Normally, I don’t set too much stock in raw field goal percentages, not with advanced metrics like Effective Field Goal Percentage and True Shooting Percentage around. Still…Chicago’s FGP stats through the first four playoff games are bad. Really bad.
Kurt Thomas: 63.6%
Kyle Korver: 56.0% Joakim Noah: 43.9%
Luol Deng: 39.0% Taj Gibson: 38.5% Carlos Boozer: 37.5%
Derrick Rose: 35.2% Ronnie Brewer: 33.3%
C.J. Watson: 33.3%
Keith Bogans: 30.8%
Omer Asik: 0.0%
As a team, the Bulls rank 15th out of 16 teams in FGP at 39.8 percent. The Knicks, who got swept by the Celtics yesterday, rank 16th at 38.6 percent.
Oh, and if you prefer to go by advanced metrics, the Bulls rank 16th in eFG% at 43.4 percent.
If the Bulls don’t start getting better shots and remember how to knock them down, this is going to be a short playoff run. And a huge waste of a fantastic regular season.
Bulls Starters: Luol Deng (+13)
Carlos Boozer (+12)
Joakim Noah (+12)
Derrick Rose (+11)
Keith Bogans (+8)
Bulls bench: Kyle Korver (+5)
C.J. Watson (-3)
Omer Asik (-3)
Taj Gibson (-4)
Kurt Thomas (-7)
Ronnie Brewer (-14)
Pacers starters: Darren Collison (+6)
Tyler Hansbrough (-6)
Paul George (-11)
Danny Granger (-12)
Roy Hibbert (-16)
Pacers bench: Jeff Foster (+12)
Mike Dunleavy Jr. (+9)
T.J. Ford (+7)
Brandon Rush (0)
Josh McRoberts (-2)
A.J. Price (-17)
As you can see, the Bulls outscored the Pacers by double digits when their top four players were in the game. Conversly, Indy was outscored by double digits with three of their starters on the floor (George, Granger, Hibbert).
What jumps out at me is that the Pacers got good plus-minus production from some of their reserves (Dunleavy, Ford, Foster) while the Bulls bench underperformed by their standards (especially Brewer).
I don’t mean to oversimplify things. However, one of the defining characteristics of this year’s squad was that the Bench Mob was typically able to come in a really put the squeeze (particularly defensively) on the other team.
Derrick Rose’s highlight block from the Raptors game generated some interesting discussion. By The Horns reader Antz noticed that Rose has more blocked shots on the season (48) than LeBron James (46). While I was double-checking that stat, I also noted that Rose has more offensive rebounds (78) than LeBron (77).
I found these numbers kind of fascinating considering that LeBron is well-known for his chase-down blocks and overall rebounding ability. Rose obviously isn’t in position to snare as many defensive boards as LeBron, but the fact that he’s grabbed more offensive boards says something about the effort he’s been giving this season.
In fact, get this, Rose has has 30 more offensive rebounds than Dirk Nowitzki (47). Dirk’s a seven-footer, by the way. Rose also has more offensive boards than the 6’9″ Kevin Durant (54) and almost as many as the 6’11″ Kevin Garnett (80). And Rose is a better offensive rebounder than a whole bunch of small forwards.
Getting back to the blocked shot thing, Rose is the leader in blocked shots among point guards by a country mile. Shaun Livingston is in second place with 29. Rose has more blocked shots than several power forwards and centers, too.
“Wayne Winston is a professor at Indiana University and for nine years was Mark Cuban’s stat guru for the Dallas Mavericks. Winston’s book “Mathletics” explains much of his work — complete with formulas and spreadsheets.”
“A points rating of say +21 means that after adjusting for the players a player has played with and against the player in our estimation has added 21 points more per 48 minutes than an average NBA player to his team’s performance level. A +10 offense rating means that the player has added 10 points more per 48 minutes to his team’s scoring than an average NBA offensive player . A -10 defense rating means a player has decreased the opponent’scoring by 10 points per 48 minutes more than an average NBA defensive player.”
Rose had a points rating of 13 and trails only LeBron James (19) and Kevin Garnett (14) among Eastern Conference players.
