Weekend Trends: Ugly Advanced Metrics Plague Early Season Chicago Bulls

CHICAGO, USA - OCTOBER 26: John Collins (2) of Atlanta Hawks in action during the NBA game between Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks at the United Center on October 26, 2017 in Chicago, United States. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, USA - OCTOBER 26: John Collins (2) of Atlanta Hawks in action during the NBA game between Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks at the United Center on October 26, 2017 in Chicago, United States. (Photo by Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) /

Say what you’d like about advanced metrics, but the Chicago Bulls’ tank is statistically more than on pace.

Yesterday, I spent some time looking in the Bulls’ basketball reference page, looking for any trends present through the first six games. The quick, sweeping analysis shows that the Bulls are a resoundingly 1-5 team in the early heat of the tank.

Before we dive into some of the advanced numbers, it’s worth noting the low-scoring trend of the Bulls. While they rank 8th in opponent scoring, averaging 101.2 PPG, they’re dead-last in the NBA in scoring, averaging just 90 PPG.

Ranking 30th in offensive rating at 94.2, several Bulls have continuously struggled on the offensive side of the floor.

Cristiano Felicio, who signed a four-year, $32 million deal in the offseason, has been particularly bad. Felicio leads the team in turnover percentage, losing the ball on 27.2-percent of his touches. Furthermore, his offensive box plus/minus (while not the worst on the team) sit at -5.4.

Let’s stick to the offense, where the Bulls look sloppy and slow

Denzel Valentine’s counting stats aren’t exactly world beating, but his advanced numbers induce a cringe. Although his 20.5-usage-percentage is fairly average, his 7.7 player efficiency rating is low. Additionally, his true shooting percentage is an uninspiring 42.8-percent. Those numbers fit a sloppy bench player, not a guy who went in the first round last year.

As a team playing in a high-velocity era NBA, the Bulls rank 27th in the league in pace. You’d hope the team will speed-up when Zach LaVine returns to play, but for now, it’s not exactly a fast-moving train.

In the absence of LaVine, the Bulls are looking everywhere for consistency, which they can’t seem to find on this roster.

Averaging just 6 fastbreak PPG, this offense is nonexistent in transition, which is 29th in the NBA. Part of the problem has been sloppy play in transition, accounting for some of the Bulls 16.5 turnovers a night, ranking 23rd in the league.

This is a pretty good explanation as to the statistical struggles of the Bulls three-prong point guard attack. Kay Felder, Kris Dunn, and Jerian Grant rank among the worst Bulls in a few key categories (Grant’s been slightly better, but we’ll get there).

The trio have turned the ball over far too frequently and that’s clearly hurting the team. Kris Dunn, although he’s played just two games, has an atrocity of a  26.6-percentage turnover percentage. Simply put, that number has to go down. Meanwhile, Felder is at 20.6-percent and Grant sits at 15.8-percent.

In order to be better, Kay Felder and Kris Dunn need to provide more effective minutes. 

Maybe I should give Jerian Grant a little more credit. The 25-year-old has been resoundingly average in his first season named the opening day starter at point guard. His offensive box plus/minus ranks fourth on the team at -1.4, which is not terrible for a struggling team. His usage also sits at 17.4-percent, which is low for a point guard, meaning he’s distributing fairly well.

I can’t give the same credit to Felder and Dunn, who’ve commanded the rock during their minutes, despite lower payoff. Felder (30.4-percent) and Dunn (28.5-percent) rank 2nd and 3rd on the team in usage, behind Antonio Blakeney, who’s played just one game.

Felder’s offensive box plus/minus, at -5.9, might explain his 12.6 minutes per game, which ranks 11-out-of-13 on the roster. However, Dunn’s -8.5 clip is very terrible for a guy who’s seeing 26 minutes per contest. Furthermore, the tandem accounts for some terrible true shooting percentage clips, with Dunn at 38.2-percent and Kay Felder at 38.8-percent.

While the point guards have struggled, the starting big men actually look quite competent 

The narrative through the early portion shows a story of an overall crumby roster alongside rookie Lauri Markkanen’s success. However, veteran Robin Lopez is quietly having a very impressive start to the 2017-2018 season himself.

The two rank second and third on the team in player efficiency rating (below Antonio Blakeney, who’s numbers are inflated by a single minute of playing time) with Lopez at 19.3 and Markkanen at 17.6. Those are really good marks, considering the league average of 15.

According to ESPN’s Hollinger Statistics, Markkanen ranks fifth among rookies in the category, but plays more minutes than all above him aside from Ben Simmons (who you should watch if you have some time, that guy is incredible).

Markkanen, who was panned out of college for his lack-of-strength, has been really awesome on the glass. His rebounding percentage sits 14.5-percent, which is second best on the team.

He also owns a stellar 105 defensive rating, which ranks fourth on the team. I’d like to see how that looks when the Bulls see a team like New Orleans (who own bigs Boogie Cousins and Anthony Davis), but hey, it’s a really inspiring start.

While RoLo’s been less-impressive on defensive end, he’s tied with Markkanen for third on the team with an offensive rating of 110, both of which are very solid clips. It’s unsurprising that the two, again, are atop the team the third (Markkanen at 59.8-percent) and fourth (Lopez at 55.1-percent) best true shooting percentages.

Other surprising takeaways from the nerdy side of the basketball world

Much to my surprise, Paul Zipser looks terribly ineffective thus far, even from the eye test perspective. His -6.3 box plus/minus is terrible, as is his 25.1-turnover-percentage. Zipser’s atrocious 3.4 player efficiency rating, especially when considering his 8.5 clip last year.

Zipser, who started opening night, is now coming off the bench, where he may be able to right the ship.

On the other end of the boat, preseason waiver claim David Nwaba is off to an awesome start. Earning Zipser’s spot in the starting line-up (which he will patrol again tonight against Orlando), Nwaba sits pretty with a 14.6 player efficiency rating.

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Nwaba’s intensity on the defensive end of the floor is really helping the team, with a 2.7 defensive box plus/minus, trailing just Kris Dunn (3.9) on the team. David Nwaba also owns the glass, owning a 15.7-rebound-percentage.

So, the takeaway is a total showing of major downs with some decent ups. It’ll be interesting to track the offense as the season goes on, but for now, it’s a pretty rough area for the Baby Bulls. However, the defense perhaps looks a little better than expected.