Scoring fewer than 90 points in today’s NBA is a difficult thing to do. The Bulls have done it twice this week.
Following the Bulls 97-89 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, the Bulls are reeling. They are plagued by the same problems they’ve experienced for over a calendar year, but lately, it’s taken a turn for the worse.
Over their last four games, the Bulls are averaging 26 three-point attempts per game, nearly three fewer attempts per game than their season average, which is already dead last in the NBA.
They’re the only team that attempts fewer than thirty threes per game.
The volume is lower than it should be, even for a low volume team. But the Bulls have relied on high efficiency shot making on those attempts, but in their last four games, they’ve made five, five, seven and six respectively. That’s 22 percent.
The Bulls won’t continue to shoot this poorly (though it is a spell of cruel irony considering Bulls EVP Arturas Karnisovas offered the Bulls high efficiency as a three-point shooting team to compensate for their lack of volume) they’re 15th in average (36.1 percent) on such shots.
But the rest of the process is flawed, and that is perhaps more concerning. If you are going to try to exist as such a low-volume shooting team, you need to make up for it in other ways. The Bulls strategy has been to lean into drawing more fouls and attempting to turn the ball over as little as possible. On top of having high efficiency mid-range shooters, which they do, those things should help normalize the Bulls offense.
The problem is, the Bulls haven’t been good enough in those areas to support their lack of shooting. This year, their effective field goal percentage is 55.1 percent (12th), their turnover percentage is 13.9 (11th) and their free throw rate is 20.9 (18th). To make up for their inherent analytic deficit, they need to be elite in those categories, and they have been pedestrian at best.
Saturday, pedestrian might have earned them a win. But instead, they finished with a season-high 22 turnovers, only 21 three-point attempts and fewer trips to the free throw line than Cleveland (15 compared to 19). Dealing in absolutes is a always a risk, but it’s next to impossible to win a game in those circumstances.
All of that points to the the big picture number, their offensive efficiency, which is 24th in the NBA. Not good enough, but especially true for a team built around three offensively minded stars.
Patrick Williams revival game
After playing just 14 minutes in Thursday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Patrick Williams got off to a dominant start against the Cavaliers on Saturday.
Whether it was designed or not, Williams intentionally involved himself in the offense with his screening. In these two early plays, he does a really nice job of turning his body into the screen and sealing his defender on his backside. That opens up a nice window for passes from Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan.
Inserting himself in the offense in this way is the perfect middle ground for him. Williams tends to rely on someone else to assist for him rather than generating his own shot, but he doesn’t just have to wait in the corner if he is setting screens. That helps the Bulls offense get easier shots (the Bulls had 19 assists on 22 made shots in the first half) and gives him more opportunity, such that he feels comfortable when he is asked to do more.
We don’t get to see many instances of him initiating the offense, but during this sequence in the third quarter, he got into a mid-range jumper operating as a ball handler.
Williams finished with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting. It’s still only three flashes during the course of his 33 minutes played, but it’s something to build on. With him, it’s all about progress.
Good Zach, Bad Zach, Good Zach
Zach LaVine is an elite scorer. When he’s got it going, there’s not much he can’ do.
That sums up LaVine’s first half, during which time he scored 14 points on 10 shots. He took only five three-pointers on the night, but attacked the basket nearly every time he touched the ball.
Remember when LaVine was struggling around the rim to start the year? He’s up to 67 percent at the rim on the season, the second-highest figure of his career.
But it wasn’t only good from LaVine. He went from the late second quarter until 2:56 in the fourth without scoring, racking up some bad misses and turnovers on the way.
LaVine, of course, went on a tear to try to get the Bulls back in the game. He finished with a team-high 23 points on 16 shots, but those frustrating occurrences take the Bulls out of their offense.
He is, at times, a victim of his own talent.
Up Next: The Bulls enter the final stretch before the All-Star Break with a game Monday against the Orlando Magic