According to Winston, Rose has an offensive rating of 11 and a defensive rating of -2. Interestingly enough, his defensive rating is better than those of Dwyane Wade (9) and Rajon Rondo (1), both of whom are generally considered better defenders than Rose. I’m just sayin’.
Now let’s talk about Winston’s impact score. Emphasis is Winston’s:
“Impact weights time segments more when the game is on the line. Anything over +30 is pretty good and over +50 is amazing. Note that Derrick Rose is not that great on many advanced stats but he shines on Impact!! So where is Dwight Howard. Dwight has a mediocre Impact rating of +5 so I left him off. More importantly, where is Kobe? Kobe has a negative adjusted +/- this year, so he cannot make this all star team. Kobe’s defensive rating is +6. With Kobe on the court Laker opponents shoot 49% and with Kobe off the court Laker opponents only shoot 44%. This is consistent with Kobe’s poor defensive rating.”
For the record, Rose’s impact score of 61 is by far tops in the East. His closest competition comes from LeBron (49), Devin Harris (48) and D-Wade (45). In the West, only Steve Nash (62) has had more impact this season. Meanwhile, Rose’s impact far surpasses that of guys like Chris Paul (50), Tim Duncan (47), Dirk Nowitzki (37), Kevin Durant (36) and Deron Williams (24).
In doing so, Johnson cited Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who said: ”He’s always found a way either to start or be in the rotation for very good teams. If he’s guarding you, you know he’s guarding you. He’s going to make you work. He’s a physical player. He’s been shooting the 3 well. That’s critical for us. Keith gives you toughness. That’s important in this league. It’s a big part of being a good defensive team. And he does his job every day. Every day.”
Most notable, I suppose, are the shooting stats, which reveal that Bogans is one of the worst shooters among starting guards, and his dead-last ranking in PER, which provides a general measure of efficiency and productivity.
He’s good at defense, though, hence the seventh-place ranking in Defensive Rating. Interestingly enough, Derrick Rose ranks fourth in that area (just behind Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade) despite his ongoing (and possibly undeserved) reputation as a bad (at worst) to average (at best) defender. For the record, Rose also ranks second (behind Paul and just ahead of Wade and Rondo) among these 46 starting guards in Defensive Win Shares.
I don’t want to put too much emphasis on preseason stats. After all, preseason games are like lab experiments. Coaches tinker with various lineups and try to test the reserves, and players test new moves and try to ratchet up their games for the upcoming 82-game (plus playoffs hopefully) grind.
Still, what happens in the preseason can sometimes hint at what to expect in the early part of the regular season. And here’s what happened during the Bulls’ preseason:
Scoring, rebounding and ball handling were problems:
Chicago averaged only 95.8 PPG while shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc.
The team’s 2009-10 averages: 97.5 PPG, 45.1 and 33.0.
Furthermore, the Bulls were outrebounded by a slim margin (40.4 RPG to 39.9 RPG) and turned the ball over. A lot (17.4 TOs per game).
Of course, team stats in the preseason are deceiving because the bench gets a lot more PT than usual. I mean, does anybody really expect Brian Scalabrine to average 20 MPG once the regular season starts?
Of course not.
Additionally, the Bulls have nine new players and a new coaching staff. As if the personnel turnover wasn’t enough, the team’s best new player — Carlos Boozer — played exactly zero preseason minutes. What’s more, C.J. Watson, Joakim Noah, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson all missed games due to minor injury or illness.
Under those circumstances, it would have been silly to expect too much from eight relatively meaningless games.
Still, the numbers may be a sign that the chemistry and continuity aren’t quite there.
But not all was doom and gloom:
By and large, the Bulls were unselfish with the ball, compiling 181 assists on 274 field goals. That means that 66 percent of the team’s made shots were assisted. For comparison’s sake, the 2009-10 Utah Jazz led the league in assist ratio, and 67 percent of their buckets were assisted.
Furthermore, the defense was reasonably strong, holding opponents to 94.6 PPG on 45 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent from the land of three. The Bulls also averaged 7.9 SPG and 5.6 BPG.
