Better Point Guard Play Is Needed

Better Point Guard Play Is Needed

The Bulls didn't have many avenues to improve their team in the off-season. Over the cap with no real plausible way to enter the free agency race for some of the bigger names, the team was only armed with its draft pick (#22) and the mini mid-level exception to upgrade the roster. With a need for more help on the perimeter as well as a new back-up point guard, neither positions were really addressed. Aaron Brooks would be return as Derrick Rose's main back-up, making him the first of the scrap heap point guards of the last three seasons to last on the team for more than one year.

Yay?

'Point guard' is a position which should be used sparingly to describe the 30-year old guard. Brooks is a capable NBA player. With the ledger certainly favoured against him, particularly in stature and defense, he has managed to find a niche within this league as a microwave bench scorer. There is certainly value in this type of player for some teams in the league, though for Chicago, his fit is questionable. Given the lack of on-ball creativity and play-making at the point spot within the second unit, retaining Brooks, who repeats a lot of things Rose does, makes little sense.

Perhaps I'm being harsh on Brooks. The expectations should have never been high. After all, we knew he was a flawed piece who was only being paid the veterans minimum. Derrick Rose, on the other hand, was largely terrible last season. Unlike Brooks, he didn't come cheap. Being paid $18.9 million to put up 17.7 points a game on 40.5% from the field is, well, not ideal. He did have some terrific periods, often reminding us how dominant he once was - and could still be - though any objective fan can't overlook the 49.3 TS%, particularly when he was shooting the ball 16.4 times in 30 minutes of play.

2014-15 would be the re-assimilation of Rose to the NBA game. No one should have been expecting the greatness to resume immediately, though in an attempt to recapture his own offensive form, he forgot about his teammates. With little consistency in running an offense, the Bulls would often find themselves stuck in a rut, searching for a score that inevitably would go missing at the wrong times.

The ACL tear - followed by a spate of meniscus surgeries - clearly affected the star point guard's ability to move laterally and attack the lanes. If your lead guard is not getting inside the seams and moving the defense around with his dribble penetration, all whilst settling for way too many three-pointers (5.3), he is not performing the duties of the role. Rose would only average 4.9 assists per game in 2015. Compounding the lack of assists were the 3.2 turnovers a night. This resulted in a 1.56 assist-to-turnover ratio, a figure which would rank him 71st in the league, with teammate Aaron Brooks only being marginally ahead at 1.66, finishing 69th. Not impressive at all.

When he entered the league, the inevitable comparison John Wall would consistently draw was Derrick Rose. True or not, the similarities would be based on the athleticism both would possess, something that had rarely been witnessed at point guard position. Wall would never become the individual dominant scorer that MVP Rose certainly was. He would, however, find his place in the league as one of the best play-makers in the game today.

Wall would average 10.0 assists per game in 2014-15, only behind arguably the league's best offensive creator, Chris Paul (10.2 APG). It would also be the first time in the All-Star guard's short career that he would register a double digit assist average. Meanwhile, in Chicago, totaling the assist average for Derrick Rose (4.9) and Aaron Brooks (3.2), the two could only muster together 8.1 assists per game. On his own, Wall would rank 2nd in total assists (792) assists and 4th in the league in assist opportunities created per game, giving his teammates 18.9 passes that potentially could have created points. Rose would rank 48th with 9.7 assist opportunities created, with Aaron Brooks ranking 91st with his 6.9.

Is it an outrageous statement to suggest that the Wizards guard ran a tighter ship himself than both Rose and Brooks combined? I don't think so.

Even with Rose back, offensive creation was often still needed. With Joakim Noah unexpectedly growing into a terrific passing hub, Tom Thibodeau would continue to run offensive sets through the him as a release valve to when the inconsistent Derrick would show up.  The center would lead the Bulls in passes per game (56.8), total assists (312) and would place second with his 4.7 assists per night, only marginally behind Rose. Could an argument be made that Noah was actually the better play-maker for the team last season?

As a team, Chicago would rank 14th in the league in team assists per game in 2014-15, collectively dishing out 21.7 dimes. In 2013-14, without Derrick Rose, the offense efficiency of the franchise would rank 28th. Shots would thud off the ring. Dribble penetration was scarce. Despite this, the team would rank 10th in assists per contest (22.7 a game). Initially, this is a strange realisation. How could anyone have improved their assist number after losing their superstar point guard?

