Bulls

Four Factors: How do the Bulls stack up against the East?

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Four Factors: How do the Bulls stack up against the East?

Statistician Dean Oliver is credited with identifying the Four Factors of Basketball Success, or put simply the four possession-based statistics he believed most accurately determined how teams won basketball game. Within these advanced statistics are shooting (40 percent), turnovers (25%), rebounding (20%) and free throws (15%). And with the Bulls ready to begin their seventh straight postseason, we took a look at where Tom Thibodeau's group stacks up against the rest of the Eastern Conference in these four categories.

Effective field goal percentage (FG + 0.5*3 FG/FGA)

On offense

East ranks: 1. Atlanta (52.7%) 2. Cleveland (52.0%) 3. Toronto (50.8%) 4. Milwaukee (49.9%) 5. Washington (49.9%) 6. Brooklyn (49.1%) 7. Chicago (48.9%) 8. Boston (48.9%)

If there's one area that's going to cripple the Bulls this postseason it's their inefficiency from the field. It's a glaring weakness that the Bulls, with an uptick in pace this season, are ranked 21st in the NBA in effective field goal percentage (48.9%). If you need context for how important a statistic this is, consider that the 16 playoff teams ranked in the top-22 in the NBA in it. And the Bulls were tied for worst (with Boston) among the 16 playoff teams. Thibodeau's group will get by with stingy defense, but they'll need to get better looks at the basket and not force the issue, specifically Derrick Rose. Atlanta (3rd in eFG%) and Cleveland (4th) will make them pay if they don't.

On defense

East ranks: 1. Chicago (47.3%) 2. Washington (48.1%) 3. Milwaukee (48.7%) 4. Atlanta (49.2%) 5. Boston (49.4%) 6. Cleveland (50.2%) 7. Toronto (50.6%) 8. Brooklyn (50.6%)

The Bulls haven't shot it well this year, but neither have their opponents. Despite a year in which their defensive numbers dipped, the Bulls still ranked 4th in the NBA in opponents' effective field goal percentage. Joakim Noah hasn't been fully healthy all year and Pau Gasol has been just average defensively, but it hasn't slowed down Thibodeau's five-man defensive philosophy. The scoring numbers this year were nice, but if the Bulls play deep into May and potentially June it's going to be because of their defense and ability to force misses.

Turnover rate (Possessions ending in a turnover)

On offense

East ranks: 1. Toronto (13.3%) 2. Boston (13.8%) 3. Brooklyn (14.3%) 4. Chicago (14.4%) 5. Atlanta (14.6%) 6. Cleveland (14.9%) 7. Washington (15.3%) 8. Milwaukee (17.0%)

It's no surprise that the Bulls' turnover rate improved this season with Derrick Rose - not Joakim Noah - running the offense. They ended the season ranked 15th in the NBA in the category (14.4%) after finishing 27th a year ago (15.7%). They likely would've been better had Rose not missed 31 games due to injury. The biggest contributor to the Bulls' turnover rate was Butler, who finished with a career-low 7.7 turnover rate percentage with a career-high 21.6 percent usage rate; of players who attempted at least 900 field goals, Butler finished with the lowest turnover rate. Quietly Pau Gasol also recorded the second lowest turnover rate (10.7%) of his career.

On defense

East ranks: 1. Milwaukee (17.6%) 2. Atlanta (16.5%) 3. Boston (15.1%), 4. Toronto (14.8%), 5. Brooklyn (14.3%) 6. Washington (14.2%), 7. Cleveland (13.9%) 8. Chicago (12.6%)

Though the Bulls hovered around top-10 efficiency much of the year, it wasn't because of their ability to force turnovers. For a fifth straight year under Thibodeau the Bulls did not finish in the top half of the league in opponent turnover percentage; still, it was at an all-time low under Thibodeau, finishing 29th in the league with a 12.6 turnover rate percentage. The Bulls simply aren't going to turn over teams. But there will be ample opportunity for them to improve on that statistic, as the Bucks are committing turnovers on 17 percent of their possessions, 29th in the NBA. Something's gotta give.

Offensive rebounding rate (Oreb / (Oreb + opp. Dreb))

On offense

East ranks: 1. Chicago (27.0%) 2. Cleveland (26.8%) 3. Toronto (25.6%) 4. Milwaukee (25.4%) 5. Washington (24.9%) 6. Boston (24.7%) 7. Brooklyn (23.9%) 8. Atlanta (21.4%)

Of the shots the Bulls have missed this season, they've done a stellar job grabbing them. The Bulls ranked first among playoff teams. Though he couldn't replicate his Defensive Player of the Year play and took an expected step back offensively, he averaged a team-high 3.3 offensive rebounds. Pau Gasol's career year on the glass included 2.8 offensive rebounds per game, and Jimmy Butler (1.8) was second among guards in the category (Russell Westbrook, 1.9). The Bulls' shooting isn't going to get significantly better overnight, so staying active on the offensive glass will remain important.

On defense

East ranks: 1. Washington (22.7%), 2. Boston (25.0%) 3. Cleveland (25.3%) 4. Chicago (25.6%) 5. Brooklyn (26.3%) 6. Atlanta (26.6%) 7. Milwaukee (26.7%) 8. Toronto (26.7%)

Rebound margin is NOT your friend. Forget that the Bulls were seventh in the league in defensive rebounds per game or fifthin rebound margin; the Bulls have not done well on the defensive glass. Opponents grabbed 25.6 percent of missed shots last year, ranked 19th in the NBA, down from 10th, 13th and 7th the last three seasons. We saw it in April's loss to the Bucks and earlier in the year against the Cavaliers. They'll need to improve in this department, to be sure. Joakim Noah's health could loom large in that respect.

Free throw rate (FT/FGA)

On offense

East ranks: 1. Chicago (30.4%) 2. Toronto (29.5%) 3. Cleveland (28.7%) 4. Brooklyn (26.7%) 5. Atlanta (25.9%) 6. Washington (25.9%) 7. Milwaukee (25.8%) 8. