1. Fact or Fiction: Signing Mike Dunleavy Jr. solves the team’s lack of outside shooting.
Avi Saini: Faction. Dunleavy Jr. is a strong shooter that opposing defenses will have to constantly account for as he shot 44.9%, 44.6%, and 47.8% in spot up, off screen, and transition situations, respectively, last season. While he will help the Bulls space the floor better, I don’t think he necessarily “solves” the problem on his own. Unless Tom Thibodeau has lost his mind, Dunleavy won’t be playing 48 minutes per game which means the Bulls will still have outside shooting woes when he’s on the bench. Ultimately, Chicago’s three-point shooting issues will only be solved if other players, namely Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler, can step up to the task of knocking down three-point shots while Dunleavy is resting. Last year, both Hinrich and Butler shot a respectable 39.0% and 38.1%, respectively, from beyond the arc. If both can maintain that level of shooting or improve, something I hope at least Butler can do, then Chicago’s floor spacing issue may be solved.
Braedan Ritter: Fiction. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Mike Dunleavy Jr. fixes the Bulls three-point shooting issue, but he definitely helps it. Dunleavy, who shot 42.8 percent from three last season, hit at a better rate than anyone on the Bulls did. MDJ will likely fill the role of Marco Belinelli, who shot 35.7 from deep; so that’s an improvement right off the bat. But the loss of Nate Robinson (.405) will hurt. If Luol Deng can rebound from his worst percentage (.322) since 2007-2008, Jimmy Butler can continue to improve as he did during the season and Derrick Rose comes back with an improved shot, I can see the Bulls being slightly better off from deep. However teams will probably still pack the paint and force Chicago to win from the outside.
Matt McHale: Fiction. Dunleavy’s shooting acumen is well-documented and he’s easily the team’s best pure three-point specialist since Kyle Korver was shipped out last summer. So that’s one guy on the team who can knock down threes…which isn’t going to cut it for a team with championship aspirations. Let’s take last season’s finalists for instance. The Miami Heat had five players shoot 40 percent or better from beyond the arc and ranked second overall in three-point accuracy (39.6 percent). The Spurs had four players hit 40 percent or better and ranked fourth in three-point percentage (37.6). This is no coincidence.
Three-point shooting is critical in today’s NBA. And while Dunleavy will provide much-needed outside shooting range off the bench, where’s it going to come from when he’s sitting, which will be most the time? The Bulls projected starting lineup has a dearth of long-range shooters. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah don’t shoot threes. Derrick Rose is a career 31 percent three-point shooter who has never hit better than 33 percent of this treys. Luol Deng shot near a career-worst (32.2 percent) last season. Jimmy Butler shot a respectable 38.1 percent on threes and got progressively better as the season progressed…but there’s no telling yet whether that will continue.
Unless something changes, the Bulls’ outside shooting isn’t likely to improve much from last season, regardless of the Dunleavy signing.
2. Fact or Fiction: Bulls fans should be concerned about how the front office has managed the offseason so far.
Avi Saini: Fiction. Coming into this offseason over the luxury tax there were only two things the Bulls could do this offseason- 1) Use the mini-Mid Level Exception and seemingly dump the 2014 plan or 2) Simply sign veterans at the minimum and try for a star next offseason via the 2014 plan. They opted for the former. This should please Bulls fans for a several reasons. First it shows that a Jerry Reinsdorf team is FINALLY willing to go into the tax and stay in the tax to potentially win it all. Secondly, the Bulls were able to get someone who can possibly help the team win now rather than waste a year staying stagnant. And lastly it possibly put the very faulty 2014 plan to rest (as explained in a previous post in which Braeden and I debated the merits of trading Deng).
Braedan Ritter: Fiction. As far as signings go, the Bulls did the best they could with the room they had. They addressed their biggest need—shooting—and brought back Nazr Mohammed, who was serviceable last year. They are even going to be paying the tax again!
The only concern I have—granted it is a pretty big concern—is the fallout from Ron Adams’ firing. Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the relationship between Tom Thibodeau and Gar Forman is “easily the worst” coach-GM relationship in the league. I don’t agree with everything Thibs does, and there were surely reasons for firing Adams, but upsetting your head coach, a guy won Coach of the Year in 2010-2011 and is a defensive genius, doesn’t seem like a smart play from Forman. Thibodeaus don’t grow on trees.
