Nearly one year ago to the day, things couldn’t have been better for the Chicago Bulls. After knocking off the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards in back-to-back games with a pair of game-winning shots from DeMar DeRozan on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the general feeling amongst the fanbase couldn’t have been happier as the Bulls raced to secure first place in the Eastern Conference.
Oh, how quickly things can change.
Just shy of one year later, the Bulls are limping into a calendar change with a miserable 14-19 record and little hope of a return to prominence in an Eastern Conference that has only gotten better since Chicago was booted from the playoffs in a succinct 5 games.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t still a path to improving this team, however, as I believe we now have a large enough sample size to lock in on what ailments are hurting the Chicago Bulls. If they can hone in on these select few issues, there remains hope the Bulls can make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2014-15.
If the Chicago Bulls wish to get things back on track as 2023 is set to kick off, they’ll have to prioritize these 2 crucial goals.
1. Chicago Must Commit to the 3-Ball
No matter how many times Billy Donovan insists this team will put more emphasis on 3-point shooting moving forward, nothing ever seems to change. The Bulls are once again dead last in three-point attempts per game and 27th in makes. It’s now been 9 games since the last time the Bulls made more threes and a whopping 15 games since they attempted more shots from beyond the arc than their opponent.
That game took place over a month ago, on November 25 against Oklahoma City. More than enough time has since passed to make the necessary adjustments. I understand that losing Lonzo Ball has been a detriment in this area, but it’s not as though the Bulls’ are lacking the personnel to shoot the ball at a league-average rate.
Zach LaVine is currently the only member of the Bulls attempting on average at least five shots from deep. Coby White is next up, with a career-low 4.7 attempts per game. Nikola Vucevic, Goran Dragic, and Alex Caruso have all seen their shot quantity take a significant dip since coming to Chicago. Just about the only player showing positive development on that end is Patrick Williams, which indicates this is a gameplan and coaching issue, rather than the players on this roster becoming allergic to three-point shots overnight.
Even the 27-win Bulls squad in 2017-18 played a better brand of basketball, taking more threes per game with five players reaching that mark of five attempts per game rather than just one. Until the Bulls prove they can become a legitimate threat from beyond the arc, they can’t be taken seriously as a truly dangerous team in the modern NBA.
2. Small Ball Might be the Answer
Billy Donovan has made quite a few questionable lineup decisions this year, including but not limited to: running three-guard lineups, featuring the defensively-weak pairing of LaVine and DeRozan at both forward spots, and employing the 6-foot-5 Derrick Jones Jr. as a small ball center. And as much as I hate to admit it, it seems to be… working?
Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz makes an interesting observation about the Bulls in a recent article, noting that small ball seems to actually be the more effective strategy for Chicago thus far this season.
"“As much as the Bulls would love to see third-year forward Patrick Williams develop into a star, they are getting beat by 9.8 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor this season (14th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass).The Bulls have been far better with Williams on the bench and utilizing a smaller lineup with LaVine and DeRozan lined up at the two forward positions.With LaVine and DeRozan at forward, Chicago has a net rating of plus-12.9 in 206 possessions (97th percentile). When using a more traditional lineup with both on the wing and two big men, this number plummets to minus-5.0 (24th percentile)."
Looking at the big picture, this all makes a bit of sense, despite its unconventional nature. Across the NBA, the Bulls rank 29th in second-chance points, 26th in rebounds (both total and offensive), and 21st in points in the paint. Even with the 6-foot-10 Nikola Vucevic being the third-highest-paid player on the roster, the Bulls are simply atrocious down on the low block. When you remove the traditional big man from the equation and let the team run and gun, Chicago looks far more dangerous.
The results speak for themselves, Chicago is 13th in fast break points despite missing their primary playmaker in transition and the fact their star player is a ball-stopper who prefers to take things slowly. Instead of trying to patch holes in a sinking ship, the Chicago Bulls would be wiser to play to their strengths and emphasize the skills that make them a glass cannon capable of beating anyone on a good night.