The more you think about it, the more it makes sense. Without Rose, a reliance on one player to create out of isolation was simply not an option. No one outside of D.J Augustin could create off the dribble. The ball needed to move. It needed to find players in their spots, ready for them to pull the trigger upon receiving the ball. The Bulls have always had good passers on the roster, particularly in the front-court. Both Boozer and Noah are terrific passing big-men. Mike Dunleavy has always been an underrated passer, choosing to always make the right play. With Augustin and Noah dominating the ball, the production wouldn't be efficient, but it would certainly produce smart, fundamental basketball that could get the team good shooting attempts.

Fast forward one year. The return of Rose would always find a way to take precedence, even with Jimmy Butler finding stardom. The pair would have difficult moments adjusting to each others ball dominance. The ball would stick, often finding itself being pounded into the hardwood repeatedly without advancing further than a few feet. Though the offensive efficiency would prove to be much better in 2015 (11th), there is certainly a notion that suggests the offensive execution and the way the ball spread was far greater in 2014, albeit without the talent to complete the offense i.e. making shots. That, in itself, is an indictment on the Bulls point guard production.

It wasn't all bad for Rose. He did have nights where his floor game mimicked his 2012 self. He was brilliant against Boston, guiding the team to a win by scoring 29 for himself and dishing out 10 assists. On the very next night against the breakout Hawks, Rose again would clock up a double-double with 23 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds in a loss. These games, along with several others, were the moments that had fans giddy. It was certainly the type of performances that brother Reggie had predicted. Sadly, those types of efforts would only serve to be an occasional treat.

As the league progresses to a more perimeter orientated style of play, with more quality point guards entering the league every season, Chicago may find themselves behind the curve, if they aren't already.

Looking forward, if Derrick Rose and Aaron Brooks are going to continue to lead this team in usage, both need to find a way to not only get their own offense, but to create for those around them. An 'isolation-mode', me-first scoring guard is not what the offense needs, nor do the sets coach Hoiberg plans to implement.

Fortunately, there should be reason for optimism. A faster, free flowing offense will enable better spacing and more driving lanes. The product will be a more efficient offense, thus making it easier for Rose to score for himself as well as setting up his teammates. Should Hoiberg's offensive methodology translate to the NBA, assuming health, we may have our point guard back. Finally.

 

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    The PG position is not the problem for the Bulls, the SF position is. I'm giving Derrick a break. It's not easy to come back after two yrs absence from playing any type of competitive basketball and return back to MVP form. He still missed 31 gms and was never able to find any flow with his new teammates (with the exception of Noah). He shot poorly, and often tried to revert to his driving to the lane and tossing up floaters, or holding the ball like a running back for the contested layup old self.
    I have a gut feeling that Derrick Rose will be much better next year. His game will adjust around his teammates strengths and he will still be that 4th qtr leader when the Bulls need a clutch basket.
    I wasn't always on the Rose bandwagon and often-times posted comments like your piece, but I sense a quiet confidence in Rose. He's not talking about what he'll do when he returns back to the court anymore. He's just going about his daily routine. Derrick's been to the top of the NBA ladder as the best player in the game, so I suspect he's eager to prove all doubters wrong this season and hopefully stay healthy throughout.
    Brooks wasn't that bad either. He was able to score when the team needed scoring and was able to bread down defenses off of the dribble. The way I see it, the Bulls could have drafted a PG instead of drafting Portis, but in the present they have two capable quality PG's to work with.
    The big question for the Bulls is "Who will emerge as the team's SF?" Will it be hot/cold Mike Dunleavy, underachieving Doug McDermott, or rising all star candidate Nikola Mirotic? Niko or Doug will have to be able to fulfil the starters role as the team's frontcourt wingman. Dunleavy's mins should be reduced, and his role should be as the team's best 6th man.
    The center position is also, one we have to cross our fingers for. Last season the Bulls were pathetic protecting the paint defensively, and most of the problems started with Noah's fall from grace. Will he ever regain his DPOY form or falsely think he's helping the team by holding the ball in his hands, while looking for a guard or forward to cut to the basket? The Bulls don't need him being a point center, not while they have two point guards, and two very good passing bigs in Gasol, and Mirotic. What they need for Noah to be is a defensive minded center who gives the team 2nd chance pts, and grabs defensive rebounds. If Noah hobbles the court again next season, I surely hope the Bulls make a trade to find an younger able bodied center to fill the position. Without a quality big make to defend the other team from driving at will for layups the Bulls won't be able to outscore anyone. Not with their aging starting lineup.

