Dwyane Wade is the latest NBA player to return home, joining the Chicago Bulls on a two-year deal that looks better on paper than it does in reality. As much as it pains me to say it because Wade has always been one of my favorite players, I don’t think signing him will make much of a difference for the Bulls.
Chicago had many holes last year on both ends of the floor. In fairness to them, their problems were certainly exacerbated by a spate of injuries throughout the year, which made first year coach Fred Hoiberg’s job difficult. Nonetheless, the Bulls were below average offensively, ranking a meager 25th in offensive efficiency. They also regressed defensively, finishing 15th in defensive efficiency after consistently ranking among the league leaders in that category under Tom Thibodeau.
Wade should improve Chicago’s offense. He’s coming off a year in which he averaged 19 points, including over 21 per game during the postseason. Those numbers aren’t great by his standards, but they’re good enough for him to still be considered one of the NBA’s better scorers. However, Wade is no longer as efficient as he once was: His field goal and three point percentages last year both dipped to career lows of .456 and .159 respectively.
The interesting thing about Chicago’s situation is that Wade isn’t the only big name they brought in this offseason: They also added Rajon Rondo to replace Derrick Rose. In addition, they acquired center Robin Lopez to fill the void left by Pau Gasol, who departed for San Antonio. The task for Hoiberg will be to figure out how all these new pieces fit alongside Jimmy Butler and the Bulls’ other returning players.
Hoiberg’s job won’t be easy. Neither Rondo, Wade, nor Butler are great outside shooters by any stretch, particularly Rondo and Wade. Since their playing styles are all predicated on attacking the paint, the question then becomes who will handle most of the offensive load. I’d have to think it would still be Butler because he is more ingrained in the offense and he is the best bet to stay healthy; but then that puts Wade in an uncomfortable position because he isn’t really a catch-and-shoot guy. Neither, of course, is Rondo, who is at his best when he is facilitating. The Bulls can offset their lack of shooting on the wings by giving more minutes to forwards Nicola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, who are very good outside shooters for their size. The problem is that both of them, particular McDermott, are below average defensively, particularly when compared to Joakim Noah, who also left the Bulls to join the Knicks.
The Bulls may have a great-looking front court that will make plays here and there attacking the basket, but they will essentially be the NBA’s bizarro Warriors from beyond the arc. Especially in this day and age, where the three-point shot reigns supreme, Chicago could be in trouble considering that they also project to have holes underneath.
I’d like to think that Chicago will make the playoffs now that they have the likes of Wade and Rondo. Yet there are two more things to consider. First, Wade’s health can’t be counted on. He’ll turn thirty-five next January and he’s only played an average of 64 out of 82 games per season over the past four years.
Also, even though there isn’t a serious contender in the East besides Cleveland, it’s still a deep conference. Simply put, I’m not even sure Chicago has improved enough to make the playoffs. They’re certainly not in the same conversation as Cleveland, or even Toronto. They’re still probably a notch below the likes of Boston, Atlanta, and Miami in terms of depth and talent as well. So are they better than teams like Charlotte, Indiana, and Detroit? Well, the Hornets are coming off a 48-win season and have a really nice core led by Kemba Walker; Indiana has a star in Paul George and they recently acquired Jeff Teague from Atlanta; and the Pistons are a tough, young team that is on the rise. I’m leaning towards no.
If I was a Bulls fan, I’d like the Wade signing in the sense that it will be exciting to see a future Hall of Famer on my team. Plus, it’s only a two-year deal, so what’s the worst that can happen? It’s not like Wade is on his last legs just yet.
With that said, while this move may seem like it will help the Bulls rebound after a very disappointing 2015-16 season, it won’t. They are no closer to becoming one of the better teams in the East again with the thirty-four-year-old Wade.
Wade photo #1 courtesy of Streeter Lacka/Getty Images; Butler photo courtesy of USA Today Sports