Who is the Chicago Bulls’ clutch performer in the closing minutes of the game?
The question has remained unanswered while the Bulls are finding their way through the NBA season without their superstar Derrick Rose. In seasons prior, Rose was the Bulls’ go-to player down the stretch. He is currently rehabbing (via usatoday.com) his torn ACL (via ESPNChicago.com) while his teammates are working towards respectability.
Without Rose, there is a lack of clutch performances for the Bulls. It is one of their five flaws.
Thankfully, each problem is correctable with some adjustments. Some tweaks are minor, while others require more game planning. However, there is one huge flaw that that garners a philosophical change.
All statistics are accurate as of 11-26-2012.
Where is Kirk Hinrich? His game is unofficially on a milk carton somewhere. Perhaps it is even on a lost and found poster.
Physically, Hinrich has played in every game but one for the Bulls, but his impact has been missing in action.
Hinrich has averaged 5.3 points this season and he is shooting just over 30 percent from the field.
The Bulls signed Hinrich to start at point guard until Derrick Rose returns from his ACL tear. He will not replace Rose’s offensive output, but he must to be a steady performer on that side of the floor.
That means Hinrich must limit his turnovers, which he has, averaging 2.18 TPG. He must also facilitate the offense and he has done that well. His troubles are his shooting and his confidence, which work hand in hand.
The Bulls must find scoring chances for Hinrich early.
They can do this by setting screens for him near the elbow. This gives Hinrich the option to drive to the lane, shoot off the screener or create a give-and-go with Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah.
If Hinrich can get those easy baskets early, his confidence will rise and he will not be reluctant to look for his shot later in the game.
Teams are beginning to attack the Bulls with the pick-and-roll as they see that the Bulls will either over-commit on defense, or not commit at all.
Carlos Boozer is the usual suspect when opposing teams run the play.
Teams catch Boozer out of position when they set a pick. Then they use his lack of lateral quickness against him. The screener gets the easy layup or the ball-handler blows by him for an uncontested shot. Boozer cannot recover in time and his teammates have to overcome for his mistakes.
To avoid this from happening, there must be communication amongst Bulls’ players. One of Boozer’s teammates must yell out “screener” so he can play over the screen. He will be able to keep his man in front of him and not get beat off the dribble.
Another solution is to send an additional defender to help. Doing this could create a double-team or force a turnover.
The Bulls are a perimeter-oriented team, but their struggles shooting from three-point range would suggest otherwise. As a team, they are shooting .281 from three, good for last in the NBA.
Luol Deng has shot only 10 of 38 (.263) from behind the three-point line and Kirk Hinrich is 6-24 (.250). I cringe every time one of them settles for a three-pointer. The shots are not falling. Often I ask myself, what are they doing? Why are they taking more low percentage shots?
The Bulls should use their size and become more of an inside-out team on offense instead of falling in love with a shot that refuses to love them back.
The solution wears No. 5 on his Bulls jersey. He is Carlos Boozer, the Bulls’ $75 million man (via ESPNChicago.com).
Not using Boozer in the post makes little sense. The Bulls go through significant scoring droughts throughout a game, but Boozer can make easy baskets around the rim. Get the ball in his hands!
Even if his shots do not fall, his presence draws attention from the defense and creates space for the shooters that are on the floor.
One of the Bulls’ trouble spots has been scoring in the fourth quarter. For the season, they have averaged 23.6 PPG in the final 12 minutes. Their scoring problems are evident when they lose.
Their fourth quarter scoring is 22.5 PPG in their losses.
There are two reasons for the Bulls struggles in the fourth quarter.
Bulls’ head coach Tom Thibodeau uses a defensive lineup in the fourth. They also have struggled with identifying who should take the big shots down the stretch.
Can the Bulls count on Taj Gibson to take and make the big shot? What about Jimmy Butler, can he make those shots?
Gibson is a superb defender who will add the occasional shot or two but nothing more. He scores his points while wearing the proverbial hard hat. From hustle plays, offensive rebounds and fast breaks.
In Butler’s case, it is too soon to determine whether he can make clutch baskets or not. As of now, he is not offensive-minded enough to take certain shots. With the ball in his hands, Butler looks to pass rather than shoot.
Gibson and Butler make up for two-fifths of the Bulls fourth quarter lineup. Neither player provides an offensive spark. Therefore, they do not warrant attention from opposing defenses.
The other players on the floor has usually been Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and either Kirk Hinrich or Nate Robinson.
Among those players, only Deng and Robinson are scorers. Where is the scoring going to come from when there are only one or two players capable to provide some sort of an offensive punch?
The solution is inserting Richard Hamilton in the later stages of the fourth quarter in place of Butler. Hamilton can spread the floor and score on the perimeter. He will make the defense guard the Bulls man-to-man, thus allowing better scoring opportunities.
The Bulls should also sit Carlos Boozer midway in the third quarter and start him in the fourth. If the Bulls need instant offense, a second-string frontcourt player will most likely guard Boozer. This could give the Bulls some early momentum.
Tom Thibodeau must relax!
He is the only NBA coach that refuses to sit on the bench. He is always coaching, even during a blowout. That strategy works when a team is winning, but will it fly if the team starts losing?
Watching Thibodeau on the sidelines is nerve-racking. I can only imagine how his players feel, as they are victims of his constant over-coaching. This can wear his team down.
In a game versus the Orlando Magic, Thibodeau chewed out his starting center Joakim Noah for taking a three-point shot at the end of a 99-93 win.
Noah explained (via ESPNChicago.com) his rationale behind the shot. He wanted to give the fans at the United Center a chance at free Big Macs from McDonalds.
You have to respect the game because you never know what can happen in a game. I just got caught up in the moment and I was trying to get the people a Big Mac. They really wanted a Big Mac (judging by how loud the crowd was getting) and I felt like, not only did I take the shot and miss the shot, we didn't even get the Big Mac. Next time, I won't take that 3-pointer.
With Noah’s heart in the right place and the game at hand, why take that moment to rip into the player who has played the best basketball in his life? Settle down coach, you run the risk of alienating a player that you need.
Thibodeau has to take time and enjoy his team.
They play their butts off for him every game; they must be rewarded for their efforts.
A proper reward would be a happier coach. One that does not moan about what the team did wrong after a 20-point win. If he does not mellow out, Thibodeau will be added to a list of coaches that includes: Larry Brown, Doug Collins, Scott Skiles, Stan Van Gundy and others.
Good NBA coaches who refused to relax on the sidelines, eventually losing their teams due to their over-coaching ways.
To avoid this, Thibodeau must change his coaching philosophy. It starts by him smiling more.