Although they’ve clinched a playoff spot, the Chicago Bulls must make a few improvements in order to make a deep run.
There’s a zero percent chance of them winning a championship. However, they’re more than capable of getting past the first round and giving either the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers a tough series during the conference finals.
The Derrick Rose- and Luol Deng-less Bulls own a 45-32 record and are currently the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed. They’ve impressively won 11 of their last 15 games, beating both the mighty Heat and Pacers during that period.
Defense certainly hasn’t been a problem for the Bulls. Coached by defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, this overachieving group allows only 91.6 points per contest, leading the entire Association.
Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson serve as sensational interior defenders, while Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich can lock down scorers on the perimeter.
Perhaps that’s the main reason the Bulls have stayed relevant despite the losses of Rose and Deng.
Their play on the defensive end obviously isn’t a weakness. So what are some areas Chicago must work on for the postseason?
Cut Down Turnovers
The Bulls aren’t necessarily horrific when it comes to turnovers. They currently rank 14th in that department (14.1 per game), which is middle of the pack.
Yet, there have been games this season in which they made a ton of costly turnovers.
Their March 96-80 loss to the Brooklyn Nets is a prime example. In that particular contest, the Bulls turned the ball over a ridiculous 25 times, and Brooklyn scored 30 points off those mistakes.
Chicago trailed only 80-71 midway through the fourth quarter. But after Jimmy Butler’s carrying violation, the Nets would respond with an 8-0 run and never looked back.
Gibson was frustrated with the smorgasbord of turnovers, via K.C Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
“We had too many. It seemed like every time we tried to make our normal pass, it was getting deflected, bobbled. It was a frustrating night. We just have to put it behind us.”
Brooklyn could very well be Chicago's first-round opponent this year. If so, let’s hope the Bulls can keep better control of the ball during the series.
Shooting was an issue last season, and nothing has changed much this year. Chicago is shooting just 43.1 percent from the field, including 34.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Butler has hit only 28 percent of his long-range attempts, which isn’t great, especially for a shooting guard.
D.J. Augustin and Mike Dunleavy have emerged as the team’s two best three-point threats, shooting 41.6 and 37.2 percent, respectively. Both players have what it takes to light it up on occasion.
Here’s Augustin nailing six treys vs. the Charlotte Bobcats:
The former Texas star has hit at least four threes 14 times this season, while Dunleavy has hit the mark on five occasions.
Chicago will need Augustin and Dunleavy as well as players like Hinrich and rookie Tony Snell to shoot well during the postseason. Maybe Thibodeau should find more minutes for Jimmer Fredette, who shot 49 percent from deep with the Sacramento Kings earlier this season.
While the Bulls defense is truly elite, their scoring isn’t so great. Averaging a measly 93.4 points, they rank dead last in the league, even worst than the lowly Milwaukee Bucks. “Yikes” is the best word to describe this.
Of course, it’s pretty difficult to put points on the board when both Rose and Deng aren’t in the mix.
“Super sub” Augustin serves as the team’s leading scorer, putting up 14.6 points a night. He has several big-time performances under his belt, but the Bulls need others to step up as well if they want to make noise during the playoffs.
It’s imperative that players like Carlos Boozer and Dunleavy help out more in the scoring department, as both are capable of 20-point nights.
Bleacher Report's Haddon Anderson made some nice points concerning the Bulls offense, or lack thereof:
The primary concern for the Bulls come the playoffs is the heightened defensive intensity from every ballclub. Chicago is already limited offensively, and with more defensive energy come playoff time, they should really struggle to generate points.
Because of this, there's a good chance the Bulls bow out of the playoffs early, losing in the first round to a team like the Washington Wizards or Brooklyn Nets. Their defense could be superb, but they may only produce 80 or so PPG. This is highly problematic.
It would become even more of an issue in the second round, if the Bulls squeak past their first-round opponent. Indiana and Miami are both stellar defensive units, and each also has more offensive weapons than the Bulls, especially the Heat.
While the Bulls could steal a game in such a matchup (like they did in Game 1 against Miami last spring), they would "shock the world" if they won a seven-game series against one of these foes. They just don't have the firepower to keep pace.
The Bulls have scored over 100 points in three of their last five games. They’ll need performances like that in order to upset Miami or Indiana.
All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com and accurate as of April 6, 2014.