Derrick Rose shot poorly:
Over the summer, there was a lot of buzz about Rose’s improved jumper and how he had been working on his three-point shooting. It didn’t show during the preseason. Rose hit 43.4 percent of his field goals and went 5-for-21 from downtown (23.8 percent).
This probably isn’t a huge deal. However, Rose is the foundation of this team on offense. And since he tends to be more of a shoot-first point guard, the consistency and reliability of his shooting is paramount.
Joakim Noah was Joakim Noah:
Other than missing two games with flu-like symptoms, Noah had a very Noah-like preseason: 10.8 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.8 BPG and 1.3 SPG in 28 minutes a night. His shooting was a little off (45.1 percent) and he turned the ball over (2.6 TOs per game), but he was second on the team with 4.2 APG.
Trust me, Jo’s going to be worth every penny of that $60 million contract extension.
Luol Deng may have been the team’s best player:
Deng had a strong preseason, averaging 16.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.8 APG and 1.1 SPG in 28 MPG. His shooting was even more impressive: 50.6 percent from the field and 51.7 percent on threes.
And how’s this for unexpected: Lu not only led the team in three-point field goal attempts — Deng launched 29 treys, with Keith Bogans coming in second at 20 attempts — he also finished first in free throw attempts (48 to Rose’s 39). For his game to improve, Deng needed to reduce his reliance on long-range twos (check), take more threes (check) and attack the rim (check).
This could be quite a season for Deng. Assuming he stays healthy.
Keith Bogans was better than expected:
Going into training camp, everybody figured it was a two-man race for the starting shooting guard spot. Those two men being Ronnie Brewer (the presumed starter) and Kyle Korver (the challenger). Only Bogans started all eight games. And although it may only have been because Brewer was injured, Bogans delivered by shooting 51.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range.
Bogans didn’t do a lot of scoring (5.5 PPG) or log a lot of time (16.8 MPG), but he was more consistent than Korver (43 percent from the field, 33 on threes) or Brewer (28 percent from the field, 0-for-1 on threes). Maybe I was wrong to sleep on Bogans.
C.J. Watson was worse than expected:
There were times during the preseason when coach Tom Thibodeau played Rose and Watson at the same time, and that could make the Bulls a terrifying transition team. But don’t get too excited about that prospect: I doubt we’ll see much of that tandem during the season.
Watson was brought in for two reasons: 1) to back up Rose at the point and 2) provide another shooter.
Regarding reason number one: Watson was looking to shoot (59 field goal attempts) more than he was looking to pass (22 assists). Plus, he had 16 turnovers to those 22 dimes.
Regarding reason number two: C.J. connected on only 32 percent of his shot attempts and went 4-for-16 from downtown (25 percent).
I’m willing to cut Watson some slack. After all, he came from Don Nelson’s gunslinger offense, and he now has to adjust to new teammates, a new coach, and a very new and different playing style.
Omer Asik made quick progress:
When the preseason began, Asik looked marshmallow soft. By the final preseason game, he looked a little more prepared to mix things up. In eight games — including four starts — Asik played 19.6 MPG and averaged 5.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG and 1.1 BPG while hitting nearly 52 percent of his shots. His free throw shooting (14-for-28) was an issue, but his effort was not.
I’m not saying Asik is ready to overtake veteran Kurt Thomas as the first center off the bench, but from what we saw in the preseason, Omer may be ready to contribute early on. Which will be necessary with Boozer out.
James Johnson may be ready:
JJ continues to be something of an enigma, but he did score 8.5 PPG off the bench while hitting 50 percent of his shots. And he showed some of his very first signs of basketball IQ.
Maybe I should give Brian Scalabrine a break:
After all, Scal made the absolute most of the minutes he was given, averaging 6.0 PPG on 56 percent shooting (including 43 percent on threes). Not bad for an end-of-the-bench guy.
Effective Field Goal Percentage:
The Bulls rank 27th at .457. The only teams behind them are the Charlotte Bobcats (.450), Minnesota Timberwolves (.449) and New Jersey Nets (.424). Those three teams have a combined record of 5-36.
