The Bulls were hopelessly — and some would also say haplessly — blown out by the Thunder in Oklahoma City last night.
How bad was it? Well, the Bulls converted only 29.1 percent of their field goal attempts, which is the worst shooting performance in the NBA this season.
At halftime, they were shooting 10-for-48 (20.8 percent). It was 17-for-68 (25 percent) by the end of the third quarter. Only a comparatively “hot” fourth quarter in which they shot 8-for-18 (44 percent) in garbage time kept the final numbers from being even worse.
The box score looks like a graveyard. Carlos Boozer was only 1-for-5 in 25 minutes. Rip Hamilton (2-for-7) and Joakim Noah (2-for-9) were similarly ineffective. Nate Robinson was a train wreck (2-for-14 over and 1-for-8 on threes). Luol Deng’s 6-for-14 shooting performance was the best Chicago’s starting lineup had to offer. Which underscores the kind of night these guys had. And the team’s best bench player, Taj Gibson, went 2-for-11. So…there you go.
Add in the fact that the Bulls gave up 25 points off 18 turnovers and you have a complete and utter offensive meltdown.
But wait. There’s more. Chicago’s D got lit up, as the Thunder scored at a rate of 110.4 points per 100 possessions. Worst of all was that the Bulls were outrebounded 52-44, with Oklahoma City even holding a 33.3% to 29.6% advantage in Offensive Rebounding Percentage. And with all those misses, the Bulls had many more offensive rebounding opportunities than the Thunder.
Said Noah: “The way we competed was just embarrassing. The way we competed was bad. It’s not time to feel sorry for ourselves.”
The Bulls are 33-24 and had to players in this season’s All-Star Game. But how good are they really? Derrick Rose is still out and may miss the rest of the season. Kirk Hinrich can’t stay healthy. Nate Robinson — playing on a minimum one-year deal — is the de facto starting point guard.
The result: bad offensive numbers across the board.
According the Basketball-Reference, the Bulls are 29th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (.465), 28th in points per game (92.5), 27th in Pace (89.3), 26th in three-point percentage (.340), 25th in field goal percentage (.426), 24th in Offensive Rating (102.9), and 21st in Turnover Percentage (14.1).
The Bulls are good defensively in that they force a lot of misses (second in Opponents eFG% at .466) and limit the opposition in scoring (fourth in Defensive Rating at 101.4). But while they’re an elite offensive rebounding team (third in Offensive Rebound Percentage at 30.4), they’re actually a poor defensive rebounding team (22nd in Defensive Rebounding Percentage at 72.7).
This is a slow, plodding, inefficient offensive team that must absolutely shut down the opposition every night in order to win. But lately the warts have been showing. And throbbing. And growing. Particularly in that humbling home loss to the Miami Heat and last night’s embarrassment in Oklahoma City.
Said Hamilton: “It’s totally different with Derrick and even Kirk, but we definitely got guys in here that know how to play. And we know how to play off each other. It’s just that we got to be smarter, we got to be smarter and understand where we want to get the ball at, how we’re going to score and who we need to feed off of.
“We got to be better. It’s easier to score against bad teams that really don’t have a whole lot of principles. But when you play against good teams like Miami, Oklahoma City, it’s kind of like playoff-style games; you got to be better at not just your first option but your second and your third, because good defensive teams know how to take away first options, try to have you take shots from different places where you don’t want to — so you just got to really study your offense and understand that you might not score on the first option.”
Technically speaking, Rip is absolutely correct. But do the Bulls really have the talent to make it happen against elite teams?
For instance, the Bulls rank eighth in the league in field goal attempts at the rim (26.6), according to Hoopdata. And that’s good. It means they work hard to get high-percentage shots.
What’s bad is that they Bulls also rank 18th in field goal percentage at the rim (63.7 percent). This may explain why the Bulls rank 27th in the league in points in the paint, according to TeamRankings.
Now let’s look at where the rest of their offensive is coming from. The Bulls rank 29th in three-point attempts (14.1) and fourth in shots attempted from 16-23 feet (23.1). That’s right. They don’t take that many high-reward three-pointers, but they take plenty of low-reward, contested, long-range two-pointers, also known as “the worst shot in basketball.” And naturally they rank 20th in the league in converting those shots (36.3 percent).
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”We have to do our jobs. Do our jobs. We’ve shown when we do that we’re capable of beating anyone. We have to be mentally tougher. We have to be stronger. When you face a little bit of adversity if you’re short-handed, you have to dig down and get the job done. … We got to play a lot tougher. Our level of intensity has to be much higher. We got to get that part right. We got to get it right quickly.”
Added Noah: ”It’s very humbling to lose like that. We just got to look at ourselves in the mirror and do better. This isn’t getting it done and it’s tough. … Our intensity was bad tonight. We took steps backwards. That’s what’s frustrating. We’ve played a lot better this year so there’s really no excuse. We just got to bounce back ASAP.”
These are wonderful sentiments and they are why the Bulls have been so competitive the past three seasons, both with and without Rose. And why they’ll continue to be competitive. Tomorrow’s opponent — the Cleveland Cavaliers — will probably step directly into a face punch, much like the Bobcats did after the Bulls were embarrassed by the Heat.
But players “doing their jobs” isn’t going to change the fact that, as presently constituted, the Bulls are a flawed team. Yes, even if Derrick Rose returned fully healthy and back in MVP form. The Bulls can’t hit threes, take a lot of long twos and don’t convert a high percentage of their shots around the basket. All these things are related, and while they would certainly improve with Rose’s return, it’ll take more than that. Another star player would be nice. So would additional high-percentage shooters.
But as far as we know, Rose isn’t going to play any time soon, and the trade deadline has passed. The roster is what it is. Thibs and the players will continue to say what they always say: that the Bulls have more than enough to win.
Which is true. Except against the NBA’s elite teams.