I will never believe anyone who tells me that a) they knew what the Bulls were doing this off-season and that b) the Bulls knew what they were doing too. I wouldn’t believe this person even if they worked for the Chicago Bulls.
That’s because, as you recall, Chicago looked to be entering rebuilding mode this summer when they traded Derrick Rose and let Joakim Noah leave in free agency, all while Jimmy Butler trade rumors swirled. The Bulls then suddenly backtracked on those plans, electing to keep Butler, postpone the youth movement, and add veterans Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade to create a roster that was seemingly no fit for coach Fred Hoiberg.
All of this has resulted in, stunningly, a decent start for the Bulls. Chicago (9–6) entered Friday fifth in the East, with a chance to finish their annual circus road trip at 4–2 with a win in Philly. We’ve already debated whether or not the Bulls are actually good, but I do have one idea on how they could become better: Get rid of Rondo.
Chicago has been respectable with the mercurial guard in the lineup. The Bulls’ starting five, their only lineup that’s played more than 50 minutes together, has a +6.0 net rating. But if you substitute Rondo out of that lineup for Jerian Grant, Chicago‘s net rating shoots up to +28.0. The sample size is small, but that stat is reminiscent of a larger trend the last couple years of Rondo’s career—his teams are better with him off the court.
The Bulls have a better offense with Rondo on the court, but so do their opponents, and Rondo’s deficiencies on the defensive end ultimately make him a net negative. Chicago’s opponents score 13.1 more points per 100 possessions with Rondo on the floor, largely because of his complete lack of effort in guarding people. The split wasn’t as dramatic last season in Sacramento, but even then Rondo’s team had a better net rating when Rondo wasn’t playing. The same goes for the Celtics and Mavericks when Rondo played with those teams in 2014–15. And again, the sample is small, but Rondo has a worse real plus-minus and PER than the other two point guards on the Bulls, Grant and Isaiah Canaan.
(Wade, for what it’s worth, has also not been a plus for this team if you continue the on-off exercise. But his split is much better than Rondo’s. Butler is really carrying the load here.)
It's easy to wonder what the Bulls would look like with a point guard like George Hill. Then again, it's easy to wonder what every team with a bad point guard would look like with George Hill (that dude is just solid). What Chicago needs is a guard committed to defense who can hit open threes when called upon, and it would really serve them well if that guard could slide over to the two and play off the ball as well. That's not Rondo.
Is there anybody out there who the Bulls could acquire for an upgrade? Realistically, probably no one worth sacrificing assets for because Chicago is more than just a point guard away. This team would be better with say, a Patrick Beverley-type, but it won’t turn them into a contender.
The shame here is that Butler is putting together an incredible season, and his backcourt is dragging him down. If we’re counting James Harden as a point guard now, then Butler has been far and away the best two-guard in the league this season.
The Bulls have already been somewhat of a pleasant surprise this season. Still, this team could be even better if they had the right role players plugged in around their star. It’s times like these when a plan could come in handy.