When the NBA lockout finally (and suddenly) ended in December, speculation immediately began about where the Bulls would turn for a starting SG.
Not that they lost their starter from last season- Keith Bogans started every game for the Bulls, and they had the best record in the NBA and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. He was still on the roster when the lockout ended, but on a completely non-guaranteed contract.
But that playoff loss to the Heat showed the Bulls (and everyone else who was watching) that they needed an upgrade. They needed someone whose offense isn't limited to spot-up 3-pointers.
As good as Bogans is on defense, the Bulls needed more offense from their SG. They had several choices in the off-season, and most of the speculation centered on former Bull Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, and Jason Richardson. They had the full Mid-Level Exception to spend.
The Bulls talked with all three of those guys, but Butler and Richardson both signed for more than the MLE, and I don't think Jamal Crawford was ever a serious consideration, since he is allergic to defense.
Thankfully, Joe Dumars has gone from "genius GM" to "running the Pistons into the ground" GM. Thanks to all the turmoil with the franchise and all the money Dumars wasted on other players (hello, Ben Gordon), Rip Hamilton became a casualty of the amnesty clause that allows teams a one-time chance to cut a player and not have his salary count against the team's cap figure. (EDIT- Thanks to reader azjeffv for pointing out that the Pistons didn't use the amnesty clause on Rip, he agreed to a buyout that was less than what he was owed.)
Joe's incompetence over the last few years became the Bulls good fortune, as they were able to sign Rip for the MLE. The only question was how much better would Rip make the Bulls offense?
Some people pointed to his low TS% and proclaimed that he wouldn't make the Bulls offense more efficient. Of course, they must have ignored the horrible teams Detroit fielded the last few seasons and how that effects a player's efficiency.
Fast forward one month into the season, and the Bulls are ranked #1 in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency. Not even the most optimistic of Bulls fans could have imagined that the Bulls would have the most efficient offense in the league almost 1/3 of the way through the season.
Rip has only played in nine of the Bulls' 19 games so far, and the difference is stunning- in the 10 games Rip has missed, the Bulls Offensive Efficiency Rating (points per 100 possessions) is 102.0. In the nine games Rip has played, their OER is an unheard of 115.5.
To put that in perspective, the Bulls overall OER of 108.5 currently leads the NBA. Over the last three seasons, no team has had an OER of over 114.9 for the year.
Obviously Rip has made the Bulls offense better- but how much better, really?
The problem in evaluating Rip's effect is that in the nine games Rip has played so far, the Bulls have played against some horrible defensive teams. Granted, not 115.5 bad- the Nets have the worst defense in the league, and their DER is 112- so the Bulls are doing against bad teams than even their average.
But the Bulls have played one team in those nine games that has a defense ranked better than 19th (through Monday's games). The Clippers were 8th, and the Magic were 19th. The other 7 teams they have played are ranked: 23rd, 24th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th.
In the ten games without Rip, the Bulls faced a top-7 defense five times, so of course their ranking in those games is going to be lower. The average ranking of those defenses is 13- the average ranking of the defenses Rip has faced is 23.8.
All one has to do is watch the games to see what a big difference Rip makes in the Bulls' offense. But let's see how the Bulls offense fares against their next five opponents: Indiana (4th in DER), Milwaukee (17th), Miami (9th), Washington (25th) and Philadelphia (1st).
If the Bulls can even maintain their league-leading 108.5 OER through these five games, I'll feel a lot more confident that their offense really is championship-caliber.