They have bigger names than Nikola Mirotic. Dwyane Wade is a future Hall of Famer, Jimmy Butler is a perennial All-Star, and Rajon Rondo is one of the most perplexing NBA stars of the past decade. Throwing those three into the same backcourt mix may lead to wildly divergent results from night to night.
Will the stars work together? Can anyone shoot? Will second-year coach Fred Hoiberg have a breakdown by February? All relevant questions that have been asked since July in Chicago.
But for this year and beyond, the player who holds the key to those answers is the 6'10" Mirotic, a third-year forward.
His shooting ability creates space on the floor, which the Bulls will badly need. The only uncertainty is the consistency with which he connects. After an uneven rookie year in which he made 31.6% of his three-pointers but showed promise, he was supposed to be a breakout star last season. Mirotic proceeded to shoot just 30.4% from deep in November and December. But in March and April, Mirotic improved his accuracy to 44.5%. It was like watching two different players. If Mirotic can be closer to that second version, it will help the offense breathe—and make the Bulls much scarier this winter than they looked this summer.
PROJECTED LINEUP | 2015--16 stats
COACH FRED HOIBERG (2nd season with Bulls)
2015--16 RECORD 42--40 (4th in Central)
PG RAJON RONDO*
11.9 PPG; 11.7 APG; 45.4 FG%; 36.5 3FG%
SG DWYANE WADE*
19.0 PPG; 4.6 APG; 4.1 RPG; 45.6 FG%
SF JIMMY BUTLER
20.9 PPG; 5.3 RPG; 45.4 FG%; 31.2 3FG%
PF TAJ GIBSON
8.6 PPG; 6.9 RPG; 1.1 BPG; 52.6 FG%
C ROBIN LOPEZ*
10.3 PPG; 7.3 RPG; 1.6 BPG; 53.9 FG%
PF NIKOLA MIROTIC
11.8 PPG; 5.5 RPG; 40.7 FG%; 39.0 3FG%
SF DOUG MCDERMOTT
9.4 PPG; 2.4 RPG; 45.2 FG%; 42.5 3FG%
PG MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS*
11.5 PPG; 5.2 APG; 5.1 RPG; 45.2 FG%
TELLING NUMBER 44.5%
A rival scout sizes up Chicago
I feel really bad for [second-year coach] Fred Hoiberg. He's a great guy. He left Iowa State; he was the Mayor. And now he's gotta coach this debacle.... Even when he was coaching in college, I didn't get the sense that he was seeing the game at an elite level, reacting and adjusting the way that Brad Stevens or Rick Carlisle does. I'm not sure he has that skill. But I do think he's got a good idea of how he wants to play and how to find an identity for his teams.... They're not gonna be horrible, but their three key guys—Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler—prefer not to shoot off the catch. They like to dribble, they like to hold the ball, stop the ball. It's going to be hard to coax ball movement. Once they start taking some L's, I think they're gonna bump heads a little bit.... Butler sees himself as a star. He wants the ball in iso, which is O.K. if he's the go-to creator. But I do think a good coach would get him to consider catching the ball on the move more. Butler's very effective at what he does, he still defends most nights, but he's not a good fit with this team.... Rondo and Wade are very undisciplined defensively. They gamble a lot. They take shortcuts.... Nikola Mirotic is one saving grace. He takes some weird shots, but he can shoot, he can pass. They need him to play a lot of minutes alongside those other guys to give them enough space to operate.... Bobby Portis will be a good player, but he's pretty lost right now. Arkansas plays really unstructured basketball, so he didn't get a lot of understanding of NBA offensive or defensive concepts.
They took big risks, but there's a chance those bets pay off better than expected.