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Chemistry Building In The Windy City

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s safe to say the future looks promising in Chicago

September 24, 2017.
That was the date Dwyane Wade reached a buyout agreement with the Chicago Bulls, just a few short months after Wade had picked up his $23.8 million player option for the 2017-18 season. Wade then signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, teaming up with his good friend LeBron James. In a statement released by Wade, he makes it clear he does not want to be a part of a rebuilding process at this point in his career.

After Wade and the Bulls parted ways, it looked as if the Bulls were heading for a complete tank-and-rebuild approach to the 2017-18 season.

After a fight involving teammates Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic, and a very porous start to the season at 3-17 the Bulls were not giving fans much of anything to cheer for. 

That’s not the case anymore. The Bulls ended 2017 with a 10-6 record in the month of December. Now they look to finish this season with the gritty, youthful energy they’ve been playing with as of late. These key pieces have been playing big parts in the Bulls recent competitive play.

Money Mirotic

When Nikola Mirotic plays this season, the Bulls are 13-6. Since Mirotic’s return from injury the Bulls have been a much better team offensively, and it’s no coincidence. The Bulls post a higher offensive rating (109.1), and net rating (1.4) when Mirotic is on the floor opposed to any other Bulls player (Minimum 10 GP). 

With trade rumors swirling around Mirotic, if the Bulls deal him it is crucial they gain something of even amount in return. Mirotic’s trade value is higher than ever before as he is posting career highs in TS% (62.4%), PER (22.8), PPG (17.3), and 3P% (45%).

Mirotic is also the ONLY Bull posting a positive plus-minus at 0.8 (Minimum 5 GP).
The shot chart below shows just how important Mirotic has been for the Bulls. His efficient shooting has been much needed for this Bulls team.

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Mirotic is doing all of this without a very strong supporting cast. And as the only Bull averaging over 40% on 3-point field goals (minimum 5 GP), he adds a much-needed element to an otherwise stagnant, unthreatening Bulls offense that ranks 23rd in points per game. (graph provided by basketballreference.com)

Future Cornerstones Coexisting

When the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves this past Summer for Zach LaVine, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (Lauri Markkanen), and Kris Dunn (who didn’t impress anyone in his rookie season), it looked like the Timberwolves won that trade by a landslide.

That narrative is slowly starting to curve as of late in the direction of a more equitable trade. Yes, Butler is still the outright best player of anyone involved in the trade, but these young guns in Chicago have started to gel much better after getting their feet wet to start the season.

Though we have only seen two games with LaVine in a Bulls uniform (where he has performed quite well), we have seen quite a bit of basketball from Markkanen and Dunn.

What the Bulls organization and fans should be thrilled about is how well those two have grown month by month.

Dunn was undoubtedly drafted for his defensive upside, so it is quite surprising how well his scoring has grown in Chicago. Dunn is proving to be a real threat as a two-way guard as his offensive game has grown throughout the season.

Dunn’s field goal attempts per game have grown every month and he continues to keep his percentage from dropping at a concerning margin, propelling his increase in points per game each month. Dunn has also seen a progressive uptick in free throw percentage, while maintaining better assists numbers since November. The table below shows Dunn’s progression. (Table provided by NBA.com/stats)

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Dunn currently ranks 21st among qualified point guards in field goal percentage, and 11th in assists per game, and those numbers are only trending upward.

One area Dunn can continue to focus on improving is his assist-to-turnover ratio. Dunn currently sits at 32nd among qualified NBA point guards in that category (per espn.com).

Markkanen has also been an extremely pleasant surprise for the Bulls. His growth right now is showing that drafting him seventh overall last year was the right move. Throughout each month this season Markkanen’s free-throw percentage, field goal percentage, steals, rebounds, and three-point percentage have all progressed upward. (Table provided by NBA.com/stats)

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Markkanen also ranks seventh amongst rookies in TS% at 55.7, and 11th in offensive rating at 101.4 (Minimum 20 MPG, and 20 GP).

When these two are on the court together good things happen. Dunn’s vision mixed with his dribble penetration creates a majority of the good looks the Bulls get in their offense. Head Coach Fred Hoiberg does a phenomenal job in placing Markkanen in the correct spots on the floor to receive catch-and-shoot kick outs for his best shooter.

The video below gives a small sample size of just that.


Looking Ahead

This Bulls’ quick little resurgence to respectability is a great sign for the team and their fans, but there is still plenty of work to do. But now Bulls’ fans have reason to be optimistic, and hopeful for the near future. This is a potential spoiler team that could very well have nights where they knock off some of the league’s best.

Especially with LaVine returning a few days ago, this group has an opportunity to finish the second half of the season on a very strong note.

LaVine’s addition will bring the Bulls another experienced ball handler, and a much needed every night scoring threat. Before LaVine’s season-ending injury last year he was averaging 18.9 points per game on 45.9% shooting. 

For Markkanen, Dunn, and LaVine, this second half of the season is a great opportunity to learn how to gel and play off one another. These three young guns have all shown flashes of all-star basketball at one point or another.

This young core that has high ceilings should give Bulls fans hope that they can get right back into the Eastern Conference playoff race as soon as next year.

Edited by Jeremy Losak.

SQuiz
Who led the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating in the 2013-14 NBA season?
Created 1/16/18
  1. Kevin Durant
  2. LeBron James
  3. Chris Paul
  4. Tim Duncan

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