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Two Key Factors to a Successful Chicago Bulls Season

Two factors to a successful Chicago Bulls season include Butler, Wade, and Rondo accepting new roles and Mirotic and McDermott becoming reliable shooters.

From Last Word on Pro Basketballby Harrison Marcus

During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each NBA team in the upcoming season.

In this edition, we’ll take a look at the Chicago Bulls.

Two Key Factors to a Successful Chicago Bulls Season

The Fred Hoiberg era in Chicago got off to a disappointing start, as the Bulls finished with a 42-40 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years. The Bulls shook up their roster as much as any team did this off-season, replacing Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Pau Gasol with Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Robin Lopez. The roster is certainly different from a year ago, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.

The Bulls enter the NBA season as one of the biggest wild cards in the entire league. They can either click on all cylinders and become a top challenger to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, or their new pieces will fail to develop chemistry, faltering to a sub .500 record. There are many questions regarding the lack of shooting and spacing on the roster as it is currently put together. Neither Rondo nor Wade are threats from beyond the arc, raising questions as to whether this team can succeed in the modern form of the game.

Assuming everything goes according to plan, the Bulls should be looking at a playoff seed as high as fourth in the Eastern Conference. What needs to go according to plan? Well, here are two key factors to a successful Chicago Bulls season.

First Key: Butler, Wade, and Rondo Accept Their New Roles

Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler must establish himself as the primary leader of this team, and his teammates must accept him and follow him as such. This season there will be no more lingering nostalgia of the Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls. The 27-year old Butler is undoubtedly the best player on the roster. His ability to build the mental makeup of a leader and earn his teammates’ respect will be just as crucial as his teammates – most notably Wade and Rondo – allowing themselves to be led by a younger player.

Dwyane Wade

Speaking of which, Dwyane Wade has already said, “This is Jimmy Butler’s team.” Wade said it to the media, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his comments are guaranteed to play out perfectly on the court.

Playing for a team other than the Miami Heat could prove to be a significant adjustment for Wade, as he is no longer playing for the organization and city he’s been accustomed to for over a dozen years. Simply adjusting from his role as a member of the Miami Heat to a member of the Chicago Bulls is something Wade will have to overcome early in the season.

On the court, Wade will need to thrive as the second scoring option and develop the role as a leader – but not the leader. He did it once in Miami when he joined forces with LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and he will have to do it again in Chicago. The only difference is instead of taking a back seat to the best player in the world, he’ll be asked to take a back seat to an unproven leader who is seven years younger.

Rajon Rondo

The most dynamic piece to this new trio of talents in the backcourt is Rajon Rondo. He loves having the ball in his hands, controlling the pace of the offense. The last time Rondo was put in charge as the floor general of a team with this much individual talent was when he played for the Dallas Mavericks, where he was susceptible to drama and inefficiency.

His team’s offense last season with the Sacramento Kings primarily revolved around Rondo’s playmaking and DeMarcus Cousins‘ individual dominance. A system like that, in which much of the offense was based on two players, won’t be in place for this season under Hoiberg. For this Chicago team to be successful, all five members on the floor will need to create shots for themselves and others; it won’t be just two players creating plays, which is the position Rondo was in last season. Rondo may need to take on a more passive role as a natural facilitator and role player, not a ball-dominant point guard.

Second Key: Emergence of Young Forwards as Dependable Shooters

At the beginning of the 2014-15 season, the Bulls welcomed in a pair of rookie forwards who are now 25 and 24 years of age, respectively: Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott

The loss of Pau Gasol leaves a huge void of offensive production in the frontcourt, which is where both of these players have the potential to excel. The Bulls know what they’re going to get from the veteran Taj Gibson, and they know they can expect a strong rebounding and defensive presence from Robin Lopez, along with his ability to finish well inside offensively. However, the offensive spark in the frontcourt will need to come from these two  young players.

The additions of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade provide many things, including veteran leadership and playmaking ability. One skill they fail to provide is shooting, which is arguably the most important aspect in the modern pace and space form of basketball. The lack of shooting could prove to be an issue for the Bulls all season long, but the improved consistency of Mirotic and McDermott would likely mitigate the effects.

It’s unfair to expect one of the two to take a huge individual leap, but it’s very realistic and probably more effective if both were to make moderate improvements this season.

Nikola Mirotic

Mirotic needs to improve his efficiency shooting the ball; he’s a career 40.6% shooter from the field. He should fill the role as an offensive spark who can catch fire from beyond the arc. Much of the success of Rondo, Wade, and Butler creating plays in the paint will depend on Mirotic’s ability to open up the floor and space out the offense. He will be asked to take and make a lot of threes so that the offense doesn’t get too crowded. Taking the next step from a role player to a reliable role player will be especially important for Mirotic this season.

Doug McDermott

Likewise, Doug McDermott will play a significant role in terms of carving out space on the floor for the playmakers to operate. He will need to continue to expand upon the strides he made last season. McDermott shot an extremely respectable 42.5% from three-point range last year, a season in which he saw his production increase from his rookie year across the board. McDermott won’t need to create plays like he did in college, but he’ll need to become a dependable shooter to facilitate the balance of the offense.

He and Mirotic are undoubtedly the two best shooting threats on the roster. Wade and Rondo certainly won’t be stretching out the defense, so it will have to be these two keeping defenses honest on the perimeter. If they struggle from distance, the entire offense will struggle to flow like it should.

Both Mirotic and McDermott must establish themselves as dangerous threats from downtown, and Butler, Wade, and Rondo must all accept their new roles in order for the Chicago Bulls to have a successful season.

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