The Bulls actually rank 10th at .134. So at least they’re taking care of the ball. The teams ahead of them include the Los Angeles Lakers (.134), Houston Rockets (.134), Denver Nuggets (.131), Orlando Magic (.131), Dallas Mavericks (.123), New Orleans Hornets (.123), San Antonio Spurs (.123), Toronto Raptors (.118) and Atlanta Hawks (.115). With a couple exceptions, those are all pretty good teams.
Offensive Rebounding Percentage:
After a strong start in this area, the Bulls dropped down to the middle of the pack, ranking 14th at .273. It’s probably no coincidence that opponents have been concentrating on blocking the Bulls out (especially Joakim Noah) the last several games. When a team shoots as poorly as the Bulls do, denying them offensive rebounds is a great way to choke off one of their best scoring opportunities.
Free Throw Rate:
The Bulls rank 27th at .194, which is pretty much what you’d expect from a jump shooting team. Oddly enough, the Lakers are ranked 28th at .185. You’d think that a team with an imposing frontcourt (Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol) and Kobe Bryant would be closer to the top of the league in this category.
Defense Four Factors
Effective Field Goal Percentage:
The Bulls rank 16th at .489, so they’re pretty average.
The Bulls rank 13th at .141. Again, pretty average.
Defensive Rebounding Percentage:
Defensive rebounding was a problem last season, when the Bulls ranked near the bottom of the league. They started off the 2009-10 season doing a better job on the defensive boards, but they’ve been regressing the past week or so. They now rank 19th at .727.
Free Throw Rate:
The Bulls rank 8th at .203, which means that they aren’t sending thier opponents to the line. So they’ve got that going for them…which is nice.
The Bulls are:
4-0 when outrebounding their opponent
2-7 when outrebounded
3-3 when pulling down more offensive rebounds than their opponent
3-3 when out-assisting their opponent
5-1 when earning more free throw attempts
4-5 when committing fewer turnovers than their opponent
3-1 when blocking more shots than their opponent
6-1 when committing fewer fouls than their opponent
1-0 when scoring 100 points
0-4 when giving up 100 points
6-1 when holding their opponent to 90 or fewer points
0-6 when giving up more than 90 points
The Bulls have played only 13 games, so this is a pretty small sample size. They’ve also just suffered three straight blowout losses, which can skew the statistics. For instance, they’ve dropped from 4th to 13th in Defensive Rating after the last three games.
Still, all signs point to the fact that the Bulls range from mediocre to outright bad in most categories…although their defense and ball handling have both been pleasant surprises thus far. However, the Pythagorean W-L number suggests that the Bulls aren’t even as good as their 6-7 record indicates.
The good news: the Bulls are currently ranked 10th in Opponents Field Goal Percentage (.436), Opponents Three-Point Percentage (.325) and Defensive Rating (101.6 Points Per 100 Possessions), and they’re 11th in Opponents Effective Field Goal Percentage (.476). Chicago’s opponents shoot free throws at the league’s 12th-best rate (.759), but the Bulls have given up fewer free throw attempts (158) than any teams other than Milwaukee (155) and Charlotte (148). So you can officially label this year’s defense as a solid “okay” or even “better than expected.”
The bad news: the offense. As in, pretty much all of it. The Bulls rank 28th in Field Goal Percentage (.421) and dead last in Three-Point Percentage (.253). For the record, their three-point accuracy is more than 10 percentage points below the league average (.358). Wait, it gets worse: even their undefended shots have been woefully off-target: Chicago is 26th in Free Throw Percentage (.705…about five percentage points below the league average). Add it all together, and it’s no surprise the Bulls are scraping the bottom of the NBA barrel in Free Throw Rate (27th at .183), Offensive Rating (27th at 101.6 Points Per 100 Possessions), Effective Field Goal Percentage (28th at .440), and Points Per Game (28th at 88.6).
Sure, Chicago is 4th in Total Offensive Rebounds (111) and 5th in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (.293), but that might be a simple consequence of bricking so damn many shots (387 misses in 667 attempts so far this season). Those are a lot of offensive rebounding opportunities (also referred to as KBAs in some some circles). And anyway, where would the Bulls be without Joakim Noah, who is currently tied for second (with Sacramento’s Jason Thompson and Washington’s Brendan Haywood) with 34 offensive boards, and Luol Deng, who’s yanked down 26 of them? I’ll tell you: nowhere.
