All posts by Jacob Bikshorn

A Bulls fan first and foremost, Jacob splits his time between writing about the NBA and adjusting his fantasy lineup on the toilet.

An Announcement From DRaT’s Founders

Hello friends, we’ve got some important news to share with everybody about the future of (D)Roses and Thorns and some exciting professional news for Jake Weiner and myself.

Jake and I have accepted offers to write for SBNation’s Blog a Bull for the upcoming season. We are incredibly excited for this opportunity to write for a website we’ve been such huge fans of for so long and work alongside writers we’ve come to admire and respect. We’d like to offer a big thank you to Your Friendly BullsBlogger for this chance.

Making this decision was not an easy for us at it signifies the end of our time writing  here. Building (D)Roses and Thorns together has been an incredible journey that has been far more rewarding than we ever could have imagined when I wrote the inaugural post back in May of 2013. In the last three and a half years, we’ve made tremendous development both as writers and observers of basketball. Through trial and error we’ve built the blog into something we’re incredibly proud of. And we’ve had a ton of fun.

The site would not be what it is today without huge contributions from Steven Kerstein, Drew Hackman, Jared Wyllys, Jason Schwartz, Jeff Berest and Tyler Geocaris. We’d like to express our gratitude to all the other contributors we’ve had over the years as well.

Steven’s meteoric rise to YouTube stardom brought a ton of exposure to the site that we all greatly benefited from. While most of his writing here was related to gambling, Steve penned probably my favorite player profile we’ve ever ran on this website.

Geo hasn’t written often here, but he was an important member in our founding and is always a great person to bounce ideas off of. He also wrote the most viewed article in the history of DRaT.

Drew, Jared, Jeff and Jason came onboard later and gave us the stability to really turn this website into a consistent source for news and analysis. We proudly wrote game recaps after all 82 Bulls games last season and provided frequent deep dives into specific players and team-wide trends.

I want to extend my sincerest gratitude to all of you reading this post. We greatly appreciate all of our friends who have read, liked, shared and told others about any of the articles we’ve ran on the site. There’s no better feeling than when an acquaintance comes up to me to let me know they’ve enjoyed something I wrote.

While Jake and I will be moving on from the website, we want to make sure you know that this site is not going to vanish from the Internet. We are going to leave the site in the hands of Jason Schwartz, who’s expressed great excitement about the chance to build upon the foundation we’ve created. Jason, who wrote for the Daily Illini before graduating this past May, most recently covered a wild draft night for the Bulls organization. Jason has been a friend of mine for several years and I know he will deliver the type of thoughtful analysis you’ve come to expect from (D)Roses and Thorns.

-Jacob Bikshorn, founder of (D)Roses and Thorns

It’s been an absolute honor editing and writing at (D)Roses and Thorns these last three and a half years. I can’t imagine finding a better or more consistently fun environment for me to grow both as a writer and editor. DRaT would’ve been nothing without the support of all our friends and readers, so again we want to sincerely thank everyone who’s ever read even one post at our blog.

As most of you hopefully already know, DRaT namesake Derrick Rose is currently embroiled in a civil case alleging that he gang raped a former girlfriend. Regardless of who is running this website, it will be committed to the human aspect of life as more important than basketball or fandom. As such, we have no choice but to change the name of the blog.

Even if Rose has been falsely accused (a conclusion that far too many are reaching without carefully considering a lot of seemingly relevant and gut-wrenching evidence against the former Bull), the situation has taught us at the blog an important lesson. We don’t know the athletes we root for. They are not our friends.

With that being said, we are taking name suggestions for the next incarnation of this blog. As hopefully made clear above, we are going to avoid using the name of another player, as amusing as many of your suggestions have been. So please, reach out to any of us individually or on Facebook and Twitter with any ideas.

It’s undoubtedly bittersweet leaving this website we’ve spent the last few years building up, but I know that Jason is the right person to continue providing the high quality Bulls goods that you all crave. Furthermore, I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to join the Blog a Bull team that we’ve long respected.

