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The Bulls offense is limping into the post-season.
Despite the 11th-rated offense over the course of the season, the Bulls only rate 26th since the All-Star break. With the defense being as shaky and unpredictable as it has been, the offense should be the steady, driving force.
But the Bulls math problem is getting worse. Coby White is 2-for-24 on threes in his last five games. Alex Caruso is 2-for-10 in his last four games. Ayo Dosunmu is 11 for his last 43.
Shooting 35.5 percent (24th) on corner threes since the break and 35.2 percent (23rd) on all threes, compared to 43.4 percent (1st) from the corner and 38.1 percent (1st) on total threes in all games leading up to the break.
This precipitous dip in percentage is bleeding into the Bulls’ shot profile. Since the break, they’re last in the league shooting only 26.5 threes per game. The next closest team is above 30. These negative forces are driving each other downwards and it’s become the most glaring concern for their ability to be a competitive team come playoff time.
“We’ve got to take those threes when they’re there,” Bulls coach Bilily Donovan said. “To be quite honest, since the break, we haven’t shot the ball well. I know our shooting percentage from the three-point line has been really good for the year. But if you look at the way we’ve shot the ball in relationship to the way we did at the beginning of the year, it hasn’t been the same.
It’s almost unbelievable the drop-off from where the Bulls started the year shooting compared to where they are now. And it is directly in line with their offensive efficiency.
From the start of the season to the All-Star Break, 9.3 percent of their shots came from corner threes (9th) and 31.6 percent of their shots were threes (30th).
Since the All-Star break, only eight percent of their shots come from the corners (24rd) and 27.5 percent of their total shots are threes (30th).
“You don’t want to put yourself in a position where, analytically, you’re just at a complete deficit,” Donovan said.
Well, the Bulls are at a deficit. The Bulls’ low volume was buoyed by super-high efficiency, especially from the corners. But dropping down in both volume and efficiency is a scary sign. For this team to be competitive, DeMar DeRozan essentially needs to score 40 or more.
“You always look at your shot profile. DeMar, for a good portion of the season has really outshot the metrics from midrange,” Donovan said. “Collectively as a team, I’d like to see us take more threes, I want us to take more threes, but I don’t think taking bad ones, or challenged ones, or highly contested ones is really good.”
There’s no problem with DeRozan eating up mid-range shots, especially when he’s that good at it. But the rest of the Bulls have to be ready to space the floor around him, especially when they’re getting open looks off of traps.
“I can’t really put my finger to [why we’re experiencing a decline in three-point volume],” Caruso said. “We’ve had pretty good success this year the way we’ve been playing so I don’t think we need to change anything drastically.
The Bulls don’t need to bomb away like Mike D’Antoni’s Houston Rockets, but you don’t need to be a data scientist to recognize being last in the league by this wide a margin is a problem.
Are they passing up threes?
“I don’t think so,” Caruso said. “At least none that are alarming. I think we’re doing a good job of being aggressive, catch and shoot. And then a lot of times, and re-driving when guys have bad closeouts.”
Here’s just one of the many clips that would support the opposite claim.
The Bulls are just making life harder on themselves on plays like this. They pass up an open three just to work a little extra to get a worse look.
“We’ve been posting Vucevic a little more and one of our things we try to talk about is playing downhill, playing in the paint. A lot of times when you do that, and you’ve got good players, they don’t step up. So you kinda take your layups.”
To be fair, the Bulls have been instructed to cut baseline when the ball goes to the pocket after a trap. This keeps the weakside defender guessing and it has resulted in a ton of easy shots at the rim.
Ultimately, this feels like a product of lack of confidence. Passing up open threes is going to bite them in the ass at some point. DeRozan can’t possibly score 50 points every night, and even if he does, the Bulls need to chip in around him. Without that added variable of offensive upside, the Bulls will not be able to compete against the elite defenses they are sure to see in the first round.
“I don’t think [there’s been an emphasis on increasing threes]. At least not to my knowledge. Billy [Donovan] hasn’t said anything. [Bulls Assistant Coach Chris Fleming] hasn’t said anything. None of the coaches have brought it up.”
Whether the Bulls realize it or not, this is a problem. And one they need to solve in the next four games.
Week ahead predictions:
It’s the last week of the season. I can’t believe it. It was truly an incredible swing from feelgood overachievers to the bottom falling out in the final 20-odd games.
This week is going to be crucial to the standings.
The Bulls are 2.5 games ahead of the Cavs and own the tiebreaker. The Bulls just need to win one of their games to secure a playoff spot.
Tuesday vs. Bucks: I just don’t see it.
Wednesday vs. Celtics: Since Robert Williams went down, the Celtics are 2-2. Still, with so many defensive bodies to throw at DeRozan and LaVine, it’s hard to imagine a world where the rest of the Bulls pick up the slack.
Friday vs. Hornets: Charlotte has been playing well of late and Gordon Hayward should return from injury. The Bulls will need this one to fend off the Cavs and I think they get it. Vucevic owns the Hornets.
Sunday @ Wolves: If the Bulls have the sixth seed locked up by Sunday, I could see the Bulls resting DeRozan, LaVine and Caruso in this one.
If it all comes down to this, I think the Bulls will rise to the occasion. They did it against Toronto, Cleveland, Washington and the Clippers. They’re far from perfect, but I don’t think they’ll let themselves slip into the play-in.
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