A Friday night victory over a listless Pistons team may be the spark Chicago needs to turn its season around.
Despite the win, though, the Bulls looked every bit like a 5-11 squad for most of the game.
Anyway you cut it, the Bulls are a finesse, jump-shooting ball club. They took 80 field goal attempts Friday, making 35.
On those 80 attempts, Chicago shot 15-31 from close range, 8-15 from midrange, and 12-32 from long range (6-14 from three).
The problem with the Bulls isn’t necessarily where they're shooting from—it’s how they’re taking their shots.
15-31 from close range is a very disappointing statistic, especially when you consider that most of the makes were offensive putbacks or Andres Nocioni layups. The lion's share of Chicago’s close-range attempts came on low-percentage shots—contested drives, fadeaways from the post, or running layups.
Most telling was that most of Chicago’s attempts near the basket involved players moving away from the hoop. Nobody on the Bulls roster was athletic enough to consistently finish in traffic, nor was any Bulls player able to initiate offense from the post.
Only Nocioni (3-4 shooting) was able deliver inside. His aggressive drives also yielded seven free-throw attempts (of which he converted six), and he made two great passes from the high post to Joakim Noah on diagonal cuts against Detroit’s zone.
Noah went 4-7 from around the basket, with a putback and a fast-break dunk in addition to the two feeds from Nocioni. Not once did the rookie create his own points.
Chris Duhon (2-3) made several reckless forays towards the basket, but did manage to convert a couple of difficult layups.
The rest of the team went a combined 6-19 near the basket, including a handful of Joe Smith and Ben Wallace tip-ins, a nifty Kirk Hinrich wraparound pass to Wallace for a plus-one, a Ben Gordon plus-one in traffic, and a Luol Deng putback.
Of the lowlights, Gordon and Deng were both only 1-3 from below the basket, and one of Wallace’s dunk attempts was embarrassingly blocked by the rim.
And these are Chicago’s franchise players?
The Bulls were slightly more comfortable shooting from midrange and beyond. Deng was 7-13 from 10 feet and out, all four of Hinrich’s buckets came from on or near the perimeter, and Duhon and Nocioni each contributed a pair of three-pointers.
Still, Chicago’s offense wasn’t exactly torching the nets from outside.
On two separate occasions, Gordon and Hinrich unleashed pull-up jumpers that hit the side of the backboard. On two other separate occasions, Deng and Gordon had long jumpers blocked by Rasheed Wallace.
Because of Chicago’s inability to generate open looks off screens and cuts, the Bulls were often stuck with a forward on an elbow forced to put up a contested jumper as the shot clock expired.
The Bulls' staple offensive sequence starts with Kirk Hinrich feeding a forward at the elbow, then cutting to the basket. A wing then comes in for a handoff leading to a screen/roll. The set worked last year, because the Bulls had a handful of forwards who could set the screen, fake a handoff, then unleash an elbow jumper.
With deadeye big men like P.J. Brown and Malik Allen no longer on the roster, though, opponents can sag into the middle and choke off the screen/rolls .
Nor do the Bulls have a legitimate post-up threat.
Nor do Gordon, Deng, and Hinrich have the right combination of athleticism and strength to be true franchise players.
The Pistons more or less handed the Bulls the win Friday. Detroit was lethargic throughout, yielding 16 offensive rebounds in the first half—including eight for Smith and seven Wallace.
To their credit, the Pistons were able to abuse Hinrich, Duhon, and Gordon by forcing them to chase Rip Hamilton through screens, or or to defend the bigger Piston guards in the post.
Unfortunately, Flip Saunders used Chauncey Billups only sparingly in the post before the fourth quarter.
The only other positive for Chicago was Nocioni's ability to create his own offense at the 4—taking Antonio McDyess off the dribble, slipping screens for jump shots, and making timely passes for layups.
Maybe Gordon and Deng should be shipped out so Kobe Bryant can play around the No-man?
It couldn't hurt, because as it stands the Bulls lack the firepower to win games.
Hustle, energy, and ball movement can only take a team so far. In Chicago’s case, that "so far" looks like 13th place in the Eastern Conference.