Who Will Be Chicago Bulls' Playoff X-Factor?

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Who Will Be Chicago Bulls' Playoff X-Factor?
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Mike Dunleavy has a chance to put his stamp on the 2014 playoffs for Chicago.

There’s always a player who can swing a playoff series. For the Chicago Bulls, it is Mike Dunleavy.

It’s essential that Chicago's three-point shooting is at its best, and that's where the veteran marksman comes in.

Dunleavy has shown before that he can be an efficient shooter.

In 2012-13 with the Milwaukee Bucks, he shot nearly 43 percent from three, the eighth-best mark that season. For Chicago this year, D.J. Augustin was the only player to surpass the 40 percent mark from three; Dunleavy was second on the team with 38 percent.

The Bulls shot 34.8 percent from downtown this season, 24th in the league. But history has shown perimeter shooting is nearly essential to playoff success. 

Since 2004, seven of the 10 champions have ranked among the top five in postseason three-point shooting percentage, per Basketball-Reference.

The 2006 Miami Heat and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers are two of the teams that didn't, but both teams had top-notch inside presences with Shaquille O’Neal for Miami and Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in L.A.

Seeing as how Chicago lacks a true force inside, it will need to start converting on its long-range shots if it wants to make a deep run.

 

Three-Point Shooting

Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Dunleavy's perimeter shooting can take the Bulls a long way.

During Game 1, Dunleavy struggled in the first half, scoring zero points and missing all five of his shots. However, he started the third quarter by making four of five shots (three from long range), scoring 11 points in roughly five minutes.

It's this kind of hot streak that can make a drastic change.

Dunleavy's scoring burst helped give the Bulls a 10-point lead, and although they lost that lead—and eventually the game—it’s the kind of spark the Bulls need to tip the scales in their favor.

This wasn't the only time Dunleavy caught fire and helped the Bulls gain some separation.

Against the Houston Rockets on March 13, Dunleavy entered the second half and scored 18 of his 21 points in the third quarter alone, helping Chicago gain a 27-point lead to end the third quarter and essentially putting a nail in the coffin for the Rockets.

What the Bulls have to do is put Dunleavy in the right spots.

The left wing and corner have been his best spots percentage-wise from downtown, shooting 43 percent or better from each spot. The right wing has also yielded good results, with Dunleavy knocking down 40.5 percent of threes from there, per NBA.com.

Dunleavy was initially signed by Chicago to be a reserve, but after a couple of significant roster changes, he was forced into the starting lineup where he played 61 games.

There's no doubt that Dunleavy can take on a challenge; becoming a key scorer will just have to be another one.

 

All-Around Game

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Dunleavy's effectiveness in the paint could be a decent weapon.

Dunleavy doesn't just bring perimeter shooting, though. He has also shown some versatility this season, as he's been able to put the ball on the floor and score by attacking the rim.

During the regular season, the former Blue Devil shot 53 percent inside the paint, which is right around the league average. Also, of the five players on the roster with over 100 drives to the basket, he’s the third most efficient, converting on 39.4 percent of his attempts, per NBA.com.

Now, this isn't to say Chicago should run isolations for Dunleavy.

However, giving him some brush screens on handoffs or allowing some space for him to attack the rim when he comes off picks could prove to be effective.

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According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Dunleavy scores nearly one point per play on handoffs and as he's coming off screens, ranking him 32nd and 76th in the league, respectively.

He has great size for his position and is deceptively quick and crafty when he puts the ball on the floor. His size and length make it hard to block his shots, as he's shown with sky hooks and floaters he's taken while driving across the paint.

The Bulls' biggest problem in Game 1 was scoring late in the fourth quarter. With both Carlos Boozer and Dunleavy on the bench, Chicago was left with very limited scoring options.

ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell believes that if there are going to be changes to the lineups, Dunleavy figures to be a candidate for more minutes, especially during crunch time.

Dunleavy has to execute both facets of his game to perfection. He has to keep defenders honest by both attacking the rim and taking the three when possible. A shooter of his caliber also should not hesitate, which is something he—and many Bulls players the past few years—have constantly done.

Three-point shooting will be key, and if Dunleavy catches fire soon, it will certainly take the Bulls deep into the postseason.

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