NBA Saturday: Fred Hoiberg Facing Uphill Battle

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It would be fair to assume that a team had an amazing offseason after acquiring one of the greatest shooting guards in NBA history and the reigning assist leader at the point guard position. This is what the Chicago Bulls managed to do by signing both Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade to contracts this offseason.

While Wade is one of the greatest shooting guards of all time and Rondo can rack up assists with the best point guards in the NBA, the fit is less than ideal. Wade, age 34, has career averages of 23.7 points, 5.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game, while shooting 45.6 percent from the field. Those are truly impressive per game statistics, which only partially explain how good of a player Wade has been over his career. But Wade has dealt with multiple injuries throughout his career and, at age 34, will likely continue to deal with injury issues moving forward. However, to his credit, Wade hired a new trainer last offseason, got into great shape and managed to play in 74 regular season games last season (the most he’s managed to play in since the 2010-11 season).

Perhaps even more concerning than Wade’s injury history is his three-point shooting. Wade has averaged 1.6 three-point attempts over his career and has connected on just 28.4 percent of those attempts. That alone has never prevented Wade from being a very productive player, but he is now going to share the backcourt with Rondo, a career 28.9 percent shooter from three-point range. This lack of shooting runs counter to the modern style of pace-and-space and could cause issues for the Bulls’ offense next season.

Fortunately for the Bulls they’ll have Jimmy Butler on the wing, who is a decent shooter from distance. He only shot 32.1 percent from three-point range last season, but he has shot 37.8 percent or higher in two prior seasons. Additionally, Doug McDermott (42.5 percent) and Nikola Mirotic (39 percent) add space with their shooting and could be the beneficiaries of Wade, Butler and Rondo attacking the rim relentlessly. Furthermore, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg will likely look to stagger his ball-dominant point and wings in order to offset their lack of collective shooting and spread out their ball-handling abilities. However, getting these three players to mesh together effectively will certainly be a challenge for Hoiberg.

“The main thing is that we have three alphas. There will be three alphas on the team,” Rondo told reporters recently. “Just trying to mesh together and try to make sure we are doing the best thing for the team.”

While it’s encouraging that Rondo focused on meshing together and making sure everyone is doing what’s best for the team, there should still be some concern considering that he has frequently clashed with teammates and coaches throughout his career.

“You’re going to disagree, but if you all have one common goal at the end of the day and that’s to get a W, that’s all that matters,” said Rondo. “Egos go out the window and we all have one common goal.”

This sort of optimistic viewpoint is easier to make before a season starts when there is no adversity. But if the Bulls fall behind early in the season and the fit proves to be ineffective, there is a risk that Rondo and these other strong personalities could clash. If and when this happens, it will be up to Hoiberg to play peacemaker and keep each player’s focus on the team’s overall goals.

“He’s not an egotistical coach,” Rondo said of Hoiberg recently. “He’s not a dominant coach. He likes for his guys to have input. When he asks my input, I’ll obviously share. We’ll go in his office and watch some film and figure out what’s best for the team.”

Fortunately for the Bulls, Rondo seems to understand that while he and Wade are talented players, this is ultimately Butler’s team.

“Jimmy’s the youngest, he’s the engine here,” Rondo said. “It’ll be Jimmy, Wade, and then it will be a pecking order.”

This perspective may prevent any issues of standing within the team, which we saw between Derrick Rose and Butler last season. However, even if Rondo is willing to take a back seat to Butler, it’s not clear how Wade may respond to the dynamic considering his career accomplishments and standing in the league. While it is significant that Butler and Rondo pushed hard for Wade to join their squad, it’s still concerning that there are, as Rondo put it, three Alphas with clashing skill sets and strong personalities playing for a relatively inexperienced head coach.

These moves are also curious considering they run counter to what the Bulls were apparently looking for this offseason. In Rondo’s introductory press conference, which took place a day after Wade agreed to join the Bulls, general manager Gar Forman said that the team was looking to get younger and more athletic. While Rondo is still just 30 years old, he and Wade are past their physical peaks. Regardless of this inconsistency, the Bulls certainly were not interested in a full rebuild or taking a significant step back this next season.

“We weren’t going to look at a total rebuild,” Forman said. “We still want to try to put a competitive team and as good a team as we can on the floor. With that said, we knew we were going to make changes to this roster. We knew we wanted to get younger and continue to develop our young guys. And we knew we wanted to keep flexibility into the future.

“For me, that’s what’s so encouraging. We really didn’t give up any of those type of assets, young assets, whether it’s picks or players and we still kept a good level of flexibility into the future. And in doing so, we feel we’ve added some really talented players to our team that we feel can help us continue to get better and to improve.”

Again, it’s not clear how Rondo and Wade will mesh in the backcourt or how so many primary ball-handlers will be able to share playmaking duties with one another. But this team has options to adjust to an unorthodox collection of talent. Making everything come together will be an uphill challenge for Hoiberg and will be one of the most interesting dynamics to keep an eye on through next season.