The Bulls faced a recurring problem over the course of the 2008-09 season: They could not contain opposing big men. Even the bad ones. Stiffs (or at least non-premier bigs) like Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace, Darko Milicic, Joel Przybilla, Nick Collison, Troy Murphy and Zaza Pachulia all enjoyed big games and/or season highs against the Chicago interior defense. That’s not good.
The always amazing 82games.com published NBA Team by Position Stats as well as NBA Team by Position Ranks. These pages provide all sorts of interesting little tidbits, such as the fact that the Bulls ranked 29th in scoring defense at the center position. Only the defenseless Golden State Warriors allowed opposing centers to score more points per game. Furthermore, the Bulls ranked 24th in scoring defense at the power forward position. They also ranked 23rd (at center) and 28th (at power forward) in defensive rebounding. So over the course of the season, Bulls opponents got about 40 PPG and 25 RPG out of their C and PF combos. Yikes.
If you peruse the various stats and ranks provided, you’ll notice that the Chicago front court was consistently outperformed last season. This is best evidenced by the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) averages. In case you’re not familiar with PER, it’s John Hollinger’s all-in-one basketball rating, which combines all of a player’s statistical contributions into a single number. It’s not a final evaluation of a player’s worth, but it does provide a snapshot of a player’s measurable contributions.
Anyway, PER-wise, the Bulls consistently outperformed their opponents at the point guard, shooting guard and small forward positions. However, the Bulls averaged PERs of 17.0 at power forward and 17.8 at center…while giving up PERs of 19.2 and 20.2. That equates to net losses at those positions of -2.2 and -2.3.
For a little additional perspective, the PER reference guide rates a 20 as a “Borderline All-Star.” This means that opposing power forwards and centers were playing at a borderline All-Star level against the Bulls…on average. Ironically, the Bulls’ best PER differential was at shooting guard, where they were +2.6 (which was good for the 7th best PER differential at that position in the league). So maybe the team’s defensive woes weren’t all Ben Gordon’s fault after all.