It was very easy to point out what the Chicago Bulls were doing right during their five-game losing streak. That’s mostly because there wasn’t much good to cling to. Poor defense and taking tough shots have been a staple of this team all season.
That skid was the result of those shots not falling. But they’ve won two straight now following a surprising 102-96 win over the Celtics and have seemingly found a rhythm again.
Chicago (unofficially) transitioned to an offense that was designed to play from the outside-in to one that is better suited to work inside-out. To be perfectly honest, they were always better off working from paint to perimeter. But Jim Boylen’s staff eliminated the mid-range and had guys like Thad Young camped out at the three-point line.
Nikola Vucevic gives the Bulls a reliable presence inside they haven’t had since Pau Gasol. It took Zach LaVine missing time going through health and safety protocols, but they finally decided to run the offense through Vuc.
Over the last two games, Vucevic has averaged 27.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists while shooting over 57 percent from the floor and over 54 percent from three. In the five games Chicago has won with him, he’s put up 26.0 points and 10.4 boards and slashed .533/.500/.800. In losses, though, it was 21.7 points (on 49.4 and 44.7 percent shooting) and 9.6 boards.
In no uncertain terms, the Bulls win when Vucevic is the primary option.
Where it gets really interesting is the shot attempts for Vucevic in wins are nearly identical to LaVine’s in losses and vice versa. It’s been 21 shots for Vooch and 17 for LaVine in the five wins. LaVine led the team with 21.1 attempts to Vooch’s 17.1 in the nine losses (seven with LaVine).
We talked about there being a sort of power struggle on the floor. The numbers show exactly that. And, believe it or not, the Bulls stats in wins and losses since the deadline have been very similar.
What the Chicago Bulls are finally doing right?
They average 111.6 points, 44.8 rebounds, and 30.4 assists with 13.6 turnovers in their post-deadline wins. In the losses, it’s 107.1 points per game, 42.2 rebounds, and 27.7 assists with 13.2 turnovers. They’re (obviously) more efficient in wins, but the attempts are also close with the Bulls averaging 86.2 field goal attempts (31.2 three-point attempts) in the wins, and 90.3 field goal attempts (32.4 three-point attempts) in the losses.
The turnovers might be the most surprising similarity. But even the slight differences in the other categories show just how close they were and why some of the losses were so frustrating.
Naturally, the pleasant turn of events has brought LaVine into the focus as many point out the team has played better without him. This statement is true but should be taken in a more literal sense. They did not play poorly because of him and much of what they’ve done in his absence is what many have been calling for the entire time.
This is more about the team’s approach. Playing through Vuc is a coach’s decision and should have been made upon his arrival. Given their (usual) inability to stop anyone on the defensive end, it makes sense to slow things down and play through the post.
Lauri Markkanen and Coby White have stepped up as well; something that was missing since both were basically told they weren’t in the Bulls’ plans.
Yes, there are more shots to go around without Zach but those two, in particular, have the skill sets to be aggressive with their offense. Neither brings much outside of their scoring either so they must bring it every night.
Players have been cutting to the basket and being decisive in every facet the last two games. This includes on the defensive end where Jayson Tatum made mention of the Bulls’ effort.
Which part of this can’t happen when LaVine returns?
The Bulls played winning basketball with LaVine after the deadline. Billy Donovan and the rest of the roster were forced to adjust again after their typical downfall of “watch Zach” became “watch Zach and Vooch”.
This team truly needs all hands on deck most nights though and that includes the head coach. LaVine has to realize this and defer to Vuc more often than not. Donovan has to know his team doesn’t have a point guard and run his offense through his multi-time All-Star big man. The “other guys” have to maintain their aggression level and not become statues on offense.
Boston was short-handed and Cleveland is, well, Cleveland. But those were both the types of games the Bulls were losing just a few nights prior. And everything the Bulls have done in the past two games can be repeated.
Complimentary basketball has to be the name of the game. When the Bulls play it they win. When they don’t the results are ugly. Go figure.