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    I agree that Dunleavy should come in off the bench. But he can't because the Bulls do not have a better SF.

    You wrote, "The big question for the Bulls is "Who will emerge as the team's SF?" " That is a weakness. It should not and will not be Mirotic, because he is vastly better at PF! Neither McDermott or Snell look like starting SFs, or starting anythings. If they cannot develop, I see only two realistic possibilities.
    1) The Bulls trade for a PG and move Butler back to SF; or
    2) The Bulls trade for a SF. (Too bad they didn't grab Green on the cheap - maybe the FO tried and wiffed.)

    I see a third possibility, but is it realistic? Moore or Snell develops into a decent PG. That would allow Butler to move back to SF. Gusee we will see.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    1st, I very much agree with you that we all need to once and for all stop pigeon holing Niko to the SF position... as he's not an SF. He's a PF and that should be the only position he should ever play. We might as well do all of the 'hard headed' things Thibs did last year, including playing Noah and Gasol in the same line up if we keep pushing the SF position on Niko. I in fact hope Niko gets the starting PF job with Joakhim finding his groove at starting Center...even with Taj still here and the drafting of Portis.

    2nd, I'm assuming you mean SG as opposed to PG as that would the position Butler would be vacating if he goes back to SF (from rookie year). If you really meant PG then that means Rose moves to SG and we're back to the small backcourt when Ben Gordon was with the Bulls.

    Hard thing w/ Butler moving to SF is that he is infinitely more dominant at SG as other SG's simply can't contend with his size and strength. There are many more SF's that will be able to nullify that advantage, at least even some what, so Butler should definitely stay a SG. I know he still is our primary wing defender even if the opposing best wing is an SF (LeBron) but still, the opposing SG still ends up going back to defend him on the offensive end.

  • In reply to EDouble:

    Agree with most everything I don't think it matters so much which position Butler plays. Just like Butler guards the opposing team's best wing, the opposing team's best wing defender is going to guard Butler no matter what position he is playing.

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    It is a bit difficult for Noah to be a defensive minded center and a rim protector when he is forced to play PF.

    Also, while we can debate whether using Noah as a point center is the right thing for the Bulls offense, it really has no bearing on what happens on the defensive end.

    Noah just needs to play center and center only, everything else will take care of itself if he regains his health. Figuring out the center rotation will be one of Hoiberg's biggest initial challenges.

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    Michael Cunningham... I'm not Infallible! And yet, I'm inclined (Concerning the newest, Chicago Bulls repertoire ) too agree, with your most recent comment..

  • I think Rose is at his best when he's putting up 20 pts and 8 assists a game, he's more scorer than passer but he needs to do both more efficiently. The turnovers and jacking up 3s has to be corrected by him. Chris Paul shoots about four 3pt attempts per game and he is a vastly superior shooter so Rose needs to cut back on launching the long ball and focus more on his strengths. The jump passing is another thing which lead to turnovers, something that Thibodeau never corrected him on. The other team looks for it and intercepts many of his passes when he does that.

    Jimmy Butler recently said he has been heavily working on his point guard skills and sees himself as a point guard and if he can be a lebron james lite type creator, even a fraction of that, it would open things up for everyone else. A great stat line for Jimmy B would be 20 pts and 6 assists per game if his new found pg skills can translate.

  • While I'm OK with Brooks in the role that he plays during the regular season, he struggled toward the end of it, and in the playoffs. Probably would prefer to have had Augustine back as he is a better pg but can still score. He looks to have ended up in a good place for him in OKC, and he mostly struggled in the playoffs(with the Bulls) also.

    As for this season, I would have prefered the Bulls to take a chance on Jeremy Lin just as a change of pace since he has a bit more size, is also more of a pg than Brooks, who is really just a pure streaky scorer.

    However, as we all know, everything this season and going forward is totally dependent on what happens with Rose this year. Everyone else is just frosting on the cake. This is the make or break season for his Bulls career, likely his entire NBA career. While I expect that he will be better than he was last season, will he be good enough(he really needs to be great again) to get the Bulls back into serious contention? Frankly, I have no idea, maybe 50/50 at best.

