The Chicago Bulls have produced some interesting stats early in the 2013-14 season.
There are two things that stats for the Bulls usually show: great defense and a subpar offense. That hasn't changed. However, there are specific areas in which they have improved as well as ones that aren't looking as sharp as before.
Chicago's free-throw shooting has been superb in the early stages of the season, and the Bulls are getting to the line a little more often that they did in 2012-13.
Defensively the Bulls remain strong, especially near the rim, where opposing teams struggle to score. But defending the three has been a weakness, and this problem has been the reason for a couple of Bulls' losses.
It's still early, but Chicago has given us some numbers to keep an eye on.
The Bulls Rank First in Free-Throw Percentage
Chicago is shooting 84 percent from the charity stripe, seven percentage points higher than last year.
What's even better is that they're averaging two more trips to the line than a year ago.
Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer have been the biggest contributors to the improvement. Deng is shooting 90 percent from the line, ranking him 15th in the league among eligible players, per ESPN. Boozer is a few spots behind him at 18th, shooting 88 percent. Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler have also improved their free-throw shooting, with Rose and Butler improving six percentage points ,and Captain Kirk now making 80 percent of his foul shots.
These players have been aggressive in taking the ball to the basket, and it has paid off.
Deng and Butler are getting to the line at a higher rate than they did last year, helping Chicago put points on the board and, just as importantly, control the pace of the game.
Rose hasn't gotten to the line much, and, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Tom Thibodeau was clear on why that's the case, "I think sometimes he’s penalized for being a nice guy. I’ll leave it at that."
Once Rose settles in, he could start getting to the line even more, and if he keeps shooting at a high percentage, Chicago could keep its spot as the league's most efficient team from the line.
Chicago is Struggling Against the Three
It's rare that the Bulls struggle in any defensive category, but so far, their three-point defense hasn't performed as well as last season.
Last year, the Bulls ranked fifth in opponent three-point percentage, allowing teams to convert on 34.6 percent of their outside shots. Currently, teams are making 39.1 percent of their threes against the Bulls.
The reason for this decline has been rotations on the wing. When the perimeter defenders help inside, some of the rotations have been slow, allowing opposing shooters to get off clean looks.
This is the one stat that Chicago is most likely to improve. Since Thibodeau joined the Bulls in 2010, they've ranked no lower than fifth by the end of a season and held teams to just 32-percent three-point shooting twice.
There will be games where teams have "one of those nights" and explode from downtown, but if history tells us anything, it shouldn't be a problem down the road.
Interior Defense is Even Better
According to TeamRankings.com, the Bulls are allowing the fewest number of points in the paint at 32.4 per game, which is a pretty significant improvement over last season, when they ranked fifth, surrendering almost 40 points inside.
Chicago's big men are playing extremely well in the interior. And yes, that includes Carlos Boozer. Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Boozer all have a defensive rating of 96 or lower.
They're rotating and helping inside quickly and effectively. They're also protecting the rim by defending without fouling. Over their first few games, the Bulls have allowed the second-fewest number of free throws with 193.
It could take a little longer for the Bulls to get into a rhythm and start clicking on all cylinders. Butler's recent turf toe injury will mean fewer minutes for the starting five to play together.
Even with a brand new starting unit and new-look bench, the Bulls have found ways to succeed in key areas of the game.
As the players start to get in midseason form, the Bulls will be one of the NBA's tougher matchups. Even tougher than they are now.
All stats accurate as of Nov. 21 and courtesy of basketball-reference.com unless otherwise stated.
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