The Bully Pulpit

Every Player on the 2015-16 Chicago Bulls Got Worse, Except for 1

Chicago bulls

I never thought I’d find myself rooting for the 10-72 Philadelphia 76ers, but that’s how large my Bulls cynicism had grown by Game 82. A loss to the hapless Sixers would’ve been a fitting night cap to the shitshow that was the Chicago Bulls’ 2015-16 season, but alas, my sadism went unquenched.

At 42-40, the Bulls missed the post-season for the first time in eight years, and now— all we can do is attempt to pick up the pieces.

The purpose of this article isn’t to bemoan the point even further. I’m not going to name names, point fingers, or call for Fred Hoiberg’s head on a steak. I think we could all use a break from the qualitative arguments about MOMENTUM and PASSION. Let’s instead, focus on the quantitative data.

Why didn’t the Chicago Bulls make the playoffs this year? The answer is actually quite simple:

Every player on the team had a worse year than the year before, except for one.

We can argue about who or what caused this to happen, but I assure you, no one player or coach caused this on their own. Being this bad took a team effort.

Now, hold your horses, we’re not talking about per-game statistics, like points or rebounds. Those typically fluctuate with minutes played, injuries, and a player’s role on the team. We’re focusing on advanced statistics here, mainly: Win Shares/48 minutes, PER (Player Efficiency Rating) and VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). By focusing on these three stats, it’ll allow us to view players more as a singularity, than as part of a team. The goal here is to measure efficiency within a player’s given role. Just because Derrick Rose scored more points than E’Twuan Moore, that certainly doesn’t mean he had a better season, as you’ll see in a minute.

Let’s take a look, player-by-player, and see how each member of the Chicago Bulls fared from last year to this year in those three categories.

Note: This list will exclude rookies Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio (for obvious reasons), Cameron Bairstow (who played just 103 minutes all season), Justin Holiday (who joined the team mid-season) and Kirk Hinrich (who left the team mid-season).

The Biggest Regressions

The players who took the biggest steps backward in 2015-16.

Derrick Rose

2014 2015 % Chng.
PER 15.9 13.4 -16%
WS/48 0.038 0.009 -76%
VORP 0.3 -0.7 -333%

 

Derrick Rose’s downward trajectory continued last season, despite his increased playing time and improved shooting percentage. How he regressed in terms of WS/48 after last season is beyond me.

Did he have a few “vintage” D-Rose games? Sure, but he still hurt the team way more than he helped it. If you took away the MVP season— somehow found a way to block those memories from your consciousness— Rose’s season wouldn’t make any sense.

Forget about the off-season bluster and injury drama, Rose’s problem is that he doesn’t get to the line anymore. Back in 2011, his MVP season, he attempted 6.9 free throws per game. That number is now down to 2.7. The result? He’s now an incredibly inefficient volume shooter, whose points per game (16.4) and shots per game (15.9) are essentially the same number. Yet, Rose keeps shooting, and the Bulls keep letting him.

When your highest-paid player has a negative Value Above Replacement, that doesn’t exactly bode well for your team. Now he’s gone, and if you ask me— it was addition by subtraction.

Tony Snell

2014 2015 % Chng.
PER 10.2 6.4 -37%
WS/48 0.082 0.016 -80%
VORP 0.2 -0.7 -450%

 

Holy Christ, it was an awful, awful year for Tony Snell. Brought in for his shooting prowess, Snell finished with the second-worst field goal percentage on the team (37.2%). I still think he’s a good guy, and could be a functional NBA reserve in the future, but he might need a change of scenery first.

Aaron Brooks

2014 2015 % Chng.
PER 14.4 11.8 -18%
WS/48 0.083 0.04 -52%
VORP 0.3 -0.4 -233%

 

Brooks, like Snell, has likely seen his time with the Bulls come to an end. The shots just didn’t fall last season. When you’re a streak-shooter like Brooks, sometimes that’s all it takes for someone to show you the door.

Regressions Mostly Due to Injury

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Joakim Noah

2014 2015 % Chng.
PER 15.3 14.1 -8%
WS/48 0.13 0.079 -39%
VORP 2.8 0.6 -79%

 

Noah saw his season get cut short before he could fully settle into his new role coming off the bench. Like Dunleavy, he saw a drop in virtually every major statistic— most-notably, his shooting percentage.

Noah, who shoots a career 49.0% from the field and 71.1% from the line, saw those numbers drop to 38.3% and 48.9% (!!!) in limited action last season.

Mike Dunleavy

2014 2015 % Chng.
PER 11.6 9.1 -22%
WS/48 0.108 0.063 -42%
VORP 1.1 0 -100%

 

In 31 games, the 35-year-old saw his statistics drop in just about every category (aside from fouls per game, oddly enough). A lot of that had to do with a decrease in minutes, so I wouldn’t be too worried about his regression last season if I’m the Cavaliers. At this point, you kind of know what you’re going to get with Dunleavy.

