
Let's begin with what went right.
Coach Tom Thibodeau put together another brilliant defensive unit that held opponents under 90 points a league-best 37 times, per Basketball-Reference.com. Joakim Noah turned in a spectacular effort on that end, earning himself Defensive Player of the Year honors, while Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler garnered All-Defensive Second Team discussion.
Sure, the Bulls held the Wizards under 90 points just once in five tries, allowing them to hit over 38 percent from behind the arc for the series. But you aren't going to get much better than what this team throws at their opponents on a nightly basis.
Point guard and wing are the weakest links defensively and, while you aren't looking to upgrade on Rose, the three position remains a question. The front office must have had visions of Tony Snell playing alongside Jimmy Butler the day they traded Luol Deng, because the city of Chicago shouldn't have to go through another season with Mike Dunleavy in the starting lineup. If they aren't committed to last year's first round pick (which it appears they are), the Bulls have great positioning to find a Thibodeau-style wing with one of their first-rounders.
James Young, K.J. McDaniels and Jerami Grant seem to fit that bill, but each has their limitations and it's hard to envision any of them making an immediate impact.
Their own perimeter shooting left a whole lot to be desired. It's no big secret, really. Chicago hit 34.8 percent of threes during the regular season—better than just six lottery-bound teams—and only got worse in the playoffs (33.3 percent). They finished 25th in terms of the percentage of points scored from threes.
How big of an issue was it?
So much of the Bulls' potential playoff success hinges on Kirk staying hot. That is scary, but he hit 43% from three in March, 36% in April.— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) April 21, 2014
An inability to spread the floor limited Chicago's opportunities to get easy buckets. Over the course of the season, it had the second-worst field goal percentage in the restricted area and the absolute worst in the paint outside the restricted area, per NBA.com.
And unless the front office makes moves quickly, this component of their offense will suffer further. D.J. Augustin—the only Bull to finish with a top-50 three-point percentage among qualified players this season—is a free agent and may have priced himself out of re-signing.
Imagining a world in which a 34-year-old Dunleavy represents your big perimeter threat hurts the soul.
Even if Chicago can splash for Anthony or a three-point specialist in free agency (of which there are very few), it better take a long look at finding one in the draft as well.
Though Doug McDermott should be off the board by Chicago's first pick, it's possible that he or another sniper such as Nik Stauskas slips a bit between now and June 26.
Shooting better from the perimeter isn't the only way to become a more potent offense, nor was it the only area in which Chicago struggled. Without Derrick Rose, creating individual offense has proven to be another of the team's Achilles' heels.
No team scored a smaller percentage of unassisted baskets this season—or the one before it—with Rose sitting on the sideline for all but 10 games. But the last time Chicago's star point guard saw regular court time the results weren't much different. In the lockout-shortened 2010-11 season, only Boston and seven-win Charlotte scored a smaller portion of unassisted points, according to NBA.com.
Chicago Now's Doug Thonus makes a great point about this team's shortcomings as currently formed:
[Jimmy Butler]'s playing on a team where he's the third perimeter option and shoots mostly corner threes.
Jimmy Butler's production looked a lot better under those circumstances too. While I don't think Luol Deng was a great offensive player, he certainly pushed Butler down a peg on the opponent's defend them at all costs chart, and Jimmy's been shooting fewer corner threes this season.
Butler had the perfect chance to prove he could be relied on as a source of scoring. After all, Stacey King nicknamed him "Jimmy G Buckets, the G stands for get".
But the Marquette product did little of that in the playoffs, contributing 13.6 points on 38.6 percent shooting in 43.6 minutes a game. Some of that has to do with Butler conserving energy to guard the opponent's best wing, but you need more from a guy who's going to play the entire game.
Even with Rose (hopefully) back in the fold, and likely at cut rate athleticism, this team needs someone who can provide a jolt of instant offense at a moment's notice. Think T.J. Warren or P.J. Hairston, both of whom should be available and can create their own shot off the dribble.
GM Gar Forman and VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson could throw everyone for a loop in packaging some combination of their three picks to move up and grab a guy like Gary Harris. The former Michigan State Spartan solves both this and the outside shooting issues at once, while being voted the most NBA-ready Big Ten prospect by six of eight reporters who cover the conference.
Backup Point Guard/Plan B for Rose
Mentioning the possibility that Rose's knees won't hold up in The Return 2.0 might be worse than Harry Potter addressing He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named by the name he must not be named as...
That made more sense in my head.
The point is that Chicago's hopes for a championship rest atop a formerly torn left ACL and right MCL. As they've learned the last two go-rounds, it would behoove the front office to put in place a more legitimate exit strategy than close your eyes and hope your long shot (Nate Robinson one year, Augustin the next) over-performs.
Kirk Hinrich, while a fan favorite and as scrappy a guard as you'll find, showed his limitations when thrust into the starting lineup. While he may be serviceable in the backup role he was intended to fill, his name just doesn't have the same allure now that he's 33.
Elfrid Payton and Shabazz Napier fit that role, and both should be on the board when Chicago picks at 19.
Third Big Man
One part of Chicago's plan is to bring over European draft-and-stash special Nikola Mirotic this summer. If so, this next section is irrelevant. But obtaining Mirotic's services will be more difficult than originally thought.
Bring Anthony into the mix and you can pretty confidently put the kibosh on Mirotic, at least until next summer.
With that in mind—and assuming Carlos Boozer gets the amnesty axe—the Bulls will feature Noah, Gibson and unknown commodity Greg Smith as their only front court guys. Adreian Payne represents a best-case scenario if he's available. He's got size at 6'10", he can spread the floor (shooting 42 percent from three this year) and spent four years developing under Tom Izzo.
This is the first time in a long while (the disastrous 2010 offseason excluded) that Chicago has tons of options and serious pressure to shake things up, so expect fireworks.
Whoever the Bulls go after both in the draft and via free agency, they better be looking at stone cold scorers. Ricky O'Donnell, Bulls blogger at SB Nation, puts it best speaking about the team's early ouster from the playoffs:
Having "heart" is cute, maybe even admirable, but in the end you just need good basketball players. The Bulls didn't have enough good players this season, so they lost in the first round in five games. There is no nicer way to put it than that.
Indeed, it was nearly impossible to read something about the Bulls this year without at least one mention of how much "grit" and "heart" they possess. Unfortunately, heart doesn't make three-pointers or take defenders to the hoop off the dribble.
Also, good season Bulls. I hate watching your offense but you play hard and well and Joakim was fun til Nene killed him.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 30, 2014