Chicago Bulls fans have heard every narrative about their offseason by now, from high praise to low blows. Shaquille O’Neal recently said he thinks they’ll make noise. But many in the media have been more skeptical, citing spacing and defensive concerns. They are valid concerns but are only painting you one specific picture.
The same goes for the positive, though, that often can oversimplify things like their fit on the floor and chemistry in the locker room.
The latter will not be an issue. Several key players, including Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, have already been working out together; nearly three weeks before training camp. As for on the floor? Quietly, the Bulls have two of the league’s best players in the clutch.
Chicago Bulls wings Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan did damage in the clutch last season
NBA.com defines “clutch” time as five minutes or fewer remaining in a game with a point differential of five or less. Last season, LaVine and DeRozan finished tied for sixth in the NBA with 4.4 clutch points per game. They are currently the only team to roster two players in the top-10, with Denver’s Nikola Jokic (11th) just missing the cut to join teammate Jamal Murray.
To find a team with more, you have to expand it to the top-20. The Brooklyn Nets then become the only team with three such players. You can probably guess who.
While they coincidentally scored the same amount of points on average, they certainly weren’t the same in getting there. LaVine was the better deep-range marksman (as you probably could have guessed) shooting just 26.3 percent to DeRozan’s 20.0 percent.
That LaVine has the edge with such low efficiency screams all of the woes the pundits have warned about.
But DeRozan was still the more efficient scorer overall; shooting 45.2 percent from the floor compared to 39.1 percent for LaVine. And DeRozan, who finished fifth among forwards in assists per game (depending on how you categorize Luka Doncic) will surely be able to find LaVine, who shot 48.6 percent on catch & shoot threes, on the perimeter.
It does need to be said that neither DeRozan nor LaVine had stellar assist numbers in the clutch. That’s mostly because they were the guys the ball was supposed to go to in those situations.
We’re still technically in “wait-and-see” mode since they have yet to actually play together. But they should each be able to do what they do best. Nikola Vucevic is also an adept passer, finishing sixth among centers with 3.8 assists per game.
This isn’t a tell-all and surely won’t sway staunch detractors. But the Bulls, who went 14-21 in “clutch” games last season, look to have themselves a pair of closers.