5 Reasons for the Chicago Bulls' Recent Surge on Offense

Micky ShakedContributor IIIMarch 6, 2014

Chicago Bulls from left: Chicago Bulls power forward Taj Gibson (22), Chicago Bulls shooting guard Kirk Hinrich (12) ans Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) in the second half of an NBA basketball game  Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in Atlanta. Chicago won 107-103. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/Associated Press

Here's one you probably haven't heard in a while: the Chicago Bulls are winning games with their offense.

RT @KCJHoop: This is the first time under Tom Thibodeau that the Bulls have scored 100 or more points in four straight regulation games.

— ChicagoSports (@ChicagoSports) March 2, 2014

I repeat. The Bulls are winning games with their offense.

In nine games since the All-Star Game, Chicago is 7-2 and averaging 99.2 points a night. While that number may only be 23rd in the NBA, it represents a significant improvement on their league-worst 92.3 points per game before the break.

Thibs was asked what the Bulls can do to fix the offense: He responded quickly: "Score."

— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) February 11, 2014

Adjusting for the Bulls' dreadfully slow pace, their offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) went from 97.7 in the first 52 games of the season to 105.6 in the last nine. That's 16th in the NBA, which means their offense has been average!

Take away two ugly losses to Miami and Brooklyn—in which Chicago managed just 79 and 80 points, respectively—and the picture looks even better. Tied for the most wins since the break, the Bulls have made scoring triple digits a normal part of their repertoire.

The Bulls have averaged 105 points per in those seven wins (failing to reach 100 just once), on par with high-powered offenses like Oklahoma City, Phoenix and Miami.

Here are five big reasons for the recent scoring explosion by one of the league's hardest offenses to watch.

 

Joakim Noah's Playmaking

Joakim Noah's pre- and post-All-Star splits don't look terribly different. Noah is scoring less than a point more and dishing out over two more assists while grabbing about half a rebound less per game since the break.

The big plays are still there; he made two crucial steals in the final minute to preserve a victory over Atlanta and made a key fourth-quarter block on Samuel Dalembert in a win over Dallas.

But it's the box scores that paint a clearer picture. In nine games since the break, Noah has already recorded two triple-doubles and flirted with two or three more.

And while it seems that a different Bull leads the team in scoring every game, Noah has maintained a high level of consistent play in this recent offensive outburst. In those six wins Chicago reached triple digits, Noah was up to 12.5 points, 12 rebounds and 7.3 assists and going to the line four times a night.

Triple-doubles in NBA this season: • Lance Stephenson: 4 • Joakim Noah: 3 • Steph Curry: 3 • Kevin Durant: 2 • LeBron James: 0

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 6, 2014

More than his tenacious defense and rebounding, which has always been there, Noah's role as the offense's focal point makes the Bulls click. D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich may play the point guard position for Chicago, but the former is shoot-first while the latter lacks true floor command.

SB Nation's Mike Prada shed light on the emergence of Noah the playmaker:

His transformation began last year when Tom Thibodeau rejiggered the team's offense to use Noah's passing skills more with Rose out, but it has ascended to another level this season without Deng.

Simply put, Noah's passing is the Bulls' offense. The Bulls are nearly seven points better per 100 possessions with Noah in the game, going from a respectable unit to the worst in the league when he sits.

Noah's per-game assist numbers since All-Star Weekend rank 16th in the league and are the most among frontcourt players. And it's been happening most of the year, too:

RT @JeffGurt: Joakim Noah has 20 games of 6+ assists this season. All other centers in the NBA combined have 18 such games.

— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) March 3, 2014

Mix all the elements together and Noah has entered himself in the MVP race in the minds of a few writers.

Joakim Noah deserves to be third in the MVP vote, @royceyoung says: http://t.co/rTJsPWjgze

— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 5, 2014

 

Joakim Noah could be elbowing his way into the league MVP debate. http://t.co/QiwP3tMZOF

— Sam Smith (@SamSmithHoops) March 4, 2014

 

Winning the First Half

A team that doesn't score a lot of points generally doesn't score a lot of points in any particular portion of a game. This holds true for Chicago in the first quarters and first halves of games.

Before the All-Star break, the Bulls trailed at halftime in 26 of their 52 games. Despite being the stingiest first-quarter defense (22.6 points allowed), they managed just 23.6 points in that opening period themselves.

Since then, Chicago is up to 24.7 first-quarter points and led at halftime in six of their seven wins.

And Chicago has managed to actually put games away in the first twelve minutes, the team's 10.4 net rating in the first half of games since All-Star Weekend is fifth best in the league.

This includes opening up and holding onto double-digit leads over Denver and New York. And though trailing Golden State after one quarter, they built a ten-point lead halfway into the second en route to a 20-point blowout.

 

Timely Contributions

Noah has messed around and got two triple-doubles in three games. He's playing some of the best overall basketball in the league and is a big reason Chicago has the third seed in the Eastern Conference in their sights.

As cliche as it sounds, Noah can't do it all by himself. And he isn't.

In amassing a 7-2 record over the last nine games it seems each member of the Bulls' rotation has either stepped up their overall level of play or made a key play late in a game to preserve the win. 

Hinrich hit six free throws in the final minute against Atlanta to hold on for a 107-103 win.

Augustin sank three fourth-quarter threes and Hinrich hit jumper with 41 seconds left in the game to preserve a narrow lead over Toronto.

Tony Snell scored 10 second-quarter points to keep Denver out of reach.

When Augustin went cold for two games, failing to reach double-digits against Golden State and Dallas, his teammates picked up the slack. Taj Gibson led Chicago in scoring with 21 points in their big win over the Warriors and Mike Dunleavy hit a go-ahead three-pointer in a come-from-behind victory against the Mavericks.

Since returning from a two-game absence from a rib injury, Jimmy Butler has been a new player offensively. He's averaging 17 points and just over nine free throw attempts in the last five games.

Four different players have led the team in scoring in these last seven wins, none of them coming from Noah or Butler.

 

Controlling the Glass

Chicago is one of the NBA's premier rebounding teams and that is no secret, at plus-4.2 they have the third best differential.

The last nine games have seen that number balloon to plus-9.1, as Chicago is allowing the second fewest rebounds (37.6) to opponents. Grabbing all those boards has helped the Bulls limit teams to a 23.7 percent offensive rebound rate and 11.7 second-chance points.

On the other end, they have the third best offensive rebound rate (30.3 percent) and are scoring the sixth most second-chance points (15.4).

 

Maintaining Defensive Excellence

The Bulls haven't surrendered any of their defensive efficiency throughout this scoring explosion. They are still holding teams to 92.3 points and opponents are now shooting just 32.5 percent from three.

In fact, this current run wouldn't be possible without Chicago's patented "heart, hustle and muscle" defense. Noah and the rest of the bigs are top-five in both attempts allowed and field goal percentage in the restricted area.

Clogging the middle so effectively is leading Chicago's opponents to take the second most mid-range jumpers against them, and they're going in just 37.6 percent of the time.

There's no other way to describe Coach Thibodeau's defense:

The Bulls' defense just drains you of your soul.

— Jason Patt (@Bulls_Jay) March 1, 2014

Here, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah make game-saving defensive plays against the Raptors and Hawks:

Though it's been a foregone conclusion for months that the Pacers and Heat will duke it out for a spot in the NBA Finals, Chicago's newly found ability to score should give one of these teams a run for the money in the second round of the playoffs. 

 

Note: All stats provided by NBA.com and current as of March 6, 2014.