3 things the Bulls learned from their surprising 2022 season

DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

1. Their offensive scheme can actually be a winning formula

Entering the year, there were a plethora of questions surrounding the way this Bulls team had been built. Could DeRozan still be an impactful acquisition in a 3-point-oriented era? Should a team with LaVine as a primary option really be considered a contender? Would the Bulls really be able to outgun other teams while playing minimal defense?

Departing from the strategy employed by former head coach Jim Boylen, the Bulls took a much more varied approach to their shot selection than we’ve seen in years past. As a result, the offense thrived while many players demonstrated marked improvement in their roles.

DeRozan in particular took great strides and enjoyed the best season of his entire career, despite being 32 years old and considered by many to be past his prime. DeRozan averaged a career-best 27.9 points while also pitching in 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per contest. Not only did his raw numbers go up, but so did his efficiency, as he hit 35.2% of his threes (also a career-best) and 50.4% of his field goals (the second-highest mark of his career).

This year the Bulls were a team that made an effort to space the floor, get out in transition, and encouraged pick-and-roll action. These were all things that played into DeRozan’s favor, as he actively fished out his spot on the court and would beat his defender more often than not. This was also the first time in DeRozan’s career where he was arguably not even the most gifted offensive player on the roster — that would be LaVine, depending on who you ask — and thus he was allowed to play with more freedom than ever before.

Unfortunately, we’d never get to see the star duo hit their full stride together, as LaVine’s season was derailed early and often by a series of setbacks. He played through a left thumb injury (which will require surgery), a left knee injury (which will also require surgery), and suffered through two bouts with COVID-19.

Despite all that, LaVine still managed to post 24.4 points per game on a hyper-efficient 60.5 true shooting percentage en route to his second-consecutive All-Star appearance. It’s hard not to imagine what this pairing will be capable of when they’re finally both up and running at 100%.

Perhaps what’s most indicative of the offensive scheme working well is that the rest of the team bought in and performed well. When evaluating the supporting cast of this year’s Bulls team, consider this: the average 3-point percentage among all players in the NBA was 35.4%. The Bulls only had seven players out of the 22 that suited up for the roster hit their threes at that league-average mark or higher. These players include:

  • Patrick Williams (51.7%), missed 65 of 82 games this season
  • Lonzo Ball (42.3%)missed 47 of 82 games this season
  • Zach LaVine (38.9%)
  • Coby White (38.5%)
  • Matt Thomas (38.5%)
  • Ayo Dosunmu (37.6%)only took 2.4 attempts per game
  • Javonte Green (35.6%)only took 1.6 attempts per game

So to put this all in context, 15 of the 22 players who played for the Bulls this season were below-average shooters. Two of the seven above-average shooters were unavailable for most of the season. Another two of the seven were just situational spot-up shooters. And then there’s Matt Thomas, who should probably never play another game for the Bulls again.

Despite all of this, Chicago still ranked FOURTH in the NBA in 3-point percentage, posting a 36.9% mark as a team. The system as currently constructed is clearly working, there’s just not enough talent to take full advantage of the good shot opportunities the Bulls are getting. Although Chicago was fourth percentage-wise, they attempted the least 3-point shots in the entire league. This is a massive missed opportunity that’s expected to be corrected in the offseason.

With a starting five of Ball, LaVine, DeRozan, Williams, and Vucevic, the Bulls appear locked in to run it back next year. Don’t be mistaken, that’s a good thing! The Bulls have arranged the pieces they need to win a lot of games, but addressing the significant lack of shooting and size on the bench may ultimately determine just how high Chicago can climb on the Eastern Conference totem pole.