Chicago Bulls: 3-point shooting a reason to be optimistic

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 08: Denzel Valentine
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 08: Denzel Valentine /

The Chicago Bulls shot a lot of 3-pointers in the preseason. That’s not something we’re used to seeing. Is it a step in the right direction for the organization?

Apart from meeting in the finals for three straight seasons, what else do the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors have in common? They were both two of the best 3-point shooting teams in the NBA last season. 

Not only were they efficient when they shoot 3-pointers, but they shot a whole lot of them as well. And then … there’s the Chicago Bulls.

The Bulls shot just 22.3 3s per game and connected on just 34 percent of them; both of those numbers were in the bottom five of the league. It’s no wonder they were so mediocre.

In the 2012-13 season, the Splash Brothers enjoyed their first healthy season together in Oakland and James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets, putting Daryl Morey’s patented “Moreyball” on center stage.

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Since then, the 3-point shot has been the craze of the league. Guys like LaVar Ball are training their children to routinely pull up from 30+ feet. The Rockets jacked 40 triples per game on their way to one of the league’s best offenses.

Yet while the whole NBA has been zigging, the Bulls have been zagging. Last offseason, they brought in notable non-shooters Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to play alongside another non-shooter in Jimmy Butler.

“There’s more than just shooting threes,” Jimmy Butler told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune after the signings. 

Correct. There is a whole lot more than just shooting 3s. But it can certainly make an offense so much better. Or, it could make the life of a slasher like Jimmy Butler so much easier.

Now, all three of those guys are gone and if preseason shot selection is any indication, the Bulls are finally set to catch up to the rest of the NBA. Over the course of six preseason games, they shot over 34 threes per game, a figure that would have ranked second in the NBA last year to only the Houston Rockets.

This wasn’t without results, either. As a team, the Bulls shot 80-of-205 from downtown. That’s 39 percent, a figure that would have ranked them with the league’s elite shooting teams like the Warriors and Cavs last season.

This revolution has been led by Denzel Valentine, the Bulls lottery pick from last year, and newcomer Justin Holiday. Valentine shot 16-for-34, a near 50 percent clip, while Holiday was 19-of-36.

Everyone’s favorite, Nikola Mirotic, went 10-of-30 from downtown, while rookie Lauri Markkanen finished off his preseason by shooting 7-of-12 from deep his last two games. Throw in Jerian Grant and Paul Zipser alongside those guys and the Bulls have a few guys who are capable shooting from 3. Even Bobby Portis is kind of, sort of shooting confidently.

I’m not saying this is going to yield some crazy results. I don’t even know if this is going to continue into the regular season.

Let’s get one thing straight: the Bulls are still going to be bad. Like, really bad. And for now, that’s probably a good thing.

With that being said, the ball stoppers are gone. All three of Wade, Rondo and Butler needed the ball to be effective. And that’s fine when you have one, maybe two of those guys. Having three of them means the ball freezes in the hands of 60 percent of your starting lineup.

As a team, the Bulls averaged a bit over 22 assists per game last season. That was 14th in the NBA, right in the middle of the pack. In the preseason, the new look Bulls are averaging over 26 assists per game. That might not seem like a huge increase, but it’s monumental when you consider that it would have upped the Bulls all the way to second in the league in assists last season, behind only the Golden State Warriors.

Fred Hoiberg hasn’t impressed much of anybody over his first two seasons as head coach. Perhaps he finally has a young team that’s willing to buy into his system. The Bulls’ front office never really equipped Hoiberg with the weapons he had at Iowa State. While there’s still not much talent on this squad, a team willing to zip the ball around the court could be beneficial for him and his system.

Next: Don't get your hopes up, the Bulls will be awful

Again, they’ll still be pretty close to the worst team in the NBA. It’s just refreshing to see a historically inept front office finally catch up with the rest of the NBA. It’s no coincidence that most of the best teams in the league find themselves atop the list of 3-point shooting now. Maybe, just maybe, this front office realizes that this is their path back to relevance.