What are the differences between this year’s Bulls and last year’s team?
Not too long ago the Chicago Bulls were considered serious contenders to come out of the Eastern Conference. They had plenty of weapons in former NBA MVP Derrick Rose, two-time NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler, 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, as well as two-time NBA champion Paul Gasol. The Bulls undoubtedly have one of the more talented rosters in the Eastern Conference, however they just are not producing wins at a high enough rate this season. The team now holds a 30-30 record after losing seven out of their last 10 games. If the season ended today, the Bulls would be watching the playoffs from home. Let’s look at what is going wrong for the team thus far into the season. Refer to the table below to see the difference between this year’s Bulls team versus that of last year’s. The numbers in parentheses show where the Bull’s stats rank amongst the 30 NBA teams in their respective seasons.
|Bulls (per game)||PTS||AST||REB||STL||FG%||3P%||PTS ALLOWED||OPP FG%||OPP 3P%|
|2014-15 season||100.8 (10th)||21.7 (15th)||45.7 (3rd)||6.3 (28th)||44.2% (22nd)||35.3% (10th)||97.8 (9th)||43.5% (4th)||33.5% (3rd)|
|2015-16 season||101.5 (18th)||21.4 (26th)||47.6 (2nd)||5.9 (29th)||43.7% (26th)||36.4% (4th)||102.8 (14th)||45.3% (3rd)||33.0% (4th)|
Two of the stats that jump out from the above table are the team’s assist and steal totals. The team has gotten worse in these areas since last season and they currently rank outside the top 25 in both categories. These stats go hand in hand because steals lead to more fast-break opportunities, which ultimately leads to more assists and easy buckets. It is no coincidence that the team that presently leads the NBA in steals (the Houston Rockets) also leads the league in assists. The lack of assists per game has consequently led to less quality shots being taken which has resulted in a relatively low points per game total for the Bulls this season. Playing more aggressively on defense and taking more chances when a potential steal opportunity presents itself will lead to more fast break scenarios and ultimately more success on offense. The team’s defense is not their biggest issue as shown in the table above, so taking more chances to try to force more turnovers will not have nearly as damaging an effect on the Bulls as it would on a poor defensive team.
Another category that stands out for the Bulls is their rebounding. They do force difficult shots defensively and their big men including Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic have done a great job of dominating the boards the past couple seasons. While the team’s rebounding statistics portray the idea that they have held their opponents to shots that they are not comfortable taking, the Bulls themselves have a problem with taking shots that they excel in taking. For example, the team is currently shooting an impressive 36.4% from three-point range, which puts them amongst the top five in the league in that statistic. Realistically, this means that the Bulls should take more three-pointers, because it is an area in which they excel. Unfortunately, the Bulls actually tend to shy away from the three-point line, for they attempt the seventh-fewest number of threes in the league (20.6 per game). Here’s a team that attempts the second most shots with 88.6 per game, yet only about 20 of those shots are the three-pointers that they shoot so well. Also take into consideration that the Bull’s overall field goal percentage is at 43.7% this season, so clearly their two-point shooting as a team is not doing particularly well. All of this being said, the Bulls clearly have to put themselves in a position to take smarter shots that play to their strengths.
The Bulls have had their fair share of injuries throughout the season. Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic, and Mike Dunleavy have all missed 10 or more games due to injury. In addition, they are playing under coach Fred Hoiberg for their first season after previously being coached by Tom Thibodeau. Even with the injuries and coaching change, however, their is no excuse for a team this talented to currently be out of the playoff picture.
“Honestly, we’ve got a lot of holes everywhere,” Dunleavy said. “Just with not getting into our coverages or going into the game plan. Not knowing individual tendencies of our opponents. And then just having a little bit of that grit to get it done, just to get it done.”
Bulls’ big man Pau Gasol was also not high on the way his team has been playing lately. When asked if his team is better than its record, Gasol gave a very straightforward answer.
“No,” Gasol said. “I think the record always shows who you are. I don’t think we’re better than what our record is.”
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