5 Players Who Must Step Up for Chicago Bulls' Remaining Games
As the Chicago Bulls continue to battle for a top-four seed, they will need more than a few players to elevate their games to get home-court advantage.
Only a select number of players have stood out for Chicago this year, most noticeably Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, the former making his second All-Star team in as many years. D.J. Augustin, a midseason signing, has been quite the surprise and has given the Bulls a spark off the bench.
Unfortunately, that’s been pretty much it for the Windy City.
Carlos Boozer has alternated every month between a fairly good player and a mediocre one, while Mike Dunleavy and rookie Tony Snell have tried to make the most of their three-point opportunities.
Veteran point guard Kirk Hinrich is having his best season scoring in three years, but his shooting remains as inconsistent as it has been during those same seasons.
Add in Jimmy Butler’s injury-plagued campaign and struggling offense, and it’s really a surprise that Chicago has managed its current success.
So, how can these players step up and help the Bulls as the season starts to wind down?
Note: Stats gathered from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise stated. Stats accurate as of Feb. 26 before games were played.
Tony Snell’s perimeter shooting could be better, but in order for him to further help Chicago, he has to start working better inside the arc.
The former Lobo does a fairly decent job of attacking the rim when he has to, but he hasn’t shown the ability to finish at a high rate yet. His length allows him to finish around defenders sometimes, but without a go-to move, he's not very efficient.
The one thing he should work on is his floater.
Snell isn’t good inside the paint when he has to absorb contact or a big rotates in from the weak side, as he’s shooting 47.8 percent near the rim, per NBA.com.
However, if he can make his move prior to having bigs rotate on him, there’s a chance he could be better. On shots in the paint away from the rim, Snell shoots 52 percent, which is above league average.
Snell has had a bit of an up-and-down season, seeing inconsistent minutes and struggling offensively as he tries to acclimate himself to a new team.
Tom Thibodeau has shown trust in the first-round pick, and Snell has answered the call of duty thus far. But if Chicago wants to have success in the postseason, Snell will have to up his game.
Captain Kirk has already stepped up his game a bit, improving across the board in nearly every statistical category during February—most importantly in scoring—as he’s averaging close to 11 points per game.
His shooting has also significantly increased: It's over 40 percent from the field and over 35 percent from downtown in a full month for the first time this season.
That’s where Hinrich must maintain and improve his production. The Bulls severely need their three-point shooters to start knocking down shots.
With an offense that lacks a true scorer, the Bulls often rely on ball movement and cuts to the basket to score, but when defenses lock that down, Chicago can go on droughts for significant stretches. Having effective and efficient perimeter shooting could alleviate this problem and give the Bulls more room to work inside as the defense spreads out.
Hinrich must become a reliable option for the Bulls as spot-up shooter. He can drive to the basket only when he has a mismatch, and if his shot isn’t falling, he can sometimes become a liability offensively.
He’s been productive over the past few games, but as the Bulls go into the playoff stretch, it’s imperative that he remains consistent.
The Bulls signed Mike Dunleavy to add some three-point shooting, and while he’s done a solid job, it could be better.
The first thing that sticks out is Dunleavy’s percentage from the corner, specifically the right baseline. According to NBA.com, the former Blue Devil is shooting 18.5 percent from that spot, a huge drop from the 46 percent he shot last year with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Considering it’s the closest three on the court, there’s no reason a shooter of Dunleavy’s caliber should be struggling like that from the corner.
Overall, his outside shooting has been somewhat of a letdown compared to his performance last season.
While the three is Dunleavy’s main weapon, he’s been shooting the ball extremely well inside the arc off screens. He’s also shooting above the league average on three separate spots inside the arc, per NBA.com.
The Bulls’ focus should remain on getting the 12-year vet open looks from downtown. When the shots aren’t falling, though, they should look to work him inside the arc coming off screens—instead of going away from him completely—where he’s been the most effective all season long.
The third-year guard has fought through numerous injuries throughout the year, but even when healthy, he hasn’t been very effective.
Butler’s shot just hasn’t come along like many expected after he put on a great show at the tail end of the 2012-13 season, and his ability to get in the paint is limited by his lack of explosion and ball-handling skills.
The main thing Butler needs to work on is his jump shot; not just knocking it down but more on his mechanics. Butler has good form when he shoots, but his shot is extremely flat.
This is the same problem Derrick Rose had—and still does to a lesser extent—earlier in his career, especially with his three-point shot.
It’s hard to change the way one shoots in the middle of the season, but it’s something that would really help Butler improve his touch. It's all in the geometry: The higher the arc, the more space the ball has as it goes through the hoop on its way down.
If Butler can improve his shot, it will open up the rest of his offense, allowing him to attack the rim and get to the line more often.
The Marquette product will play a big role as the season comes to a close. Duplicating his end-of-the-season success from last year would surely give Chicago a boost in the standings.
Among all the injuries and the Luol Deng trade, Chicago has managed to stay afloat in the East. They’ve also done it with Boozer being one of the most inconsistent players on the roster.
Coming off his best month of the season in January, Boozer has entered yet another cold spell, averaging 12.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game on 41.5 percent shooting.
He just has to get back to basics, really.
His mid-range shot just hasn’t been there this season: On spot-up shots, the big man has shot 45 percent, per Synergy. It is, however, also hard to say he should start posting up more, as he’s shooting an abysmal 34 percent on post-up plays.
Still, that’s Boozer’s bread and butter.
His strength and quickness give him a rare combination of skill for his position, and he should be taking advantage of it every game. Chicago needs a go-to player in half-court sets, and the one Bull that can score on his own is Boozer.