Jacob (@OldManBikshorn) and I (@JakeWeinerNBA) will be as active as ever on Twitter, and I’ll probably still hack into the @DRosesandThorns account from time to time as well (name change pending, of course). Thank you so much for joining us on this journey, and for coming along with both us and this blog as we venture out into an unknown future. Hey, the outlook has to be brighter than the Bulls’, right?

-Jake Weiner, co-founder and editor of (D)Roses and Thorns

DrAT
Original DRaT founders Jacob Bikshorn, Steven Kerstein, and Jake Weiner.
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Isaiah Canaan’s a one trick pony, but it’s the trick Chicago needs

Nobody seems excited about new Bulls point guard Isaiah Canaan. This is not a huge surprise, as most citizens have simply never heard of the guy. Those who are familiar with his work in Philadelphia the past two seasons were underwhelmed with Canaan’s defense, decision making, and inability to expand upon his only good skill: shooting.

Most of Bulls Twittersphere arrived at their bummed out conclusion about Canaan based on this grim profile by Jake Pavorsky from SBNation’s Liberty Ballers. The well-researched article goes deep on Canaan’s limitations as a point guard: he’s a bad floor general; he can’t finish near the basket; his defense just plain sucks, especially when forced to defend shooting guards.

Canaan’s shortcomings in Philly were amplified by the context around him. The 76ers were not a team built to win basketball games, and Canaan was forced to do things well outside of his comfort zone. It’s a bad sign that the opportunity to run the show did not result in much progress for Canaan, but do not let his failures in one facet of the game obscure the value he brings elsewhere.

Coming to Chicago presents Canaan with the opportunity to fit into a role that better suits his abilities. Between Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler, the Bulls do not need any more ball dominant guards on the roster. Between the #ThreeAlphas, there will be no shortage of guys comfortable pounding the air out of the ball. What this team desperately does need is shooting, and shooting is what Canaan can do.

Isaiah Canaan averaged 25.5 minutes over the 77 games he appeared in last season and jacked an unconscionable 6.3 threes per game. Despite the high volume. the Murray State product managed to connect on 36.3% of those attempts. According to NBA.com, 2.5 of Canaan’s triple attempts per game – about half – were pull up shots off the dribble. On pull ups, Canaan managed to shoot just 32% from three. But when Canaan fired away off the catch, which he did 3.9 times per game last year, he connected on 40.1% of his attempts, an excellent rate that warrants off ball attention from opposing defenses.

Canaan simply will not have the ball in his hands enough to come close to approaching the number of pull up threes he took last season. And if a few of those low efficiency attempts are shaved down and replaced by shots Canaan has shown a consistent ability to make, it’s not crazy to think his overall percentage could creep up to 38% or 39%.

Canaan will continue to be a crappy defender. It’s unlikely he will grow a few inches and improve his inside finishing. He’ll never sniff the assist totals of a guy like Rondo. But, on a team completely devoid of guards who can shoot, Isaiah Canaan will make an impact. Regardless of which of the alphas he shares the court with, Canaan will afford an extra sliver of driving space for his backcourt mate. Canaan was stretched far beyond his capabilities in Philadelphia, but as a member of the Chicago Bulls I believe he can settle into a role that maximizes his value to the team.

The Lineup Laboratory: Let’s Make Space

We know who is going to be playing for the Bulls. A flurry of moves this offseason resulted in one point guard being shipped out and another high profile one being signed on. The Bulls followed up the Rondo signing with the (second) most surprising move of the summer by luring Dwyane Wade from the Heat on a two year deal.

In a vacuum, both of these signings are very justifiable. After the Rose trade, the Bulls were able to get a proven veteran coming off a very good season on what is basically a one year deal. Compared to some of the supersized contracts that were handed out the first week in July, Rondo is almost a bargain, and fills a clear positional need.

