Last season, Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg was shackled trying to put together a positive lineup. In the offseason, the Bulls made two changes that should make his job a little easier.
Conventional wisdom says that Jabari Parker and Wendell Carter clog up the lane even more. Yet both are clearly more talented than any combination of; Jerian Grant, Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine, David Nwaba, Robin Lopez (or whoever was the fourth and fifth best player on a 5-man squad).
Here were Chicago’s most potent lineups:
1) Dunn, Holiday, Valentine, Markkanen, Lopez
Minutes played: 504
Offensive rating: 101.3 PPG
Defensive rating: 107.3 PPG
2) Grant, Holiday, Valentine, Markkanen, Lopez
Minutes played: 197
Offensive rating: 94.6 PPG
Offensive rating: 105.1 PPG
3) Grant, Nwaba, Zipser, Mirotic, Portis
Minutes played: 113
Offensive rating: 98 PPG
Defensive rating: 108.6 PPG
4) Grant, Lavine, Holiday, Markkanen, Lopez
Minutes played: 106
Offensive rating: 98 PPG
Defensive rating: 98.1 PPG
Two of the four lineups featured a combination of Justin Holiday and Denzel Valentine and three of the four lineups contained one of them. It is essential for Chicago to distinguish which is more impact.
Pick your Poison: Denzel Valentine or Justin Holiday?
One of Valentine and Holiday is a lock to be glued on the bench. At this point in their careers, neither have solidified themselves as rotation pieces. For the long term, Valentine seems more likely to realize his potential, being that he arrived in the league just 2 seasons ago. Although he’s 24, he does not have a super long leash.
The outlook of Valentine’s career is based on the direction of the Bulls. With offseason additions, Chicago seems poised to capture 30-35 wins (Vegas has them at 27.5, but I’m a little bullish). That’s not outright Eastern contention, but it’s a step up from last season. Instead of handing out minutes to the unworthy (cue Jerian Grant), minutes will be of greater magnitude.
The Michigan State product garnered minutes—27.2 minutes of them—and often appeared in end of the game lineups. Nonetheless, the eye test outweighs any basic statistic. He put up 10.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists in 27.2 minutes and started 37 games. He had respectable shooting numbers, at 41.7% from the field and 38.6% from deep.
In fact, he’s one of 7 players to shoot 38% from three on 370 attempts, while averaging less than 1.5 turnovers and more than 3 assists per game.
Such a list might seem nit picky, but the average player on that list averaged 6.2 career win shares. The best player is J.J. Redick while the worst is Deshawn Stevenson. The statistics are in favor of him improving on his 2.5 win shares and reaching the role player threshold.
This is Holiday’s 6th season playing professional basketball (I omit using the term NBA because he actually played overseas his second season). His NBA resume is noticeably murky. He has one season above 1 win share. His offensive box plus/minus has never risen north of zero. Since his offensive impact is decidedly negative, most people assume he picks up the slack defensively. That’s really not the case though.
Holiday’s defensive box plus/minus is below average, at -0.3. 50% of defense is effort and Holiday checks that mark, but struggles to keep up with more athletic players. Unfortunately, his offense seems to have stagnated (37.1% shooting with an uptick in minutes). His best year came when he played 20 minutes, which may be the brink where Holiday is a negative impact on both sides.
If past play is any indication, Holiday or Valentine are fringe NBA players. Yet if the Bulls choose to tank, both could see more floor time. That leaves the pairing with substantial roles in the Bulls system. Top to bottom talent improvement means one is expendable.
It’s nearly impossible to gauge a 27 win team based on lineup production. Clearly, the team underperformed and any variance of lineups Hoiberg cooked up was a recipe for disaster. But with Parker, Carter, and even Hutchison, the Bulls take a step forward in talent, thus the margin each players’ errors grows slimmer.
Can Chicago go big next year?
Lauri Markkanen was sensational (for rookie standards) at the power forwards spot—he played 77% minutes there and 23% at center. When Mirotic was punching away as a Bull (pun intended), Hoiberg could trot out a bigger lineup; Mirotic at the 3 and Portis and Markkanen at the 4 and 5. After trading him away, the Bulls were limited to normal lineups and small-ball lineups.
The addition of Parker and Carter could clog up the lineup, but it concurrently mutates the genome of Chicago’s lineups. Simply put, a Lopez-Carter-Markkanen-Lavine-Dunn is an overpowering lineup that lets Markkanen focus on underutilized strengths: dribbling dexterity. It also puts the opposing team into a bind.
Which forward matches up with Markkanen? How do we guard a Markkanen-Carter pick and roll? How can we protect our mascot from Robin Lopez? Sure, the lineup is unlikely to be used on a daily basis. But if there are matchups to be taken advantage of, Hoiberg should pounce on the opportunity.
Here’s an abundance of lineups that should be utilized by Hoiberg next season:
Dunn, Lavine, Parker, Markkanen, Lopez
Payne, Valentine, Holiday, Portis, Carter
Payne, Valentine, Holiday, Markkanen, Carter
Dunn, Holiday, Hutchison, Portis, Carter
Dunn, Holiday, Markkanen, Portis, Carter
Payne, Dunn, Holiday, Parker, Portis