Fred Hoiberg was fired for a lack of success with the Chicago Bulls, but has new coach Jim Boylen done any better?
To almost no one’s surprise, besides maybe Bulls fans, Chicago has been one of the worst teams in the NBA this season. Their early failures, which can be partially attributed to injuries to starters Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, along with the abominable play of Jabari Parker, ultimately led to the firing of fourth-year head coach Fred Hoiberg. However, the team has somehow looked even worse under new head coach Jim Boylen, making the decision to replace Hoiberg by the Bulls’ front office to seem puzzling at best, and clueless at worst.
Unless the Bulls can miraculously turn their season around soon, the date of Dec. 3, 2018, will haunt Bulls fans for a painfully long time. This was the date the Bulls decided to name the longtime NBA and NCAA coach as not only their interim coach, but their head coach for the foreseeable future.
When Boylen was brought on, he did not have an “interim” tag attached to his title, as many former assistants do, and is/was supposedly given every opportunity to be the Bulls’ head coach for next season and beyond.
Sources: Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen has agreed to a new deal with the franchise, increasing the salary on the remaining two seasons of his contract (this year and 2019-20).— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 13, 2019
On the surface, it would appear as though Boylen has slightly improved the Bulls’ competitiveness and maturity as a team after he was brought on, given his current record of 5-14 compared to Hoiberg’s bottom-of-the-league-mark of 5-19. However, the Bulls currently sit in the bottom five in the NBA in a great number of statistical categories, and have seen some of their most promising youngsters deflate their stats and efficiency under the new coach.
On top of that, the players had a near mutiny during the first week of Boylen’s tenure due, in his words, to “pushing players out of their comfort zone.” While this incident is obviously concerning, it was only once, and hasn’t happened since. So let’s give Boylen the benefit of the doubt for now, and see how his team has played in response to these tactics.
Since Dec. 3, 2018, the Bulls have the second lowest scoring offense in the NBA with only 97.5 points per game, and the worst offensive rating in the league. Despite having some high-volume three-point shooters, including second-year marksman Lauri Markkanen, they are taking the fewest three-pointers per game in the NBA. Further, the team has the least free throw attempts and assists per game since Dec. 3, showcasing their lack of any offensive identity whatsoever.
Maybe, one would think, the Bulls have improved their shooting efficiency under Boylen and minimized their mistakes on the offensive end, right? Wrong. Chicago has the third worst turnover percentage in the NBA and the worst assist to turnover ratio, meaning Boylen’s disciplinary style has done little to make them utilize the ball more carefully. Similarly, the team has no shot selection skills under Boylen, as they are in the league’s bottom five in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage.
In addition to all these undeniable offensive deficiencies under Boylen, the team has done little to remain competitive otherwise. They have the second fewest rebounds per game, a stat that would usually be indicative of a lack of hustle, despite a solid frontcourt of Markkanen and rookie center Wendell Carter Jr. Finally, they have struggled to keep the score close in games that they lose despite coming out victorious in a few efforts. Chicago holds the third worst net rating in the NBA since Dec. 3, in front of only the dismal New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Player Development (Or Lack Thereof)
Considering this is a team that appears to (still) be tanking, especially given the head-scratching trade in which they shipped former starter Justin Holiday away, a Bulls supporter would hope that Boylen is at least trying to develop their promising young core. However, the exact opposite has happened, as the Bulls’ youngest and brightest players have seen their individual stats decline under the newly-acquired head coach.
The first, and perhaps most concerning, example of this is Zach LaVine’s diminished status as the team’s top scoring option. Since Boylen was hired, the former Timberwolves guard is averaging four fewer points per game and 2.6 fewer free throw attempts per game, despite LaVine having increased his shooting percentage by about seven percent. It’s hard to fathom why Boylen wouldn’t want to rely on a top scoring option, and this seems counterintuitive to his non-passing offense.
The aforementioned future front court of Markkanen and Carter Jr. have seen their improvement as offensive talents decelerate, as well. The Finnish forward, who was expected to be a sharpshooting big coming out of college, has only attempted 0.2 more three-point attempts under Boylen this season compared to his three-point shot selection during his rookie year. As a top-10 pick who has been the team’s biggest investment, it appears that Boylen is avoiding Markkanen’s obvious play style in favor of his old-school (and outdated) philosophy of avoiding the three ball.
Similarly, Carter Jr. has seen all of his stats fall flat after the start of the Boylen era. Since Dec. 3, the former Duke big man is averaging two fewer points, 0.6 fewer rebounds, and 0.8 fewer assists per game, diminishing the versatility he displayed in college that made him such a highly-touted prospect. Also, the rookie center is taking two fewer field goal attempts per game in Boylen’s offense, showing his timidity with the new coach’s system.
In the aftermath of the surprisingly fortuitous Jimmy Butler trade, it appeared as though the Chicago Bulls were turning a new leaf. Heading into this season, they had a platoon of talented, young players with an offensive-minded coach to maximize their skillsets. Now with Boylen at the helm for at least this season and the next, does the team have any clear direction at all?
Edited by Kat Johansen.
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