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Offense should be the Bulls calling card. Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley’s big bet was that putting three elite scorers together with shooting and movement around them, they could make up for any defensive limitations.
After the Bulls incredible stretch to open the season, the offense was humming and the defense was light years ahead of what anyone could have hoped for. Then, the injuries hit and the Bulls top defenders Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball missed 6-8 weeks, completely tanking the Bulls defense.
The Bulls defensive identity hinged on those two players playing at an elite level. Without them, of course the Bulls would struggle. Easy diagnosis. Wait until they return, and the defense should stabilize. That is exactly what has happened — they’re back up to 13th over the last two weeks.
The problem now is the offense.
The team’s free throw and turnover rates are roughly the same. The effective field goal percentage is down 2.5 percent and the offensive rating has plummeted from fourth pre-All-Star to 27th post-All-Star. What happened?
Much is made of the overwhelming trapping DeRozan is facing, but it really has changed the way the Bulls get their offense. They’re struggling to get to the rim and they’re dropping off in corner threes. Where before they were getting to their spots, now they’re settling.
All of this starts with DeRozan. He’s the engine that makes this whole thing work. In addition to the ungodly workload he’s had to carry all year, he has not been able to adjust.
It would be oversimplification to say DeRozan’s dip in shooting percentage is the reason the Bulls are losing, but given the importance of him playing like an MVP, it certainly exposes the Bulls margin for error.
I hate to criticize DeRozan for shots like this because the Bulls have needed him to take these all year. It’s an example of a shot he probably makes in the first half , but now it’s a head scratcher. All five Bucks defenders have at least one foot in the paint. There’s shooters all around him. Find one!
With DeRozan taking more, high-difficulty mid-rangers the Bulls are missing out on opportunities for open corner threes in advantage situations. And they’ve been missing a lot more of the ones they do get.
The combination of corner three frequency and percentage going down is a huge hit. 43.4 percent on 9.3 three’s per game is 4.03 points per 100 possession on corner threes. 25.5 percent on 7.4 threes per game is 2.96 points per 100 possession on corner threes. That accounts for 1.07 of the 4.5 point dip in offensive rating right there. It’s even worse over the past two weeks, leaving an additional 1.08 points on the table.
These may not seem that meaningful, but it’s the difference between dreadful and average on offense. One possession can swing a game and I’d rather live with a Javonte Green corner three in the flow of the offense than a Tristan Thompson floater with 3 seconds left on the shot clock.
Give me a lightly contested LaVine corner three over just about any other shot the Bulls will take all game.
The Bulls have run into long defenses that are capable of scrambling into place out of rotations. The less they shoot, the smaller the court gets, the easier it is for the defense to recover.
The Bulls should be getting far more looks from the corner and at the rim than ever before. instead, they’re taking more mid-range shots. It doesn’t make sense. The trap forces the ball out of DeRozan’s hands allowing the Bulls to play four on three. It’s an advantage, they need to capitalize before the defense recovers.
It’s not all doom and gloom, the Bulls will go as DeRozan goes. If he’s super-DeMar, the Bulls will look more like they did pre-All-Star, but they shouldn’t count on that. They need to make quicker decisions with the basketball and be a lot more willing to shoot if only to introduce some variance to their offense.
If they can do that, defenses will have no choice but to return to single-coverage and the Bulls should start looking like the Bulls again.
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