Wade, coming off his healthiest season in years, absolutely has gas left in the tank. The Bulls are more than a wing short of being able to contend with the Warriors and Cavaliers of the league, and adding Wade, despite the high cost, bolsters what is generally a shallow position across all 30 teams. While Wade has never figured out how to shoot threes, his herky-jerky “dad at Lifetime wearing a knee brace” game figures to age well.

These would be great signings if basketball was baseball. Baseball is a game of one on one battles, and the team that has more talent in their lineup tends to win. In basketball, simply acquiring talent is not enough. In basketball, a player’s ability to succeed is impacted as much by who he shares the court with as how good skilled he may be as a shooter or driver. Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler would make a killer 3-4-5 in a batting order. But as a 1-2-3 on the basketball court, these undeniably talented players add up to less than the sum of their parts.

The projected Bulls starting lineup – Rondo, Wade, Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez – features just one above average three point shooter. The streaky Montenegrin is going to need to improve his consistency from beyond the arc if the Bulls starting group hopes to have any space to operate on offense.

The severe shooting deficit in the Bulls backcourt will ultimately limit one of the few strengths of this roster. Between Mirotic, Lopez, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio, the Bulls have a very deep PF/C rotation. Unfortunately, it will be spacing suicide anytime two of these players share the floor and one is not Niko. To cover up the flaws of the roster’s architecture, Chicago is going to need to get creative and find a way to squeeze 48 minutes of outside shooting from the power forward spot.

Already we are hearing about Fred Hoiberg‘s plan to have Doug McDermott play power forward. The 6’8″ McDermott is far too weak a rebounder to hold up at the position for long stretches. But against some of the other stretch fours in the league, McDermott may be able to provide valuable spacing on offense while avoiding his biggest weakness: perimeter defense.

I expect the Bulls will also use Jimmy Butler at the 4 at times during the season. Butler is strong enough to hold up in the post against most big men (including LeBron James). Butler has the quickness to torture other power forwards on the perimeter, and his less than great three point shooting upgrades to average when he’s considered a four. Lineups with Wade, Tony Snell and Butler will give the Bulls the flexibility to switch often on defense, the strategy used by the Thunder and Heat to stop the Warriors in the playoffs.

I imagine Taj Gibson, who has played 89% of his career minutes at power forward, will see most of his playing time come as the backup center. A Taj and Lopez pairing, which should be superb on defense, is just not going to result in a functioning offense with the spacing issues across the roster.

The real losers in this roster shakeup are Portis and Felicio, two players who desperately need on court experience to improve their feel for the NBA game. There are just not going to be enough minutes for these guys on a consistent basis. Both players showed they are not afraid to take a perimeter jumper last season, but until defenses start respecting Portis and Felicio outside the paint, their presence will only further clog the dirty drain that is the Bulls offense.

We still have a long time between now and the start of the regular season and the Bulls may not be done tinkering with the roster. Just a few hours ago it was announced the Bulls signed Isaiah Canaan, who instantly becomes the best shooter in the Bulls backcourt and will provide value off the bench and off the ball. The team could also shake things up by trading Taj Gibson, making $9 million in the last year of his contract, for a three point marksman. Should the Bulls stand pat with this group, Fred Hoiberg is going to have to get very creative with his rotations.

Rond’oh!

In a strange way, it’s been nice to see a flurry of activity from the Bulls front office in the point guard market. I was not alone in my frustration a season ago when the Bulls trotted out  the oft injured Derrick Rose, diminutive Aaron Brooks, and local real estate owner Kirk Hinrich to hold down the fort for a second consecutive season.

The swap of Cameron Bairstow for Spencer Dinwiddie was a low-risk move with the tiny potential for a nice payout. The big trade that sent Rose to the Knicks was judged to be a positive one by this writer, mostly because of the addition of the (suddenly) cheap Robin Lopez, but also because of the potential upside Jerian Grant brings to the table. And while Jose Calderon is nothing more than a shooter at this point in his career, I could envision him carving out a successful role next to Butler as a floor spacer.

