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.
Simply put, scoring is a bit of a boggle for the 2009-10 Chicago Bulls.
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:
At the rim: 26th attempts, 24th percentage, 21 AS%
<10 feet: 21st attempts, 7th percentage, 5th AS%
10-15 feet: 11th attempts, 5th percentage, 2nd AS%
16-23 feet: 1st attempts, 26th percentage, 7th AS%
three: 27th attempts, 30th percentage, 5th AS%
free throws: 25th attempts, 26th percentage, 26th free throw rate
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?