In the aftermath of Chicago’s disappointing loss to the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers this postseason, many wanted to point fingers. Tom Thibodeau took the brunt of the blame and was fired. Joakim Noah, who looked like a Walking Dead zombie for much of the season, has taken heat from fans and analysts alike who worry he’ll never return to his Defensive Player of the Year form. Yet from the rubble of the horrific Game Six loss to the Cavs arose a story I never saw coming.
According to Dan Bernstein of CBS Chicago, a rift had formed between Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Bernstein argued that the body language displayed during the final 24 minutes of the Bulls’ season was indicative of a growing feud between the two All-Stars.
Making such a claim based on a single evening of poorly played basketball is very silly. Chris Terzic wrote a great piece for Blog-a-Bull refuting Bernstein’s aggressive assertion that Rose checked out of Game Six for personal reasons. He used this crazy concept called “visual evidence” to show that Rose’s low number of field goal attempts was not due to indifference, but rather him taking what the defense was giving and trying to make the best play for the team.
But what if Bernstein was on to something? Derrick Rose has been the unquestioned alpha dog in Chicago ever since his arrival. He’d never played alongside anyone who deserved to dominate the ball for stretches, especially not another guard. The argument could be made that Rose was simply not accustomed or prepared to turn over as much offensive responsibility as Butler had earned last season. What I set out to do is parse through some statistics to figure out how the Butler and Rose duo fared last summer, and determine if there’s any statistical evidence to support a rift.
The Rose Effect on Butler
Jimmy Butler took huge strides on the offensive end last season. He set career highs in scoring, rebounding and assists. His improved three point shooting was a vital addition to his game and turned Jimmy into a major threat. After shooting just 28% on threes in 2014, Butler increased his average to 37.8%. There’s no doubt he put in countless hours in the gym improving his stroke from all around the perimeter, but there may have been a hidden reason for Butler’s massive one year improvement.
Jimmy played just over 2500 minutes last season. For 1216 of those minutes, roughly half of Butler’s court time, Derrick Rose was also on the court. According to NBAwowy, in the minutes that Butler played without Rose, his three point shooting fell to 31.6%. When Butler and Rose shared the floor, Butler’s three point shooting skyrocketed up to over 41%. Butler clearly seems to have benefited from the extra attention defenses pay to Rose and was able to find open threes that weren’t available when Aaron Brooks or Kirk Hinrich manned the point.
Having Rose on the court may have helped free up open shots, but it hampered other aspects of Butler’s game. Jimmy Butler was quietly one of the more effective pick and roll ball handlers in the NBA last season. His high efficiency on these plays can be attributed to his ability to barrel through the paint and draw fouls on the way to the basket. On the season, Butler posted a free throw rate (FTr) of .508. According to NBAwowy, when Butler was playing without Rose his FTr increased to .530. But with the ball dominant Rose on the court, that number fell to .410. While Rose definitely had a positive influence on Butler’s shooting, he also curbed Butler’s aggressive play by turning him into a second banana waiting for kickouts on the perimeter.
Rose Just Isn’t The Same Player Anymore
For all the excitement surrounding Derrick Rose’s first (somewhat) healthy season in two years, the truth is that he was not good enough the justify how much he dominated the ball. Rose shot just 40% from the field and 28% from three on an absurd 5.3 attempts per game. He was often reluctant to drive to the basket and draw contact. He averaged under four free throw attempts per game and a FTr of just .224, his lowest since his rookie season. Rose was ineffective shooting the ball and initiating the offense, but it never stopped him from trying. Rose posted a usage rate of 31.7% last year, the fifth highest in the NBA–a higher rate than James Harden, a guy who basically ran an entire offense on his own at times.
If there is truly any bad blood between Butler and Rose, the source of it is Rose’s inefficient play and wild overconfidence in his three point stroke. When Butler played without the former MVP on the court, he posted a healthy usage rate of 24.6%. But with both starting guards on the court, Butler’s usage dropped to 21.8%, around league average. With both guys on the court, Rose still soaked up 30.6% of offensive possessions.
I can’t blame Jimmy for being frustrated with his teammate looking at these numbers. After spending countless grueling hours to improve his game, Butler was still being treated like a complimentary piece in the Derrick Rose show. Anyone who watched the Bulls last season could tell that Butler was the best all-around player on the team. The only person who might not have realized it was Derrick Rose.
Why It Doesn’t Matter
Some of the usage imbalance will hopefully be cleared up by new coach Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system. Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams were great about whipping the ball around the court in an effort to create open looks for everybody. Far too many Bulls possessions last season resulted in the ball sticking on one side of the floor. The basic offensive scheme the Bulls used last year was too often snuffed out and forced Chicago to take bad shots as the shot clock ticked down. With a more uptempo offense in place, Rose and Butler will both be able to put themselves in better position to score without having to force the issue. A more free flowing offense with better ball distribution should keep everyone happy.
Jimmy Butler knows this better than anyone. It’s why he agreed to return to Chicago for at least four more years when he could have fought to re-enter free agency after three. He knows that this group has a championship window right now, and should he and Derrick learn to use each other more effectively that window could stay open for years to come. There may have been some tension at the close of last season, but any “beef” has certainly been squashed.