Matt McHale: Fact-ish. The Bulls acquired Dunleavy for a relative bargain (approximately $6 million over two years), re-signed Mohammed for the vet’s minimum to back up Noah, let Marco Belinelli walk, and cut Rip Hamilton. I can’t really argue with any of those moves, and the Dunleavy signing was a strong positive. And for all the annual talk about the Bulls being cheap, they paid the luxury tax for last season’s payroll — for the first time ever mind you — and are slated to do so again this season.
That said, the Bulls didn’t make any significant upgrades to a roster that likely would have fallen short of championship expectations even if Rose had played last season. And as CSN Chicago’s Mark Schanowski pointed out, signing Dunleavy may have cost the Bulls a max contract slot in 2014.
Then there’s the somewhat mystifying Ron Adams situation. As Jeff Van Gundy said, it gives off the vibe that something’s wrong with the Bulls. A front office firing the head coach’s lead assistant — who also was reportedly very close to the team’s franchise player — is a bad sign no matter how you try to spin it.
Which leads to the question: What are the Bulls doing exactly? They’ve gone over the cap and surpassed the luxury tax threshold without going all-in the way the Nets did. They got a good deal on Dunleavy but it might have cost them the chance to sign another star to play alongside Rose next summer. And they may have semi-alienated Tom Thibodeau, who is the team’s second-best asset after Rose. Major cause for concern? Maybe not. But mild concern? Yes.
3. Fact or Fiction: As presently constituted, the Bulls have a legitimate shot to challenge for supremacy in the Eastern Conference next season.
Avi Saini: Fact-ish. Last season’s Bulls team was a fairly makeshift team that still wreaked a good deal of havoc in the league. And, at the close of the season despite the various issues that arose during the season, the Bulls still finished only five games back of the perceived second best team in the East, the Indiana Pacers. Assuming Derrick Rose comes back as good as ever and the team remains fairly healthy, I believe this year’s Chicago team is the second best team in the East. They have one of the league’s better benches and have one of the league’s best coaches running the show. However, in terms of challenging for supremacy further than that (aka beating Miami in the playoffs)… well let’s just color me skeptical. In the past three years we’ve only had one truly legitimate battle between the Heat and the Bulls back in the 2011 playoffs when both teams were fairly healthy. Aside from the starters, this year’s roster figures to be vastly different compared to that team from a few years ago and there’s no telling just how well they’ll matchup against the Heat in the playoffs. Until I see results showing otherwise, Miami remains the unchallenged supreme team in the East I question Chicago’s ability to push for supremacy further than the second best team in the East.
Braedan Ritter: Fact. Obviously, this all depends on Derrick Rose coming back strong, but I think the Bulls have a shot at the title (not just the Eastern Conference) with the team that is currently constructed. Miami is the clear favorite, and after that the Bulls, Pacers and Nets (perhaps?) will probably fight it out for the second seed, but I don’t see why the Bulls can’t be the ones on the top of that pile when the season ends. Miami was forced to seven games twice in the playoffs, and was 20 seconds away from losing the Finals in Game 6: they are beatable. But that only works if the Bulls are finally healthy and the-very-well-rested Rose plays like the MVP that he once was. Those are big “ifs” that haven’t fallen in the Bulls favor the past few seasons.
Matt McHale: Fact and Fiction. You can’t question Thibodeau’s ability to maximize the returns on the talent he has at his disposal. So assuming Rose returns anywhere near his old form and that there aren’t any other major injury problems, the Bulls will most likely challenge for the best regular season record in the East (and maybe the entire league) as they did the two seasons before Rose’s knee injury.
Of course, assuming there won’t be injury problems may be too big of an assumption considering how things have gone the past three seasons. For whatever reason, the Bulls have ranked among the league leaders in player games lost due to injury for several years. Then there’s the problem of history. What’s changed from the previous seasons in which the Bulls came up short? Will they be fully healthy? Will one superstar be enough? Will they have enough three-point shooting? Will Carlos Boozer be able to show up consistently in the playoffs? And so on.
I think the Bulls will be right there in the mix during the regular season because the coach and players will demand their best every night. But the issues that have haunted them in the past haven’t been addressed, which could end up haunting them come playoff time.