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Nikola Vučević launched six three-pointers in the Bulls’ 125-110 loss to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.
All six attempts missed.
Vučević struggling from three isn’t a new phenomenon. All season, the Bulls center has been wayward from distance, shooting a meager 30.4 percent from three. More recently (since Feb. 1), Vučević has only connected on 19 of his 81 3-point attempts (20.3 percent).
No matter how the numbers are diced up, it makes for difficult reading. Because of this, one could argue Vučević needs to put away his 3-ball and work closer to the basket. That’s a reasonable position to ponder. Problem is, it’s one based entirely on past results whilst ignoring process and what can be.
Rather than being coy from distance, Vučević needs to be bold and push through. Keep shooting. It’s the only way to rediscovering a once viable source of offense, something the Bulls desperately need.
Moreover, the reason Vučević needs to keeping shooting threes is central to the premise in which this Bulls roster has been designed. A floor-spacing center operating out high enables a prolific wing-scorer more territory to hit the post and attack the basket. The premise of inverting the offense by keeping DeRozan closer to the basket and within his comfort zone is sound. Doing so is made easier with Vučević spending more time on the perimeter rather than inside next to DeRozan.
This is why Vučević needs to keep shooting threes. For the Bulls to actualize their idealized version, the threat of Vučević drilling jumpers is a necessary release valve within the offensive hierarchy.
Though Vučević’ missed all of his threes, the Jazz defense contested his shot as if he were a real threat to finish these attempts.
There’s no getting around the obvious: Vučević shooting 0-for-6 from three is bad. No one would suggest otherwise. But don’t ignore the value in a stretch big forcing the defense to extend beyond the 3-point line.
This nuance is why focusing on results alone is foolhardy.
Shooters will inevitably go through cold spells. This season, we’ve seen Miami Heat wing Duncan Robinson shoot 34.6 percent from three during his first 35 games of the season.
Stephen Curry, the greatest and most prolific shooter of all time, has only made 35.6 percent of his threes since Jan. 1.
And before you start lambasting me with obvious cynicism, let me be clear: I’m not arguing Vučević is a comparable shooter to Robinson and Curry! The point is, so long as opposing defenses continue to respect Vučević as a credible shooting option — even when he’s missing shots — that matters more than percentages in a box score.
As we continue to see, Vučević is being guarded for his pick-and-pop ability. Until that stops, Vučević needs to keep shooting. And if he does, soon enough his percentages will regress to the mean.
More importantly, the Bulls are in desperate need of volume 3-point shooting.
Using the Bulls’ most recent opponent as an example, the Jazz lead the league in 3-point attempt rate. Conversely, the Bulls rank last in this same metric. The same holds true in 3-point makes — the Bulls rank 28th in percentage of points scored from the 3-point line, whereas the Jazz sit second.
Before the game had even started, the Bulls were already spotting the Jazz an advantage from three. It’s a simple concept, one some oldheads rebel against, but there’s no avoiding this math problem.
Could it be diminished?
Sure, if the Bulls could get to causing chaos on defense and generating offense via turnovers and fastbreak points, the gap in points generated from three could be levelled. Through the first 33 games of the season, the Bulls did exactly that, ranking 4th in points off turnovers. Unfortunately, this opportunistic avenue of scoring has since dissipated — the Bulls have fallen to 27th in point off turnovers over their last 36 games.
Unless the Bulls rediscover their previous identity on defense and resume fuelling scoring binges in transition, another mode of offense is needed.
Again, this is why Vučević needs to keep shooting.
At present, Zach LaVine is the only credible high-volume shooter on the roster. Add Lonzo Ball to this list once he returns. Beyond these two, though, the Bulls’ only reasonable path to upping their 3-point attempt rate is via Vučević.
Rather than putting away the jumper, Vučević must continue to launch. The final 13 games of the season should be used as ground to rediscovering healthy conversion rates from years past. Keep spacing the floor. Force opposing bigs to guard further out on the perimeter. A big who is capable of dragging his defender out of the paint will make scoring inside for DeRozan and LaVine an easier task.
This is who the Bulls were designed to be.
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