They were supposed to struggle. How will Rondo, Wade, and Butler co-exist? How will they stretch the floor?
All of these questions were supposed to define the supposedly offensively anemic Chicago Bulls entering the 2016-2017 season. But this is why you play the game.
The Chicago Bulls are 3-0 and off to their best start in 20 years after the first week of the new NBA campaign. They are second in scoring at 113.7 points per game which is only .1 behind the much vaunted offensive super power Golden State Warriors. They are also right behind the Warriors in assists at 28.3 per game good for second in the league. This clearly does not reflect the projections of experts and fans alike for the Bulls offense this season. So how are they doing it?
Under the leadership of the newly committed Rajon Rondo, the previously plodding Bulls are dominating games with crisp passing and pushing the ball up the floor quickly to take full advantage of the shot clock. They are out-rebounding opponents at their usual rate through strong opening play from their post especially from the always reliable Taj Gibson.
“Rajon really has been committed to getting the ball up the floor,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, not unaware of an impressive 30 fast break points in Saturday’s win over Indiana. “He talks in every huddle: ‘Guys, run with me, run with me. I’ll throw it ahead.’ If our bigs run to the rim they’ll get a ball thrown to them. It’s something we’ve tried to stress; our guys have played very unselfishly. He’s a guy the minute he stepped into that gym the middle of August he’s been committed to talking, setting the tone in practice. It’s fun to play with a guy like that who is going to get the ball up and down the floor, who will get you open shots; he’s a guy who’s done it his whole career.”
The Bulls will continue to rely on Rajon Rondo to set the tone on offense, and that is not a bad thing considering the veteran’s history when his head is on straight. Once a widely considered top five point guard in the league, Rondo has a lengthy history of making plays. Along with the other two-thirds of their big three, the future of this young season seems bright.
Dwyane Wade might be the surprise of the season so far, as he along with Jimmy Butler, Isaiah Canaan, and Doug McDermott are all shooting at least 50% on threes. The Bulls are a striking 42.5% on the three ball overall so far. It remains to be seen whether Wade will be an opportunistic three-point shooter or if it will be a new prominent weapon in his game as he continues to fight father time. We have seen many greats improve their perimeter skills as physical abilities decline, and perhaps Wade is no different. Nevertheless, this start to the season is as impressive as any both individually and team-wise for the windy city representatives.
“Only three games, but what will test us is those games we don’t have that big lead,” warned Wade, who knows what just three games can mean, albeit amazing ones. “Can we still continue to communicate together? Can we stay together? Those are the moments I look forward to, seeing how we respond and grow. It’s easy to be high when you are winning, but I feel this team will do well in those moments because for one everyone is playing for one another; everybody likes each other in this locker room and we just enjoy playing together. We’re having fun on the basketball court together and that makes the game easier.
“We’re doing a great job of moving the ball, guys playing to their strengths,” said Wade. “Even guys not known as quote unquote shooters, we are getting our shooters shots and getting other guys opportunities to get open looks and get their feet set and knock the shot down.”
In this new season the Chicago Bulls look to regroup and retool their reputation through unselfish play and hard-nosed banging on the glass. They have avoided the struggles of many newly formed cores through passing and veteran leadership.