Wait, there is another bright side: Chicago is 9th in Turnover Percentage (.129), but even that might be deceiving, since they’re a slow team (23rd in Pace at 91.4 Possessions Per 48 Minutes) that spends a lot of time passing the ball around the perimeter and then jacking up long-range/low-percentage shots.
Here’s a rundown of the three-point shooting the Bulls and their fans have been suffering through the past few weeks. Luol Deng is actually hitting 75 percent of his threes…but he’s only attempted four of them this season. Jannero Pargo — who was specifically brought it to provide another outside threat — is 3-for-11 (.275) on the season. (Although, to be fair, Pargo has been struggling with a creaky back. But still.) John Salmons is (prepare to throw up in your own mouth a little) 11-for-42 (.262) in the first eight games. Kirk Hinrich is 6-for-27 (.222). Brad Miller is 2-for-9 (.222). And Derrick Rose is 0-for-3. That’s it. At this point, Joakim might as well start chucking them up from downtown. I mean, even he couldn’t hit a percentage that’s much worse than the team’s designated shooters…could he?
There continues to be a lot of talk around the Windy City about the Bulls trading for a legitimate low post scorer, but even that might not be much help at this point. After all, Chicago opponents are laying back and clogging the paint because they know the Bulls can’t shoot. Even Dwight Howard would struggle to score through a quadruple team. Spacing is a problem because shooting is a problem. Derrick Rose can’t penetrate because there aren’t any holes to penetrate into. Rose has been canning a pretty decent percentage of his jump shots this season — which is great — but even that has been only out of dire necessity. This shooting situation is hurting Derrick’s ability to score and create for his teammates. And when Luol Deng or John Salmons manages to slice past their defenders, they find the basket area littered with road blocks.
So should the Bulls deal for an inside scoring force…or an outside shooter? Long-range snipers are usually cheaper and more readily available, and, at the moment, of greater necessity. Because until the Bulls can start spreading opposing defenses out a little, they’re going to continue to struggle. The most painful part of this whole mess is that the Bulls defense has been solid enough that they very well might have beaten the Raptors, Nuggets and maybe even the Heat if their offense had even been as good as “average.”
Update! Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm saw this post and did a little extra digging for additional information about the Bulls’ ranking for attempts, field goal percentage and assist percentage (percentage of makes that are assisted). Here’s what he found:
As Moore put it: “The Bulls take the most attempts in the lowest efficiency areas. The most efficient shots are shots at the rim (proximity), threes (more points, more likely open), and free throws (undefended). The least efficient shots are 10-15 feet and 16-23 jumpers. You’re likely to both be defended there, and they’re harder to hit. The Bulls are bottom 10 in attempts in all the efficient areas and top five in both of the inefficient areas. What’s more, they’re top ten in assisted percentage from the least efficient areas. Translated, the Bulls are throwing a ton of passes that result in mid-range jump shots, and very few that result in layups and dunks.”
Moore concludes: “The sum of all this for the Bulls should be ‘Play smarter, not harder.’ They’re working really hard and that’s evident in their defensive stats, but on offense, they’re targeting low percentage shots, not converting anything easy, and not drawing fouls.”
It’s a great theory. It is. But there are problems with it. Look at the starting lineup of Rose-Salmons-Deng-Gibson-Noah. Only one of those five guys can be considered a three-point shooter (Salmons), and he’s slumping so badly that he’s probably seeing bricked threes in his dreams. Deng, Gibson and Rose are strictly midrange shooters. We all know Joakim scores most of his points off putbacks and short-range bunnies. Hinrich is off-target from downtown, and Pargo is struggling with that sore back. And I’m sorry, but Brad Miller shooting more threes isn’t a solid option.
Furthermore, until the team’s marksmen — Salmons, Hinrich and Pargo — start knocking them down, or someone else is brought in, Bulls opponents are going to keep clogging the lane, denying clean chances at the rim. So if the team can’t hit threes and the paint is clogged…how is the team supposed to get the most efficient shots?