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The Chicago Bulls are understanding how to generate more threes

Will Gottlieb Avatar
December 5, 2023

Famously last in three-point shooting a season ago, the Chicago Bulls have decided to revamp their shot profile. And while it took some time at the beginning of the year to find their sea legs, the team is starting to see the fruits of their labor.

The Bulls are now 15th in the league in three-pointers attempted per game — a 4.5 per game increase that has rocketed them up from the bottom of the league. The rate at which they attempt the long-ball has also dramatically improved, rising to 15th in percentage of shots from three and ninth in percentage of offense generated by corner threes — among the most valuable real estate in the game.

Despite the Bulls remaining slightly below league average in three-point percentage, opposing defenses are beginning to change how they guard in the halfcourt. More frequently than prior seasons, the Bulls are drawing two defenders to the ball, opening up shots around the perimeter. They just need to be aware that those shots are available, and ready to take them.

“It’s a lot easier for me when I’m watching film and I can stop and rewind it 15 times, and make a decision of what would have been the best decision,” said Billy Donovan. “These guys are having to make split second decisions.”

It’s been a process, but the Bulls are improving in those areas. The increase in corner three-point attempt frequency is proof.

“When guys are below the free throw line defensively, those are shots you have to shoot,” Donovan said. “They’re not closing out from the free throw line to the three-point line quick enough. Guys that are above the free throw line that are long and athletic, those are a bit different. But just to encourage guys, give guys confidence, like look, ‘you need to shoot the ball here. What are you doing? We’re not getting a better shot than this from anyone on our team. Shoot the ball’.”

Increasing three-point volume is only possible if the players are comfortable launching up shots.

After scoring 31 points against the Pelicans, Coby White revealed that Donovan had been pausing film to show him that, not only were shots available to him at times, in not taking them, it hurts the rest of the offense. Those untaken shots, which to White, may have felt like bad looks, were actually good, productive sources of offense for the team.

“I tell Coby this too, when we get full court pressure and he beats the pressure and gets downhill and sprays it out, that’s better than any play I can run or call,” Donovan said. “You need to be in a mindset of being ready to play, getting your eyes on the rim, and being decisive with your decisions.”

This is the definition of playing with “randomness”. Finding areas to attack that are unscripted, unprescribed and unpredictable. Scouting in the NBA is too good — if the Bulls are slowing it down and running plays every time down, they’re easy to guard.

So it’s not that the Bulls are just launching up more threes to add variance to their shot profile and offensive potential. They’re understanding how to generate better offense, and the result is more threes. This is a huge distinction, and it all stems from understanding how to beat the defense.

“The two hardest things to do in the NBA is closing out to guard the ball and getting back in transition,” Donovan said. “Those are the two hardest things to do defensively. We can’t let teams off the hook when we create those situations. We’ve got to be able to capitalize a little bit better.”

As young players like White, Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams are put in more positions to attack closeouts, they’ll develop a better understanding of their options and progressions in these situations, which, in turn, will lead to better decision making.

“The IQ piece is just that, it’s the split second decision making where younger players are going to take some time to get better,” Donovan said of his young core growing in these areas.

That is player development. And it’s exactly what the Bulls need to continue stringing these exciting games and encouraging wins together.

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