The story of the Bulls’ season has been defined by the individual brilliance from DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. DeRozan (31.7) and LaVine (29.1) are both among the top 20 in the league in usage rate. The Bulls are elite when their stars share the court, boasting a 4.0 net rating.
The Bulls’ offensive attack relies on LaVine and DeRozan’s scoring proficiency — they’re first in the league, nearly doubling the next closest team. The problem is, LaVine has not looked like the same two-time All-Star since he suffered a knee injury against the Golden State Warriors on January 14.
It’s unlikely that LaVine’s knee will be 100 percent again this season. K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago reported that LaVine’s knee won’t “be fully right until he can address it in the offseason.”
Since his injury, LaVine is averaging 22.0 points per game on 45/36/84, a tick below the uber-efficient 24.9 points per game on 49/41/87 splits he averaged before the injury.
It may not seem like much, but the Bulls margin for error is small against any of the Eastern Conference juggernauts. If LaVine can’t provide you will apex LaVine scoring, the Bulls will struggle. Chicago is 29th in the NBA when it comes to bench scoring, and with the Bulls already hobbled by injuries, it spotlights their biggest weakness.
It may benefit the Bulls to launch more threes to add more scoring variance around DeRozan and LaVine. The Chicago bench ranks 29th in 3-point attempts among NBA bench units. According to Cleaning the Glass, Chicago’s average shot quality ranks 26th in the entire league, which factors in where a team is shooting their shots from.
Though he is best served in a catch-and-shoot role rather than a lead guard role, Coby White is the one Bulls player who can really fire away. He lacks the burst to consistently put pressure on the rim (only 25 percent of his shot attempts come at the rim, which ranks in the 49th percentile amongst combo guards per Cleaning the Glass), or the passing dexterity to whip cross-court passes out of the PnR. He is a secondary player who is at his best when he doesn’t have to create for others.
A career-high 65 percent of White’s made shots have been assisted this season. Though consistency is always the question mark with White, the former Tar Heel is thriving in his scoring role off the bench from an efficiency standpoint (40.2 three-point percentage, 63 percent at the rim). White is now playing off of LaVine and DeRozan where his lethal shooting ability masks his lackluster playmaking or explosiveness to finish at the rim.
He will need to continue to provide this kind of explosive scoring even when the Bulls get fully healthy.
While the three-point shot isn’t as necessary for a player of DeRozan’s caliber, the shot is one of the most important aspects of a role player’s game in today’s NBA. Seventy-one percent of DeRozan’s shots are from the midrange, which he’s hitting at a 50.2 percent clip, according to Cleaning The Glass. The easiest way to make your star’s job easier is to surround them with shooting.
Teams like the Phoenix Suns have done a tremendous job of surrounding Chris Paul and Devin Booker with lethal shooting threats that can attack off the dribble. The Suns have seven players who shoot at least three 3-point attempts per game. The Miami Heat, the other conference foe battling for No. 1 seed in the east, has five players who shoot at least five three-point attempts per game, contributing to their league-leading 37 3-point percentage — and not one of those players is named Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo.
The discourse about the midrange game is misguided. Like Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, DeRozan has earned the freedom to take midrange jumpers whenever he wants. But role guys taking that extra step behind the line, particularly from the corners, helps the overall offense.
Teams will send the kitchen sink at DeRozan in the playoffs, forcing other players to step up and beat them. While we know White can get hot, the Javonte Green’s, Derrick Jones Jr’s. and Ayo Dosunmu’s of the world will need to have moments in the playoffs.
Look at this play from the Philadelphia game: DeRozan drives to the basket and he draws the attention of four 76ers players. Harden is able to negate the impact of the roll man because he’s not worried about a Green jumper.
With LaVine functioning at less than 100 percent, the Bulls have to get additional scoring from other places when DeRozan isn’t on the floor. Adding Caruso and Ball back will undoubtedly help defensively and with the team’s pace offensively, but the NBA is a make-or-miss league. Even if the Bulls can get their defense back on track, they will need all the help they can get putting the orange ball in the hoop.