January 20, 2010
These are the Bulls' "hot spots." For the record, gray is not good.
As the Bulls prepare for their game against the Los Angeles Clippers — the second stop on their current seven-game Western Conference road trip — Vinny Del Negro has some very real concerns to deal with. Forget the fact that his team could be without John Salmons, who spent Monday night in an Oakland hospital with flu-like symptoms, or that Kirk Hinrich’s status is unknown due to his own bout with flu-like symptoms, or even that he has to figure out a way to deal with L.A.’s Chris Kaman, who has very quietly become a real force inside (20.4 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.4 BPG).
Vinny’s biggest problem is that the Golden State Warriors provided a perfect blueprint for beating the Bulls, which is allowing and even enticing them into relying on their favorite field goal attemp. I’m talking about the long-range two-point jump shot.
If you read this blog and/or follow the Bulls with any regularity, you already know Chicago’s players love to shoot contested jumpers from that dreaded No Man’s Land between the paint and the three-point arc. Well, Tom Haberstroh of Hoopdata has provided some hard numbers to back up this little nugget of common knowledge.
According to Haberstroh: “From Hoopdata’s XeFG% page, we can see that 35.7 percent of Bulls shots are taken 16 to 23 feet away from the basket which, according to my digging, is by far the highest team portion of the last four years. One would think that the Bulls live in The Land Where Offenses Die because they were actually good shooters from 16-23 feet, but here’s the thing: they are terrible from there. As a team, the Bulls shoot 36.1 percent on long twos which is well below the league average of 39.6 percent. That might not seem like a big difference on the surface but in the last four years, only this year’s New Jersey Nets and the Isiah Thomas-led New York Knicks of 2006-07 fare worse from this area. So if you’re scoring from home, the Bulls love taking shots from a zone where they rank 118 out of 120 teams. Not only that, even though the Bulls frequent the long range shot, they almost never launch where the payoff is higher in 3-point land.”
Haberstroh goes on to point out that both Derrick Rose and Luol Deng attempt more than six shots per game from No Man’s Land, and that Deng has the league’s second-worst field goal percentage among players who attempt at least four shots per game from that 16-23 foot range. Haberstroh also notes that Rose, by virtue of his ability to penetrate almost at will, would benefit greatly from pick-and-pop big men…only his frontcourt contingent includes a group of players who don’t have an efficient midrange game (Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Tyrus Thomas) and one other who can hit from midrange but appears to be almost washed up (Brad Miller).
In other words, not only is Chicago’s offense fundamentally flawed, it lacks the personnel necessary to take advantage of its greatest asset (Rose). Again, none of this is particularly surprising. I’ve been blogging these very things all season. Now we have the statistical analysis to back it up.
What can the Bulls do? Conventional wisdom says they should start attacking the basket at every opportunity. However, there’s one small problem with that tactic. Hoopdata recently published another article about the five worst games at the rim this season. Guess which team “earned” the first, third and fifth spots on that list? That’s right. Your Chicago Bulls! In the three games listed in that article, the Bulls missed 72 shots at the rim. And those weren’t aberration games. For the season, the Bulls convert only 55.4 percent of their shots at the rim. That’s the third-worst mark in the league.
Uh oh again.
Of course, these problems feed into each other. The Bulls can’t shoot, so teams pack the paint, which leads to scads of missed shots at the basket. The Bulls know they struggle to finish at the rim, so more often than not they bail out by taking loads of shots they can’t make. It’s like the Bulls have to choose between two poisoned drinks, only they haven’t spent the last five years building up a resistance to iocane powder.
So I ask again, what can the Bulls do?
Not right now, anyway. Like I said, it’s a personnel issue. They don’t have three-point shooters. They don’t have efficient midrange shooters. They don’t have an inside scorer or any big men who can play off Rose by knocking down jumpers or powering through multiple defenders for the finish. Unless management pulls off a miracle deal before the trade deadline, the Bulls are doomed to feature one of the league’s worst offenses for the rest of the season.
This makes future planning almost ridiculously important. After this season ends, half of the current roster will probably be gone, and the Bulls (as far as we can tell) plan to spend big money on a top-notch free agent. And they’d better spend wisely, because the next three to five years of the franchise are at stake.
Think about it. Rose is the future, so we know he’s staying. The Bulls are stuck with Deng’s cap-killing contract through 2014, so we know he’ll be around. If Chicago signs a big name free agent to a four or five-year deal, probably for a lot of money, that player will almost certainly be a Bull for the bulk of that deal. That means we’re looking at a three-man core of Rose, Deng and Player X.
Player X damn well better be able to compliment Rose.
Ideally, Player X will be a big man who can hit consistently from midrange, swoop in for high-powered completions at the rim, and have some kind of low post game. Amar’e Stoudemire fits two of those bills, and he’ll be available on the open market this summer. Of course, Stoudemire has plenty of baggage. He’s had multiple knee surgeries. He doesn’t aggressively pursue contested rebounds. He doesn’t have a single inside move. And we don’t know how much of his success the last few years has been the product of playing alongside Steve Nash in the Phoenix Suns’ run-and-gun system. He might play well off Rose, but then again, Rose is no Nash, and the Bulls don’t have the shooters necessary to open up the space Stoudemire uses to shoot and drive.
Based on his shooting stats, Chris Bosh might be a viable alternative, but there’s no telling where he’ll end up.
There’s no easy answer. We only know that, for the Bulls to build successfully around their franchise player, they’re going to have to put a team together that is drastically different than the one they have right now. And if they make one or two bad decisions, they could be bad for several more years. Not exactly a pleasant prospect.
November 13, 2009
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?
May 27, 2009
Uh, that's not a high percentage shot, Ty...
Brett LaGree of Hoopinion recently revealed that Josh Smith made a lower percentage of his two-point jump shots than any other player in the NBA (with at least 100 attempts) during the 2008-09 season. This assertion is based on numbers provided by 82games.com…and if you look at the list, you’ll notice that our good buddy Tyrus Thomas was the fourth-worst two-point jump shooter in the league last season. His percentage (34.5) put him behind only Smith (32.2), Baron Davis (33.3) and Ron Artest (34.3). That’s some seriously bad company.
To make that number even more damning (as if I need to), 53 percent of T-Time’s shots were two-point jumpers…compared to 36 percent for Smith, 35 percent for Davis and 37 percent for Artest. Which basically means he spent more than half of his time doing something he’s terrible at. Percentage-wise, anyway. (I understand he lights it up at practice.) Feel free to join me in shuddering and saying “gak.”
April 13, 2009
If you’ve been watching the Bulls play lately, then you’ve probably noticed that Derrick Rose has been knocking down a lot of open jumpers. Trust me, it’s no mirage. Check out his NBA Hot Spots chart from the last 10 games:
Dig it: Derrick’s been hitting at a 55 percent clip (31-for-56) from that midrange zone in his last 10 games. Now check out his last five:
That’s 21-for-32…a 65.6 percent rate of accuracy! It’s amazing that his shot has improved this drastically over the course of his rookie season. It looks like Derrick’s defenders won’t be able to keep going under screens and daring him to shoot the ball. Unless they want their teams to lose. If he develops a three-point shot, he’ll be unstoppable.