Slight Regressions

Jimmy Butler

2014 2015 % Chng.
PER 21.3 21.3 0%
WS/48 0.214 0.177 -17%
VORP 4.2 3.7 -12%

 

While Jimmy Butler was clearly the Bulls’ best player last season, he did see a slight dip in his Win Shares (likely a product of the Bulls winning less games), as well as his VORP.

I wouldn’t be too concerned, as Butler posted career-highs in both points and assists per game this season, but keep an eye on his 3-point shooting. It’s the one area where he made a noticeable regression from last season (37.8% to 31.1%). He either needs to start making more, or start taking less.

Pau Gasol

2014 2015 % Chng.
PER 22.7 21.7 -4%
WS/48 0.187 0.149 -20%
VORP 3.2 3.5 9%

 

Though he did see his points and rebounds drop off slightly, this was more a function of playing time than anything else. The big man opted out of his contract earlier this summer to pursue one last ring with the San Antonio Spurs.

After watching his pick-and-roll defense all season, I’m totally okay with that.

Nikola Mirotic

2014 2015 % Chng.
PER 17.9 15.6 -13%
WS/48 0.165 0.115 -30%
VORP 1.3 1.3 0%

 

Despite his slumps at times, Mirotic improved his per-game numbers across the board this season.

This likely had more to do with an increase in minutes, as his Value Above Replacement stayed the same from a year ago. On the bright side, he did improve his 3-point shooting percentage from 31.6% to 39.0%, which is a mark he’ll need to maintain if he wants to see prolonged success in the NBA as a stretch-four.

Slight Improvements

etwuan moore chicago bulls

The players who improved in some categories, but went down in others.

Taj Gibson

2014 2015 % Chng.
PER 16.1 15.6 -3%
WS/48 0.137 0.133 -3%
VORP 1.1 1.7 55%

 

Over the past seven years, Taj Gibson has arguably been the Bulls’ most consistent player. While his PER and Win Shares/48 dipped slightly, he was able to post the best VORP of any year in his career. Despite a drop in points per game, he shot a team-high 52.5% from the floor.

With the question marks they have in the front court going into next season, the Chicago Bulls are very lucky to have Taj Gibson.

E’Twuan Moore

2014 2015 % Chng.
PER 10.3 11.4 11%
WS/48 0.08 0.07 -13%
VORP -0.1 0.1 200%

 

The Purdue-product had the best statistical year of his career, shooting a blistering 45.2% from three (a team-high) and 48.1% from the floor (a team-high, among guards). He could’ve easily stepped in and run the Bulls’ second team this year, but the Pelicans snatched him up, leaving Jerian Grant as the Bulls projected back-up point guard.

There’s only one Chicago Bull who didn’t see a drop in any of the three categories we’ve discussed:

Vast Improvement

doug mcdermott chicago bulls

Doug McDermott

2014 2015 % Chng.
PER 6.1 10.9 79%
WS/48 -0.005 0.073 1560%
VORP -0.5 -0.5 0%

 

While he still comes in at a negative VORP, Doug McDermott was the only Chicago Bull who didn’t see a drop in any of these three categories.

Did this have a lot to do with increased minutes? Of course. But it’s what he did with those minutes that made last season so important to his growth.

Not only did he increase his 3-point percentage by over 10 points, McDermott also showed flashes this season of the player he might one day become.

Will he ever be a go-to scorer for the Bulls? A guy who can single-handedly put the team on his back, night after night? Probably not.

Best case scenario, he develops into a functional, starting small forward— a guy who can space the floor and score when called upon. I don’t need Klay Thompson numbers, I’m looking for Chandler Parson numbers— 14 points, 5 rebounds and a couple assists in 28 (or so) minutes per game. That’s not asking a whole lot, and in fact, McDermott proved he was capable of this in the month of February, when he averaged 14.4 points in 27.6 minutes per game. If you give him the minutes, he’s shown he can fulfill that role.

Is a solid role player going to win you any championships? No. But McDermott can be a very important piece for the future. We talk about the importance of locking up super stars, but (as was the case with Taj Gibson), sometimes, locking up those role players is just as important, provided you don’t break the bank for them.

When McDermott’s contract is up in 2018 (two seasons from now), if the Bulls can lock him up on something like a Taj Gibson deal (4 years, ~$30 million), I’d pay $7-8 million a year for a solid role player, no questions asked. The best part is, the Bulls still have two years to figure out if he’s worth it.

But in the end, if all you have to be excited about is a defensively challenged role player— you’re in a lot of trouble.


What’s the number one thing the Chicago Bulls need to do this off-season? Tell us in the comments!

Statistics via Basketball Reference. Content originally published on the Bradbury Sentinel, one of Ryan Graham’s other blogs. 

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