I labeled this post, "This Writer's Pain" because I am literally in pain thanks to the Chicago Bulls organization's decision making. Thankfully, right now it's only emotional pain, but it could develop into physical pain quite quickly. That's because I will slap myself upside the head if Fred Hoiberg doesn't make the obvious rotation decisions that lay before him.
Jerian Grant has started five games in total against the Portland Trailblazers (twice), Washington Wizards, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Utah Jazz. While the Bulls record in these games is an unimpressive 2-3, it is still a team sport. So he can't take the brunt of the blame for any of those losses (or credit for the wins for that matter). I was more interested in how Grant's minutes caused his lineups to perform.
According to the amazing folks at Basketball-Reference.com, in this current Bulls season Grant has a +0.3 Net Plus/Minus rating. This specific rating weighs the team's offensive and defensive performance with the player on and off the court. Now while +0.3 isn't amazing, it feels All-Star level in comparison to the -1.2 Net Plus/Minus of starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams. Rajon Rondo is currently posting a rating of +1.1. That would be Rondo's highest rating in about five years, which would suggests that his sixth-man role suits him best. I bring this up because if being Chicago's sixth man maximizes Rondo's effectiveness (and subsequently his trade value) then that definitely eliminates him from the starting point guard competition.
With Isaiah Canaan already out of the rotation due to his poor three-point shooting (26.5%) and terrible defense, that leaves us with the same young duo of Carter-Williams and Grant.
The Bulls need a starting guard who can successfully run Hoiberg's early-action offense and space the floor for the Bulls' post-up plays. Below is a clip showing Grant's ability to confidently step into a three-pointer off of post-up action for Wade, something Michael Carter-Williams struggles with mightily.
Another thing that a point guard in Hoiberg's system needs to excel at is generating early-action offense. With that in mind, I took a look at the two guards stats when the Bulls are operating early in the shot clock.
NBA.com considers between 24-15 seconds "very early" to "early" in the shot clock, it is what I like to call "the Hoiberg zone". Let's take a look at how these two have fared in early action offense situations.
Michael Carter-Williams field goal percentage between 24-15 seconds on the shot clock: 27%
Jerian Grant field goal percentage between 24-15 seconds on the shot clock: 40%
The numbers confirm what I have seen when watching the games. Grant is much more aggressive looking for his shot early in possessions. Carter-Williams (probably because of how awful he is at shooting) rarely looks for his early, and can on occasion (10.8% of the time to be exact) takes his scoring chances with little time left on the shot clock. This could be nitpicking on my part, but again Grant's mindset when on the floor seems to be closer to what you would expect from a leading guard in Hoiberg's system. Grant can shoot better than Carter-Williams from the floor. Any shooting statistics you look at reflects this fact. In an era of basketball where spacing is at a premium, it's incredible that the Chicago Bulls best 3-point shooting point guard (albeit at 32.1%) gets the least minutes out of any point guard in the rotation.
The only thing you can look at Carter-Williams as being clearly superior to Grant in is rebounding. Grant is not really rebounding at all (5 rebounds per 100 possessions), while MCW is putting up an astonishing 10.4 rebounds per 100 possessions. However that rebounding is not necessary from the guard spot. The Bulls rebounding advantage is based off of having the league's best offensive rebounding group, and MCW's rebounding is mostly on the defensive side.
That brings me to the final key to evaluating who gets this starting PG spot-- defense. Their defense is about equal in my eyes, despite the fact that Grant can only dream of matching MCW's incredible length for the point guard position. Grant averaged 2 steals a game in his five starts compared to MCW's 1.1 steals per game in his starts. And that is because despite Carter-Williams having the size advantage, Grant is much more skilled at timing his gambles on defense. These adventurous forays by Grant usually result in oh-so-valuable fast-break opportunities for the offense-challenged Bulls. One of the most accepted ways of evaluating defensive performance is defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). Grant's defensive rating is 107 and MCW's is 105, meaning that the defensive drop-off from Carter-Williams to Grant is negligible.
Jerian Grant is young (24 years old), athletic, and has a respectable jump shot. He can generate turnovers on defense, and he can operate effectively early in the shot-clock.
The Chicago Bulls need a starting point guard who can space the floor for Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, but is athletic enough to not sacrifice efficiency on the defensive end. And that guard is frustratingly buried deep in the bottom of the rotation.
This writer is in pain watching this season of Bulls basketball unfold, and rightfully so.