The Chicago Bulls are a byproduct of their tough-as-nails coach, Tom Thibodeau, who is in his third season with the team. Statistics have had their say as well. Some of the numbers work in the Bulls’ favor. Others have become the bane to their basketball existence. Many of the statistics are startling.
Bulls fans knew there would be some trouble spots during the 2012-13 campaign.
The lone superstar of the team, Derrick Rose, is still on the mend. Therefore, togetherness and strong defensive play have defined this season. Without the best player to bail the team out during tough stretches, the formula requires a heavy dosage of both. This is very different from the seasons prior.
The three-point shot was a key ingredient to their success the last two years, as was a strong second unit. Look at the Bulls’ current record. Compare it to the first two years of Thibodeau’s tenure. The constant recipe of perimeter shooting and superior bench play is lacking.
Injuries are to blame for the latter. The former is another story.
This year the Bulls only take 14.4 per game. That is down from the 16.9 they attempted last season, preceded by 17.3 the year before.
The Bulls simply do not take perimeter shots as they once did. Partly to blame for this is the absence of Rose. Also removed from the team is sharpshooter Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer; each was a good shooter behind the arc. The lost player in the mix is Keith Bogans.
Bogans connected on 38 percent of his three-pointers as a Bull two years ago. His corner shot was a viable weapon for them when Rose broke down opposing defenses driving to the basket.
The team simply does not have the players they once did who took long-range shots. This is why they are near the bottom of the rankings in attempts and shooting percentage (34 percent) from distance.
Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler are the only defensive-minded players in their regular rotation. Despite this, they are fourth in field-goal defense. They currently hold opponents to .437 shooting.
Defense is tricky. All you need is a few players willing to sacrifice their games for the good of the team. One player who comes to mind is Marco Belinelli.
Belinelli carried the label of jump shooter when he came to the Bulls. After watching him play an entire season, it is safe to add clutch shooter, point guard and defensive irritant to his dossier. Playing for his dream franchise helps him improve. He buys into what Thibodeau is selling: defense, defense, defense.
Joe Cowley of Chicago Sun-Times caught up with Belinelli and spoke about the shooter label that has plagued him:
It’s funny, because, yes, definitely it’s a stereotype. I remember when I would work out, all I would hear was, "He’s just a shooter." I remember when I was in Italy, I was a point guard, I did a lot of things. I’ve just wanted to do my thing. I don’t want to be just a shooter. I’m here to help this team win games, no matter what I have to do.
Once a liability, Belinelli stays with his man. He challenges him to put the ball on the floor. He dares him to take awkward shots. The only weakness in his defense is his awareness. Although it is improving game by game, he still suffers through a lapse here and there. That said, he is an example of why the defensive machine of the Bulls still works.
Imagine if Thibodeau had Belinelli sooner.
Did you know that the league’s third-best rebounding team is only 23rd in opponents' offensive rebounding? The Bulls give up an average 11.5 rebounds off the offensive glass. This has given their opposition second-chance shots.
For a team that has little margin for error, this cannot happen.
Losing Omer Asik to the Houston Rockets hurt.
He was your typical glass-eater. The ability to crash the boards while clearing out would-be rebounders with sharp elbows was priceless. This would open up opportunities for his teammates to collect rebounds and set up the offensive by keeping opposing defenses on their heels.
His replacement, Nazr Mohammed, has not come close to replicating that effort.
With a healthy Derrick Rose, the Bulls had scoring droughts. Without him, they have been abysmal at times. As a result, they are the cellar dwellers in team scoring, only putting up 92.4 points per game. They simply do not move the ball well.
How else can you explain the eight games in which they failed to score 80 points? Not surprisingly, they are winless when they score fewer than 80 points.
Adversely, 14-2 is their record when they score at least 100 points. When they score that much, the ball movement is sharp and they are sharing the rock. This does not happen when they struggle to score. In fact, selfishness kicks in once the shots do not fall. This only makes the deficits bigger.
Despite their troubles scoring, the Bulls have the highest average in the Central Division among their divisional rivals. Their 97.9 PPG is tops, with the Indiana Pacers second, scoring 95.5 PPG.
Did you also know that they lead the division in head-to-head defense?
The Bulls hold their Central Division foes to 91.8 PPG.
They have the highest shooting percentage head-to-head at .467, as well as three-point shooting, which is .368.
Their statistical domination inside their division makes it hard to justify their meager 7-6 record. One explanation is that they only shoot 14.2 three-point shots a game. This is on par with their overall average.
The Bulls also are not forcing enough turnovers when they play against their division. Their Central Division opponents turn the ball over 13.9 times, which is exactly what they average versus the rest of the NBA. If the Bulls could force turnovers, their record would be better than it is.