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Mike Dunleavy’s Injury Leaves Bulls With Limited Options

Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bulls seem to enter every season with the classic “if healthy” label of which their championship hopes are dependent on. That label has already been shed.

The Bulls announced Friday that Mike Dunleavy will be out 8-10 weeks after undergoing a low back microdiscectomy procedure. Dunleavy missing time isn’t the surprise, but the timing of the injury is. Chicago will have to reshuffle the deck with only a month left before the season opener. That’s not good news for a team that didn’t prepare for adversity after a status quo offseason.

Signing Dunleavy to a three-year, $14.4 million contract on the first day of free agency was a bit of a no-brainer given his Early Bird Rights, but the front office had to prepare for his inevitable injury that would keep him out for some time. Dunleavy was considered an injury-prone player even in his prime, and at the age of 35 he’s especially an injury risk. The Bulls’ decision to keep the same roster intact has created a trickle-down effect on the rest of the rotation.

Tony Snell and Doug McDermott are the only realistic options on the roster to fill in for Dunleavy. Snell has proven that he can be a solid backup and McDermott has a chance to be one, but neither has proven they’re capable of starting. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

dunleavy

*Spot-Up and Off Screen statistics courtesy of Synergy

*Catch and Shoot statistics courtesy of SportVU

Dunleavy was superior at pretty much everything last season. Snell made some huge strides, but he’s still far away from Dunleavy as an overall player according to RPM. McDermott couldn’t hit anything last season in limited minutes, making a starting role a long shot at best for the 2014 first-round draft pick.

Neither Snell nor McDermott can navigate screens, hit off the catch or play with the outstanding basketball IQ of Dunleavy, at least not yet at a consistent level. Advanced statistics paint a picture of Dunleavy being vastly underrated, ranking ninth among shooting guards in RPM last season. Tom Thibodeau was a master at hiding players on defense, but Dunleavy still proved he could hold his own on that end.

Since McDermott still needs to prove he’s an NBA player, Snell will be the odds-on favorite to replace Dunleavy. Snell provides a more athletic and youthful option than Dunleavy if anything. He was also a well above-average shooter last season, ranking in the 70.5th percentile in spot-up opportunities while shooting a solid 38.5 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers.

Snell has a beautiful, high-arcing release that looks like money when his shot is on. A quick look at his shot chart elicits optimism about his chances to thrive in an increased role this season.

Tony Snell 2014-15 shot chart

Shotchart_1443298949717
Snell pretty much ignores the mid-range game and heaves a ton of three-pointers while finishing at an above-average rate in the paint. He’s extremely long and utilizes that length to finish with authority at the rim when the defender gives him a lane. He won’t be asked to create his own shots, so if Snell can make his shots in the paint and hit jumpers at an above-average rate, he could fill in for Dunleavy quite nicely. He also has the length and mobility to become an above-average defender, although he still struggles on that end depending on the matchup.

Snell has shown glimpses of becoming a solid NBA player, but we’ve yet to see him put it all together for a solid stretch. Trusting him to thrive as a starter from Game 1 on is a risk that Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg might have to take. Unfortunately for Hoiberg, there aren’t any better options.

He could start Nikola Mirotic at small forward in Dunleavy’s absence, but that didn’t go so well last season. He could also play Aaron Brooks at point guard and Derrick Rose at shooting guard, a combo that outscored opponents by 16.8 points per 100 possessions with the best offensive rating (115.9) of any two-man pairing on the Bulls last season (min. 150 mins played together). But as nice as those numbers sound, Brooks and Rose would be a defensive nightmare if they played together for long stretches.

The Bulls hired Hoiberg because they expect him to be a Steve Kerr-like basketball savant. With Dunleavy out for the foreseeable future, now is the time for him to prove it.

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