Sunday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers dropped the Bulls to a mediocre 5-5.
That’s not what these Bulls — who have owned the league’s best record the past two seasons — are accustomed to.
There are three main reasons the Bulls are struggling:
1. No Derrick Rose
2. Decline in Defense
3. Reduced Bench Performance
The Derrick Rose situation is an obvious one.
As I mentioned yesterday, the defense has been a major disappointment. According to Basketball-Reference, the Bulls currently rank 10th in Defensive Efficiency at 102.0 points surrendered per 100 possessions. You might be thinking: “Top 10 isn’t that bad.”
It is for Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls.
In 2010-11, the Bulls ranked second in Defensive Efficiency at 100.3. In 2011-12, they were again second at an even better 98.3.
This season, they’re giving up almost four more points per 100 possessions than they did last year. And it has been far worse than that over the past four games during which they’ve had a horrific defensive rating of nearly 112 points surrendered per 100 possessions.
For perspective, the Phoenix Suns are currently dead last in Defensive Rating at 109.7. In other words, over the past four games, the Bulls have been a few points per 100 possessions worse than the league’s worst defensive team.
The third factor in Chicago’s ho-hum start has been the bench production compared to the past two seasons. I have provided bench statistics from the past three seasons below. These numbers were obtained from Hoopstats. League ranks are in parentheses. Pay particular attention to the following stats:
Eff = NBA Efficiency recap = ((Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks) – ((Field goals attempts – Field goals made) + (Free throws attempts – Free throws made) + Turnovers))
Deff = Efficiency Recap Difference = Efficiency Recap – Opponent’s Efficiency Recap
Pts: 26.6 (25)
DReb: 10.0 (15)
OReb: 3.8 (14)
TReb: 14.0 (13)
Ast: 6.3 (15)
Stl: 2.9 (7)
Blk: 2.5 (2)
FGP: 44.6 (13)
3P%: 38.4 (5)
Eff: 33.7 (15)
Deff: 8.0 (2)
Pts: 29.2 (23)
DReb: 10.4 (17)
OReb: 5.3 (2)
TReb: 15.7 (10)
Ast: 6.6 (13)
Stl: 2.4 (25)
Blk: 2.7 (2)
FGP: 44.2 (7)
3P%: 40.5 (2)
Eff: 36.0 (11)
Deff: 8.7 (6)
Pts: 29.8 (24)
DReb: 8.5 (24)
OReb: 3.4 (21)
TReb: 11.9 (26)
Ast: 6.4 (17)
Stl: 2.3 (24)
Blk: 2.3 (8)
FGP: 42.2 (19)
3P%: 34.4 (13)
Eff: 32.3 (24)
Deff: -1.2 (21)
As you can see, there have been notable (and significant) drop offs in rebounding (especially offensive rebounding), blocked shots and three-point shooting.
However, the most glaring change is the efficiency differential, which has fallen from from Top 10 to Bottom 10. Whereas the Bench Mob regularly outperformed their counterparts, the current bench is usually in the red.
It’s not hard to see what has happened. Omer Asik is killing it for the Rockets. Ronnie Brewer is playing extremely well for the Knicks and rocking a Player Efficiency Rating of 17.1. C.J. Watson is playing about as well as he ever has (and is even rocking a career-high in Effective Field Goal Percentage).
The current unit is no Bench Mob.
It’s worth noting that Jimmy Butler has been playing extremely well. He’s shooting a blistering 60.7 percent from the field and 92.9 from the free throw line. Those are the best marks on the team. He’s also playing solid D and sporting the team’s second best PER of 18.2.
Nate Robinson has been pretty good too. Nate is scoring 12 points per game, he’s shooting 40 percent on threes, and his PER is third on the team at 17.6. That said…he’s undersized and gets taken advantage of on defense.
As for the rest…
I noted this yesterday: The real Taj Gibson hasn’t shown up yet. His numbers have taken a nasty downturn since last season. He’s shooting a career-low 41 percent. He’s averaging only 4.3 rebounds. His Player Efficiency Rating (13.6) hasn’t just dropped since last year (16.9), it’s currently a career-worst.
Similarly, his Offensive and Defensive Rebounding Percentages (8.7 and 12.3) are career-lows and well beneath his career marks (11.4 and 18.5). Taj is blocking more shots — from 1.3 in each of the last three seasons to 1.9 this year — but he’s regressed significantly in virtually every other area.
Don’t get me wrong. Gibson is still hustling and playing defense that ranges anywhere from good to great. But on the whole, he isn’t playing nearly as well as the Bulls are accustomed to.
Past that, “designated shooter” Marco Belinelli is converting a career-low 37.8 percent of his field goals and looks perpetually lost on both ends of the court; Nazr Mohammed is shooting 7.1 percent from the field and looks ready for the glue factory; rookie Marquis Teague has played an average of six minutes in only five of the Bulls’ 10 games; and Vladimir Radmanovic has a PER of -0.4.
So let me sum this up: No superstar, worse defense, drastically reduced bench. From that perspective, maybe we should be grateful the Bulls are .500.