Building The Chicago Bulls Starting Five For The 2015-16 Season

New Chicago Bulls head coach has plenty of options in terms of who to play in 2015-16. Hoiberg now possesses one of the Eastern Conference’s deepest teams, but what will his rotation look like on Oct. 27?


During his introductory press conference on June 2, Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg had nothing but rave reviews for his new team. The 42-year-old Hoiberg, a former guard for the Bulls for four season in the post-Jordan/Pippen era, was as eager as anybody in the room for his first appearance as Bulls head coach.

“I love this roster,” Hoiberg said during his press conference. “I love the versatility of the players, the different lineups that we’re going to be able to play. You can play small, you can play big. You’ve got lineups that I think can really get out and play with pace. You’ve got a great group of veteran players that know how to play.”

Hoiberg got his first taste of coaching during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, where first-round pick Bobby Portis and the 2014 draft’s first-round pick (via trade) Doug McDermott both excelled during their time in Vegas.

Now, with training camp vastly approaching for NBA teams and the curiosity about Hoiberg at an all-time high, what will the Chicago Bulls look like heading into their season opener on Oct. 27 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in a Eastern Conference Semifinal rematch?

I wanted to take a shot at building a lineup for Hoiberg prior to what happens at September’s training camp and the eight-game preseason slate for the Bulls.

Starting five for the Bulls:

Point guard – Derrick Rose

Despite another meniscus issue that kept him out of 20 straight games last season, Derrick Rose played in 50 regular season games last year. The last time Rose did that, he was named the league’s youngest MVP in history after the 2010-11 season. Even with his well-documented shooting struggles and “flat jumper”, Rose still produced and showed flashes of his former self.

ALSO ON PIPPEN AIN’T EASY: Derrick Rose’s Top 5 Games of 2014-15

Last season was more of getting back into the swing of a 82-game season, and despite the injuries, a good majority would consider Rose’s 2014-15 season a success (especially after his first postseason appearance since tearing his ACL in 2012). This season will be more about Rose and 1) staying healthy of course and 2) finding consistency during tough stretches of the season.

A minor example of the difference between Rose with rest and Rose without rest (back-to-backs, which the Bulls have 17 of this season).

(Stats via NBA.com)

Not only did Rose’s shooting percentages jump from 35.5 percent to 46.1 percent between a back-to-back (11 times) and two days of rest (six times), his plus-minus jumped from 1.3 to 6.7.

Hoiberg will look to keep Rose’s minutes under control along with his overall game, but in this new system offensively for the Bulls, Rose is the main catalyst. A big reason for Iowa State’s success last season was the play of Monte Morris; Hoiberg’s sophomore floor general. Rose’s production will be monitored under a microscope in year two of his return to long-term action.

Shooting guard – Jimmy Butler

The NBA’s most improved player last season got exactly what he wanted in the offseason: a brand new contract. Jimmy Butler is now a rich man, and now has a giant bullseye on his back. After taking a pre-leg injury Paul George leap into stardom last season, Butler’s rise in production was one of the league’s most-talked about subjects.

ALSO ON PIPPEN AIN’T EASY: Jimmy Butler’s Top 5 Games of 2014-15

Not only has Butler become of the league’s best two-way players, he’s become a legitimate to score anywhere on the floor. Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry did a fantastic breakdown on how Butler’s game has not only evolved from beyond the arc, but how Butler has taken his game to another level, thanks to his driving and ability to get to the free throw line.

An excerpt from Goldsberry:

Butler is a phenomenal foul shooter — anytime he draws a shooting foul, he gets his team 1.67 points per possession. It may not be pretty, but it’s definitely effective. And the good news for Bulls fans is that very few young players get to the line as much or knock down their free throws as much as Butler.

During the regular season, Butler drew a whopping 5.2 fouls per game. Only five NBA players shot more free throws per contest:

Most Free Throws per Game

  1. James Harden: 10.2
  2. Russell Westbrook: 9.8
  3. DeMarcus Cousins: 9.2
  4. LeBron James: 7.7
  5. DeMar DeRozan: 7.2
  6. Jimmy Butler: 7.1

The best stat on Butler that I’ve read all summer long was probably this one from Goldsberry:

According to SportVU data provided exclusively to Grantland, Butler drew fouls on 25 percent of his drives this season. Leaguewide, drives only result in foul calls 13 percent of the time. The Bulls scored 1.23 points per possession each time he drove. Considering that the team averaged 1.05 points per possession, that’s pretty good.

Even with my personal concerns on how many touches Butler will get in this newer, quicker offense, along with Butler’s plea recently to play point guard, year two of the new Jimmy Butler could be a fun one.