All of these small moves were nice, but the Bulls were still clearly lacking someone they felt confident could soak up the majority of minutes at the one, a feeling that motivated the team to award Rajon Rando a two year, $28 million contract that reportedly has a partially guaranteed second year.

The Rondo signing appears to make sense on the surface. With a roster lacking any proven point guard talent, why not take a one year flier on the guy who lead the league in assists a season ago, averaged two steals a game and hit a career best 36% of his threes?

As anyone who watched Pau Gasol loaf through the past two seasons in Chicago knows, the box score does not tell the whole story. A closer examination combined with a careful eye can sometimes paint a different picture than some counting stats in the newspaper.

Rondo spent the past season on a typically dysfunctional Kings team that failed to crack .500 for the 37th consecutive season. The Kings scored a lot of points in George Karl‘s high paced system but surrendered even more on defense, posting a net -3 for the season. Rondo’s presence on the floor did nothing to help matters, as the team was more than a point better per 100 possessions when Rondo was on the bench.

Plus/minus can be a misleading stat at times. Starting players on talent-deficient teams can have artificially low net ratings compared to their teammates who are able to feast on opposing bench units. But when you consider that Rondo played 70% of his minutes alongside DeMarcus Cousins, who was exactly even in net rating, Rondo’s statistics begin to look more damning.

Despite his gaudy assist totals, Rondo does very little to improve his team’s offense. Rondo is a terrible shooter who is reluctant to even attempt long jump shots. A career 29% three point shooter, Rajon’s poor stroke is made even worse by the fact that defenses completely ignore him on the perimeter. Rondo absolutely needs to have the ball in his hands on offense to be remotely effective. When he doesn’t space becomes tight for all of his teammates. Look at what happened on this play against the well-coached Charlotte Hornets:

Hornets ignore Rondo pt 1

As DeMarcus Cousins runs to set a pick for Rudy Gay, Kemba Walker, Rondo’s defender, turns his head completely away from Rondo and begins to focus his attention on stopping the pick and roll.

Hornets ignore Rondo pt2

As soon as Cousins receives the pass from Gay, Walker has completely committed to clogging the lane for any potential drive from the big man. Rondo is left totally alone, a complete afterthought for the defense. Rondo ended up making the wide open three after the ensuing pass from Cousins, but he has been unable to connect on those shots at a high enough rate to force defenses to re-calibrate their strategy.

This is the biggest reason I hate the Rondo signing. After struggling through last season with a starting back court that couldn’t make a three, the Bulls are doubling down by signing the worst shooting point guard in basketball.

For all of the dynamic things Butler can do on a court, attracting attention off the ball is not something he does. As we saw quite a bit last season, Butler felt most comfortable with the ball in his hands running the offense. To compliment that, the Bulls need to pair him with a point guard who is going to keep help defenders occupied far away from the paint. Rajon Rondo could not be further from fitting that description.

I just cannot comprehend what Gar Forman and John Paxson were thinking  when they signed Rondo. Do they expect him and Butler to play well off each other? Unless Butler is spending his summer turning himself into a 40% three point shooter, I struggle to imagine a scenario where these two are able to power the Bulls to a half decent offense.

If Rondo’s outside shooting was his only issue, it would be bad enough. But there are several other aspects of offense the newest Bull struggles at. Rondo was arguably the single worst transition player in the NBA last season. According to NBA.com, of players to handle the ball on at least 200 transition possessions, nobody scored less frequently, and turned the ball over more frequently than Rajon Rondo. Only Jordan Clarkson and Klay Thompson (who took a lot of transition threes) shot free throws less often in transition than Rondo.

