• One Big Thing: Detrimental Conduct

    In what’s surely the first of several such punishments that will be doled out this year, Rajon Rondo was handed a one game suspension for ‘conduct detrimental to the team.’

    He apparently threw a towel and swore at an assistant, depending on which report you read. Considering the lengths to which Chicago players have spoken about Rondo’s model citizenship to this point it’s a bit of a disappointment though not entirely unexpected. He’s been known to turn petulant in the past and while that reputation is working against him we’re definitely looking at a one-off incident here.

    That being said, an incident like this is part of the deal when Rondo comes to town. It is miles away from the worst thing that could happen (Dallas would be happy to tell you, I’m sure) and this’ll all be forgotten in the near future. Rondo has done a fairly decent job working with fellow lead dogs Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler to this point and will bounce back just fine.

    Still, the Bulls, with their three ball-dominant starters, have managed to avoid conflict until now. Tensions are low and there haven’t been any remarks about needing more touches through the first 20 some odd games. It speaks to the idea that the Bulls are actually gelling and definitely better than most gave them credit for after a curious offseason. Things are harmonious and the Bulls look like they can absolutely vie for a playoff spot in a year where many had them pegged for the lottery.

    But in regards to Rondo specifically, basketball Twitter was abuzz with some variation of the same joke when the suspension was announced: “Conduct detrimental to the team” = Rondo playing at all.

    Light chuckling aside, the comedians aren’t entirely wrong.

    Looking at all the lineups Chicago has used for more than 15 minutes as of Friday evening (as all stats below are), if we look past the starting unit’s (Rondo, Wade, Butler, Gibson, Lopez) +53 mark in 258 minutes, the other five lineups with Rondo are a net -20 in 142 minutes. The two positive groups, in a combined 57 of those 142 minutes, are the starting five with Mirotic in place of Gibson and four starters with Isaiah Canaan in place of Wade.

    The other thing this lineup data shows is how important Robin Lopez is, though that’s another story for another time.

    Furthermore, the Bulls sport a 106.5 ORtg when Rondo’s on the floor. When he’s off, it slips to 102.5. That’s about the difference between 9th ranked Boston and 17th ranked Washington. Defensively, however, the Bulls post a DRtg of 104.9 when Rondo’s around and a sterling 98.7 when he’s off. The next lowest mark is Mirotic’s 100.3. That’s massive. Everything he generates on offense is given right back on defense, especially considering the alternatives at hand.

    The fact that Chicago has been winning with that kind of defensive drag (yes, smallish sample size caveat) is quite impressive. Major credit to Fred Hoiberg, a coach that many predicted as a candidate for early dismissal. He’s been able to adapt wonderfully to the roster handed to him and has the Bulls outperforming the public’s expectations.

    If they can land one of the East’s middle seeds he should rightfully receive some Coach of the Year votes. He’s taken a roster that was an on-paper mess and turned it into a functional, competitive team.

    Perhaps the only player who hasn’t really pulled their weight is Nikola Mirotic, whose oscillating performance is infuriating for the organization and fantasy owners alike. A half decent Niko is the only semblance of spacing that Chicago can get with a mostly-starter group lest the team lean on Doug McDermott more heavily going forward.

    Whether or not the Bulls can sustain their winning ways remains to be seen. They generate the 6th most paint touches in the league but rank 25th in shooting percentage from the same area. Perhaps the percentage will rebound and things will improve, though at the season’s quarter pole it becomes tougher to rely on statistical bounceback. Teams are beginning to show who they really are and there’s not much that one can do to explain away established tendencies or identities.

    Perhaps more ominously, they’re an extremely efficient driving team but have major troubles in the catch and shoot game. The drives are good; they turn 26.3 drives per game (18th in the NBA) into 7.4 free throw attempts (5th in the league). It’ll just be tough to continue on this path if they can’t shoot better.

    They have the league’s lowest eFG% on catch and shoot plays at 43.5, a full three points behind 29th ranked Memphis. They’re dead last in catch and shoot attempts and score just 18.6 points per game on catch and shoot plays, nearly a full two points behind 29th ranked Detroit.

    It’s not a surprise considering Chicago’s personnel, but an offense that relies so heavily on ISO actions might crumble under the natural variance and physical toll that a long season can inflict on players. A ball dominant, low triples style of play tends to flame out in the playoffs and will assuredly be snuffed out by the league’s elite defenses. Chicago is not a long term contender with this roster but they are almost certainly better than they were given credit for.

    But still, one wonders what the team could achieve with a more productive player running the point.

    The Twitter jokesters weren’t wrong on this one. It might not be news to everyone but there’s something nice about the synchronicity of the statistics supporting the wisecracks. Detrimental conduct has a whole new meaning.

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