(Side note: Unless we actually see some heated exchanges with Rose and Butler this season, let’s lay those rumors to sleep for good, eh? Not only are Rose and Butler one of the league’s most expensive backcourts, they’re arguably the second-best guard duo behind the “Splash Brothers” in Oakland.)

Small forward – Mike Dunleavy Jr.

Outside of keeping Butler in a Bulls uniform, the best move for the Bulls this summer was re-signing Mike Dunleavy Jr. to a new three-year deal. The move not only kept the Bulls in possession of a floor-spacer, the re-signing kept Dunleavy away from LeBron James.

Despite an ankle issue throughout 2014-15, Dunleavy still just under 41 percent from three (40.7%) in 63 games and provides a veteran defender on the wing for the Bulls. In an offense like Hoiberg’s, where the three-point shot is the crown jewel, Dunleavy could be a big x-factor for the Bulls if this roster clicks with Hoiberg and his staff.

There’s no guarantee that Doug McDermott will improve on a disappointing (and minute-lacking) rookie year, so keeping Dunleavy in this rotation was key for the Bulls.

Not only can Dunleavy help the Bulls space the floor in the half-court, Dunleavy is a good passer and helps the Bulls maintain a sense of balance on both ends.

Power Forward – Nikola Mirotic

No more “twin towers”. No more “jumbo” lineup. No more Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah on the floor together.

Bulls fans, say hello to your next star.

There have been of stories and thoughts on McDermott taking a leap in year two, but personally, the player that could benefit most from Hoiberg’s arrival in Chicago is Nikola Mirotic.

Earlier in the summer, I broke down how Mirotic could take a huge leap under Hoiberg in his second NBA season. Mirotic is one of Hoiberg’s favorite types: a big man who can handle the basketball and give you versatility offensively inside and outside the arc. (Basically, I called Mirotic “Hoiberg’s new Georges Niang”.)

Not only is Mirotic capable of spacing the floor (despite shooting just 31 percent from three-point land last season), he’s a willing passer and can provide offense from the block as well.

With Mirotic on the floor with Rose and Butler — two good PnR ball-handlers — not only can you run PnR sets with him, you can pick-and-pop with Mirotic. Along with his famous pump fakes, Mirotic can also put the ball on the deck and get to the line (or dish it off).

Center – Joakim Noah

Despite a rough 2014-15 season, Joakim Noah is still an outstanding passer for a big man, so having one big that can score from anywhere and pass, while having another one on the floor who can also pass, but clean up messes defensively (when healthy) seems like a good move. Noah will round out the starting five on this list.

Simply put: you can’t play Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol together. As Shaq would say, “That’s barbecue chicken down there.” Yeah, I know, Pau Gasol was 7th in the NBA in blocks last season (147), but he also allowed bigs to score at the rim 54.8 percent of the time in 2013-14 (a season in which he played at a quicker offensive pace like the Bulls will this year).

Of course, Noah wasn’t the same last season after his phenomenal 2013-14 campaign. The “minor knee procedure” was anything but minor, as Noah struggled all season long and looked like a shell of himself. Still, betting against Joakim Noah isn’t a wise thing to do, and I’m betting on him having a bounce-back 2015-16 season.

  • 2013-14: 11.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, 20.0 PER, 6.6 DWS, 5.5 DBPM, 3.3 BLK%
  • 2014-15: 9.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, 15.3 PER, 3.1 DWS, 3.6 DBPM, 2.6 BLK%

With all the weapons the Bulls have in this starting lineup, there’s really no need for Noah to score like he had to in 2013-14. The key for Noah this season is to get back to his old defensive ways of being able to switch onto any player in the league, rotate as well as any center in the league, and become the defensive force he once was before the injury. He’s a better fit for this spot than Gasol is if his knee is 100 percent.

Overall thoughts (with some bench thoughts):

Fred Hoiberg understands the situation. He’s got the deepest frontcourt in the NBA, with a ton of veterans (including a energy-filled rookie) that are capable of playing substantial minutes this season.

Will he have Pau Gasol, a two-time NBA Champion, coming off the bench? Will Taj Gibson have a Joakim Noah-like funk after his ankle surgery this summer? Could he twist things completely around and start Bobby Portis on Opening Night? I don’t know, but that’s the beauty of the situation; he has options. The front office even has options (once everyone’s healthy).

Also, Hoiberg already understands that you don’t have to play your stars 40 minutes a night in December. No disrespect to Tom Thibodeau, but playing Jimmy Butler over 38 minutes a night is just ludicrous. Hoiberg’s already seen the young guys in Vegas and has spoken to Gasol and Mirotic during EuroBasket training. He gets it.

*On a personal (and interesting) note: the five that I selected for this piece, played a grand total of 0 minutes together as a five-man unit last season.

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