All of which brings me to my final complaint about Rondo’s offensive game: his utter fear of the charity stripe. Rondo has failed to crack 60% from the line in four of the last six seasons. And as his percentages have dropped, so have the attempts. Rondo got to the line just twice a game last season, a shockingly low number for the player who finished tenth in the league in drives to the basket. People complain about Rondo hunting for assists to boost his stats, but I think a lot of his hunted dimes are the result of his unwillingness to draw contact in the paint for fear of embarrassing himself shooting free throws.

This was a particularly poor market for free agent point guards, but the Bulls somehow managed to overpay for a low upside rental who makes no sense from a roster construction standpoint. Michael Wonsover looked at some of the other point guards the Bulls could have potentially signed for less money who may have also fit better alongside Butler. Allow me to add rookie Wade Baldwin to the list. The Bulls passed on Baldwin to take Denzel Valentine, another old college player with legitimate red flags. Baldwin projects to be a capable defender and a good shooter who does not need the ball in his hands to make an impact. Sort of like an ideal partner for Jimmy. Sort of like the opposite of Rondo.

The frustrating thing about the GarPax regime is they have the ability to make smart moves along the margins, but completely botch their bigger decisions. Grabbing Dinwiddie for free? Smart. Getting Justin Holiday back for washed up Hinrich? Savvy! Signing Felicio out of training camp for less than $1 million? Potentially franchise-altering!

But between the Gasol signing, the all-in Doug McDermott trade, the Thibs firing/Hoiberg hiring, and now the signing of Rajon Rondo, this front office has proven that they are incapable of making the decisions that count.

 

Bulls make out well in shocking, emotional Derrick Rose trade

In a move that caught just about everyone by surprise, the Bulls traded Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks Wednesday afternoon. The move signifies the end of an era that will be remembered by all with mixed emotions ranging from the highest of highs to the lowest depths that exist in basketball fandom. Derrick Rose was never just a basketball player here in his home town. Rose’s first few years were the first time this city dumped it’s hopes and dreams into a Bull since the departure of Michael Jordan. And how could you not when he was doing this and this.  Rose captured our hearts with his humble demeanor and our excitement with his physics-defying drives to the hoop.

Rose tore his ACL in the first round of the playoffs in 2012 while leading the deepest team he would ever play for in Chicago and was simply never the same. Two additional knee injuries robbed Rose of nearly three entire years in his prime. Rose’s 66 games played this year were an incredible accomplishment to those of us who wondered if he would ever string together a few healthy months again. While it was encouraging to finally see his ability to withstand the rigors of the NBA, it was clear that the Rose who treated gravity like an optional feature would never return. And so, with one year and $21 million left on his contract, the Chicago Bulls have decided to turn the page.

While the idea of Derrick in Knickerbocker garb is sickening to many Bulls fans, the front office should be commended for haul they brought back in return for the former MVP. Here’s the full trade:

New York Receives;

Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday and a 2017 second round pick

Chicago Receives:

Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant

The big prize for Chicago is veteran center Robin Lopez, who will be entering year two of a four year, $54 million contract next season. Lopez’s brother Brook garners more attention around the league than Robin because of his smooth post moves and reliable mid range jump shot. But where Robin is lacking on offense compared to his brother, he more than makes up for on the other end.

Robin is one of the more underrated defenders in the NBA. He’s not going to erase your shot like DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside. He’s not going to blitz and trap the pick and roll like Serge Ibaka or Draymond Green. What he will do is put himself in the best position to wall off the basket and help his team win every possession. According to NBA.com, Robin defended the eighth-most shots at the rim of any NBA player. Racking up contests at the rim is often more an indicator of scheme than skill, especially when you consider that Brook Lopez and Pau Gasol rank in the top four in this category. While Robin’s limited athleticism force him to play exclusively in the conservative, drop back style, he was one of the absolute best at it.  Of the ten players who defended over 600 field goal attempts at the rim, nobody forced shooters into a lower field goal percentage than Robin Lopez.

What Lopez lacks in athleticism he makes up for with positioning and intelligence. Lopez is someone who can always be counted on to be in the right places and help cover for his teammates. The Bulls perimeter is not going to be much better next season if Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic play big minutes. But with a steady presence in the paint, their mistakes will be far less glaring.

