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.
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.