During his final two full seasons as the Chicago Bulls starting point guard Derrick Rose was second and third in NBA usage rate, an advanced statistic which estimates the percentage of team players used by a player while he’s on the floor. It’s a reputable stat amongst the advanced statistical community which illustrates just how much of the offense ran through him on every possession.
He was always bookended by Russell Westbook and Kobe Bryant, whose lower bodies have both deteriorated in varying degrees over the past 12 months due to the pounding caused over the course of an 82-game season.
That’s no longer the case anymore. It’s taken a collective group effort, but miraculously Dr. Tom Thibodeau has used grafts from free agency and his bench to reinvigorate the Chicago offense.
The point guard Chicago's guards will be chasing in their opening round series against the Wizards is like Rose in a multitude of ways. He's a dropout of John Calipari's-McDonalds School For The Basketball Gifted, he possesses extremely explosive fast-twitch muscles and he touched the ball more than nay there player in the league this season. According to SportsVu (via The Washington Post), Wall averages a league-high 7.8 minutes of possession per game and has touched the ball 500 more times than any other player in the league.
Of the 25 players averaging the most touches per game this season, only Joakim Noah, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are non-point guards.
Noah’s tazmanian devil defense has led Chicago’s ferocious roster of patchwork parts out of the lottery and into the playoffs. However, in a unique twist, he’s also helped fill the void Rose left behind as a ballhandler and the focal point of Chicago’s offensive sets.
The Bulls defensive middle linebacker has also been platooning as the offensive quarterback. Two possessions don’t go by where Noah isn’t positioning himself at the top of the key to receive a pass while he scans the floor.
His pinpoint passing ability and vision has been a revelation this season in the absence of the ball dominating Rose and Luol Deng. It doesn’t have the same flair as Marc Gasol flipping passes over his shoulder or Vlade Divac leading the break, but Noah's a more blue collar approach to the process.
Since Feb. 6, the Bulls have won 23 of 31 games to put the finishing touches on the regular season while Noah has dished a team-high 7.4 assists per game and his seasonal average of 5.3 is the best since Divac's ’03-04 season.
It’s an even more impressive figure when you factor in Chicago’s scant collection of thrift store scorers and a tortoise-like offensive pace that ranks 28th in the league. Divac’s Kings averaged 109.9 possessions per 48 minutes (at a time when offenses were more freewheeling they ranked seventh. The league’s most up-tempo offense today is Philly averaging 101.6 poss./48 min.)
The Thibodeau Bulls average 92.6. His importance to the offense as an offensive initiator is evident in the fact that he ranked seventh in passes per game during the regular season.
From the elbow, Noah is usually initiating the offense with the ball in his hands as a teammate curls off of his screens, cut into the paint and he delivers a pass with necessary touch or hands off the dribble screen if the primary defender doesn’t pursue or the help defender hedges.
However, the Bulls still require scoring from the point guard position. Nate Robinson provided it in spurts last season off the bench behind Kirk Hinrich, however, he played himself into a more lucrative contract in Denver where he could play more freely and the rules of gravity are more lax.
D.J. Augustin has taken a reverse route to Chicago as the one that led C.J. Watson from Chicago to Indiana’s bench. Augustin blew into the Windy City as a stopgap after Rose’s injury diagnosis was revealed and went largely unnoticed while the city of Chicago mourned another tragic season lost too young.
After spending last season as a reserve on one of the league’s driest scoring benches, Augustin averaged 2.1 points and 1.0 assists per game in 10 games with the Toronto Raptors before getting the boot. Since arriving in Chicago, he’s been their leading scorer. Augustin’s penetration instincts are nothing to stare in awe at after years of watching Rose maneuver through the paint like a Tetris expert, but unlike the 2011 NBA MVP, Auhustin can knock it down a trey in the North Side from the South Side of Chi-Town. Go underneath on screens and Augustin will likely knock it down as a 40 percent shooter from behind the arc. He’s the only Bulls shooter from downtown shootng a t a 40 percent clip.
He’s been aided in the backcourt by the on again, off again Bull, Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich is an adequate faciliator and he's not very adept at creating shot opportunities, which is why his shot chart inside the paint runs redder than the Bulls away jersey color scheme. However, he can receive a dribble handoff from Noah or Taj Gibson and drain a jumper from anywhere on the court if the situation calls for it.
Augustin usually observes from the bench at the tip-off, but in the fourth quarter, three-pronged lineup of pseudo-point guards Hinrich, Noah and Augustin are three-fifths of the Bulls’ most-used offensive lineup.
The Bulls are down 1-0 after losing home-court advantage in Game 1, but they’ve hurdled tougher odds. Without their most valuable player, a few unlikely developments. Against the Heat back in the 2011 NBA Conference Finals, the series was lost after the defense concentrated its efforts on preventing Rose from playing hero ball and the ball movement stagnated. Next season, Rose will return, but whether or not the Bulls sign Lance Stephenson or Carmelo Anthony in free agency, he’ll be returning to a team that’s evolved.
For now, the Bulls point guard committee has to deliver a gainst the plucky, young Wiz kids.