Judging just by a box score, Lopez appears to be a very poor rebounder for a center, averaging just 7.3 per game. Piling up high rebound totals is often an indication of excellent leaping ability, a trait Lopez has never possessed. While Lopez is never going to lead the league in raw rebounds collected, he is still able to make important impacts on the glass. Lopez is an expert at boxing out and creating opportunities for his teammates to grab loose balls. The Knicks were an overall average rebounding team in 2015. But when Lopez, who averaged 27 minutes a game, was on the court, the Knicks rebounded at a top five rate in the league.

Lopez is not and has never been interested in being the focal point of an offense. In his eight years in the league, Robin has only finished one season with a usage rate around 20%. Instead, Robin scores many of his baskets by creating space with his body and tipping misses into the hoop. Lopez rebounded 13% of his teams own misses this past season, the 13th highest rate in the NBA. Lopez is a below average finisher at the rim, shooting 61% between zero and three feet, but he at least consistently puts himself in the position to attempt those makeable shots.

Acquiring Robin Lopez heading into this bonkers free agency period when there are no other starting caliber centers on the roster (sorry Cristiano Felicio) is a huge weight off the Bulls’ shoulders. Lopez is going to make $13.5 million per year over the next three years, which sounds like a steep price for a guy who has never averaged more than 11 points a game. But when you compare his contract to the ones likely to be given to Bismack Biyombo, Ian Mahimi and Festus Ezili, Lopez, who is just 28, will become an overnight bargain. While the trade did not create any cap space for the Bulls in 2016, they essentially filled their greatest hole without having to dip into their roughly $25 million of space.

Jerian Grant had a rough rookie season, but there is reason to hope he can develop into a solid NBA point guard. After four years of running spread pick and roll at Notre Dame, Grant went missing in the Philmuda Triangle. Grant never grasped the offense in New York and was never given a great opportunity to learn on the job, averaging 16.6 minutes per game behind long time veteran Jose Calderon.

That Jerian was never able to earn more minutes was a moderate indictment on Grant’s ability to do anything on offense. Grant shot a miserable 22% from three and a discouraging 52% within three feet. Some of that struggle could be attributed to him getting the ball in unfamiliar spots and being asked to do unfamiliar things. Still, a lack of true NBA athleticism may prevent Grant from becoming a quality guard. Grant will find himself in a familiar system under Fred Hoiberg, and if he has any chance to succeed the Bulls will have three cost-controlled years to find out.

Jose Calderon is a great shooter, averaging over 40% from three in each of the last four seasons. Unfortunately, shooting is pretty much all the 34-year-old point guard can do at an NBA level anymore. Calderon has seen his assist rate plummet since his peak days in Toronto as his athleticism has declined. Calderon was never a great athlete, but his threat of shooting used to be enough for him to create penetration and set up his teammates. Time has robbed Calderon of what little speed he ever had, limiting his ability to facilitate an offense. Calderon is also a turnstile on defense. The Knicks held opponents to three fewer points per 100 possessions when Jose was on the court versus when he was off.

The trade also allows the Bulls to sharpen their focus as the draft and free agency approach.  With the center position firmly covered between Lopez and Felicio, the Bulls can focus their attention on adding a point guard and deepening the wing rotation. This is not a draft or free agency class deep at either of those positions, but if the Bulls can snag Wade Baldin at 14 and throw a big contract at Kent Bazemore or someone in his ilk, they will be right back in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.

A quality center on a value contract, a mildly intriguing prospect and a veteran shooter are a pretty good haul in return for an injury-riddled Rose who could leave in free agency in July 2017. Jake Weiner and I had been discussing whether the Bulls should trade Rose or Butler this offseason and I had been mostly against trading Rose, simply because I thought we could get nothing back for him better than cap space. By those low expectations, the Bulls made out like bandits in this trade.