This is a column. So I have full rights to discard any pretense of objectivity or realism here. So gather ’round Chicago Bulls fans, grab an e-beer (or e-soda if you’re not a drinker, or an e-water if you’re Stephen Curry and secretly a Bulls fan), pull up a chair and let’s have a little chat.
I’m not gonna lie. I was not looking forward to this season. The idea of being exposed to Rajon Rondo for 82 games disturbed the very foundation of my soul. He has been evil since he threw Kirk Hinrich into the scorer’s table, and I will never forgive him.
The addition of Dwyane Wade did not sit well the analytical side of me, knowing full well that all the talk about not having three-point shooting was a pretty valid point.
So, when the Bulls opened their season against the improved Boston Celtics on Thursday night, expectations weren’t high.
Sure, Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart were out for the Celtics.
Yes, they were playing on the second half of a back-to-back.
But I still expected the Bulls to get clobbered. I was intent on facing the game with all the cynicism of Blog a Bull’s your friendly BullsBlogger in an especially foul mood.
Heck, even he was more optimistic than me, which usually has less chance of happening than Wade going off from deep:
Got last minute tix for tonight. Gonna cheer Rondo, good god. I think the lack of expectations helps my enthusiasm!
— BullsBlogger (@BullsBlogger) October 28, 2016
Alright, maybe that’s not ecstatic sounding, but that was an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, compared to my considerably dampened feelings.
Then a crazy thing happened. The Bulls tipped off, and one thing that jumped out from the get-go was the ball movement. The passing was impressive. That coupled with the fact that the Celtics had no interest in even acknowledging the existence of Wade behind the three-point line meant things like this were happening:
And before we knew what was happening, the Bulls were opening up a sizable lead. They led at the end of the first by 10 and at the half by five. The Celtics’ late charge had a certain pessimist tweeting his jaded pessimism:
The Bulls have turned over the roster, but their gift for blowing leads remains intact.
— Kelly Scaletta (@KellyScaletta) October 28, 2016
Wade was having none of that, though. He dropped this long-range bomb, and it was all over but the metabolically-challenged woman singing:
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 28, 2016
There are a lot of reasons to look at the game and think that it was just some unorthodox hot shooting from Wade and Jimmy Butler, both of whom went 4-of-6 from deep. That tied a career high for Butler, according to Basketball-Reference.com, and was tied for the third-best game of Wade’s career. So it’s not likely the two are going to be combining for eight treys per night on 67 percent shooting.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothin’ from opening night that shouldn’t apply to the future.
Two things, in particular, seem reproducible.
First, the strong offensive rebounding is something that should continue. Robin Lopez is outstanding on the glass at that end — it’s probably his single-best virtue. Additionally, Wade, Butler and Rondo are also all exceptional rebounders for their position. As a result, the Bulls had an 18-5 edge in second chance points. They won’t win that battle by that much every night, but they should at least win it on most nights.
The second thing that was impressive was the passing. Just the volume of passes (340) was an upgrade over last season’s average of 310, according to NBA.com. The “Three Alphas” combined for 161 of those passes and 17 assists (though, some of them were superfluous passes by Rondo, which included two blown fastbreak opportunities). They used those passes to create 62 points, which is more than an eight-point improvement over last year’s average.
Those three players still are mostly unproven outside shooters, so skepticism about them maintaining that is reasonable. Just like it’s probable that Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Isaiah Canaan aren’t going to go 1-of-10 from deep every night. That regression will work both ways.
But by the same token, the rebounding, passing and driving ability of Butler, Rondo and Wade isn’t going away.
I’m not saying that the Bulls are going to win the title, but they looked a lot more like a playoff team than I thought they would. And if they keep this up, I might start taste-testing the Kool-Aid. The season’s more fun that way.