    Also, I sure hope that Hoiberg is the offensive savant that everyone thinks he is, because Rose needs one as much as anybody on the team.

  • Anybody interested in trading Taj to Detroit for Brandon Jennings?

    The cap math is nearly identical with Taj at $8.5 million this upcoming season, and Jennings at $8.35 million. We likely have to wait a while as Jennings is coming off an achilles tear. He is also in the last year of his contract, so he would be a rental even if he proves to be healthy. Detroit committed $80 million to Reggie Jackson, so Jennings would appear to be on the block once healthy. From following the Wes Mathews situation it appears that historically an achilles injury is harder(less likely) to come back from than an ACL.

    Jennings is a wild card type player, is he any better than Brooks in a backup role, is he even capable of accepting a backup role? I guess for that kind of money, I'd rather steal Isaiah Thomas from Boston.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    That's an interesting idea. Jennings would be a nice upgrade at backup PG and push Hinrich to the DNP role. But I guess I'd rather hold out to see if we can get a SF, like your Rudy Gay idea.

  • Nice article. As for Derrick, I don't like the vibe I'm getting from him which is a selfish train wreck of a ball player. I mean that 75th worst A/TO ratio in the NBA is an embarrassment. As is 5 or 6 threes jacked up a game shooting 29% or whatever. Maybe he'll bounce back under Hoiberg. Niko and McD better up the ante on their three point shooting if this team is going anywhere.

  • I'll get excited when:

    1--I see Noah running up/down the court without laboring.

    2--When I hear/see what our 5-defensive STOP TEAM is going to be.

    3--Where Gasol fits into this Quick-Up Offense.

    4--When Our PG's start acting like PG's, not shooting guards.

    5--And, OH YA, when we get to that first pre-season game.

  • Trading Taj too soon may not be a good idea--and never trading a good player to the same conference is good. Jennings may or may not be a good idea, but I still agree with Jerry Krause's philosophy of never trading an experienced big for a small--and a small surrounded by question marks. There's just too many question marks about this team which has a history of being unhealthy. To many negatives in trading experience half the team is still trying to gain the experience that the team needs. Noah may not be well and even if healthy and along with Gasol they both have a lot of mileage and may need limited minutes during the season--and they are needed to be healthy during the playoffs. Who is Ben Hansborough--a point guard that has been invited to training camp--can he possibly fill the void at PG? Who else has been invited at the pg position?

  • In reply to penwit1:

    While it's true that the health of Noah and even Gasol are question marks, Taj doesn't play the same position they do.

  • I see several orders of business for the Bulls:

    1) Get into the preseason and early regular season and see what Rose, Snell, and Moore are doing. If Rose is great, great! With more minutes for the last two, maybe one or both can develop.
    If not, then a trade should be in order.

    2) See how the bigs are doing. The Bulls could have 5 starting or near starting caliber bigs - or they could have 2! Obviously, if they have 5, the FO should be looking to trade one of them for the PG or SF.

    3) See how the team adapts to the Hoiberg system.

    4) See how McDermott can fit it.

    Really, there are a lot of unknowns at this point, but there is also a lot of talent on this team. What can the new coaches do with it?

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Mirotic is already saying he expects more playing time after talking with coach Hoiberg. To me this just spells trouble with Noah and Gasol in a contract year and both of them want probably 30 minutes a night. Too many Bigs and the wing depth and backup PG not that great. I just dont understand not wanting to make a trade when they will be forced to in mid february for little return. Somebody like Noah or Gibson is going to want out by february from lack of playing time.

  • In reply to Defense-Rebound13:

    I agree that there are too many bigs and not enough talent at wing, but which player would you trade and what exactly do you think you'd get for him?

    No one will touch Noah.
    Taj is currently injured.
    You're not trading Niko or Portis.
    That leaves Gasol. You want to roll with Noah as the team's only true C? Even if they somehow acquired a solid backup C, then you're counting on Noah to be your starter.

    Does that help you understand why they're not making a trade right now? The battle for playing time will only be a concern if everyone is healthy, when's the last time that happened?

    I'd still deal Taj but I wouldn't expect much back, especially while he's injured, and there are others on this board who say we shouldn't trade him. I'd also deal Gasol, because I think you have to take some risks and his value will never be higher, but the return for Gasol better be good. My guess is that a good return isn't out there.

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