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It's true: Russell Westbrook may actually HELP the Chicago Bulls three-point shooting problem

Will Gottlieb Avatar
February 14, 2023

It may seem counterintuitive, but adding Russell Westbrook would help address the Bulls three-point shooting problem. At least one element of it.

Hear me out.

The Bulls started 0-for-16 from three in their 100-91 loss to the Orlando Magic Monday night. They finished 3-of-21, capping off a stretch of putrid shooting over the last five games: 5-for-21 vs. Cleveland, 5-for-26 vs. Brooklyn, 7-of-35 vs. Memphis and 6-of-22 vs. San Antonio. That averages out to 5.2-for-25 per game or 20.8 percent.

As a result of DeRozan’s mid-range heavy shot profile, the Bulls aren’t generating a bunch of off-the-dribble threes, so their three-point volume will inherently be lower than most teams. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to create more of those looks: the Phoenix Suns are second in most mid-range volume, but fourth in corner three-point volume.

And it certainly shouldn’t excuse them from being the only team in the league taking fewer than 30 threes per game.

To create more threes, the Bulls need to get to the rim more, and that’s where Westbrook could help.

“We’ve got to get downhill. That’s something I think we’ve got to be able to do,” Billy Donovan said before Monday’s game. “It’s going to come, a lot of times, in closeouts or transition situations. And there may be some times where the floor is spaced and we quickly have to look to attack.”

If the Bulls can do a better job getting to the basket, they can force the opponent to bring help to defend the rim. When help comes, it leaves a shooter open to receive spray out passes.

“That’s certainly got to be a point of emphasis for us is getting downhill and getting into the teeth of defense, whether we shoot it or not.”

But none of that happens if they can’t drive and get to the rim first. And right now, they are 27th in drives per game (40.9) and 28th in paint touches (18.1).

“A lot of times, for most teams, it’s hard, when you do get there, to get there without any kind of resistance or help,” Donovan said. “So the next thing is how well can we spray the ball out from there. Generally, those shots coming out of paint penetration usually are pretty high quality shots when that happens.”

DeRozan is 32nd in the league in drives per game. LaVine is 52nd.

It would take some massaging to make the rotations work, but Westbrook is 15th in the NBA in drives per game, and that’s coming off of the bench. He would add a third player who can put pressure on the rim, collapse the defense and either finish himself or find someone else to kick to.

Of course, that’s only half the battle. When the ball does get kicked out, the shooters need to shoot.

“For Patrick and Ayo, when they do get it, the decision making, there’s opportunities for those guys to take a few more shots, quite honestly, from three,” Donovan said. “And those split-second decisions of when to shoot, when to drive, when to pass, I thought some of those drives led to turnovers.”

Ayo Dosunmu, Patrick Williams, Coby White, Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr. and Javonte Green have all been known to pass out of open looks, or drive into traffic, which squashes their advantage. This happens plenty of times through the course of a game or even a play.

“Everybody knows we haven’t been a high-volume three-point shooting team,” Donovan said. “But we can’t have the mentality of, 21 is a really, really low number, I think some of that is dictated by the fact that we didn’t shoot it well, and we stopped shooting them. We’ve got to still shoot the ball with some confidence.”

Despite the Bulls’ paltry 20 percent three-point shooting over the last five games, Westbrook, a 29.4 percent three-point shooter, is not going to raise that number with his own shooting. (his 4.1 attempts per game might help the volume though). But through his aggressive driving style, he might be able to help the Bulls generate some more open shots if they are willing to take them.

At the end of the day, it can’t get much worse.

Up Next: Bulls head to Indiana Wednesday before coming back home to play the Bucks on Thursday. Then it’s a muuuuuuchhhhh needed week off for All-Star Break.

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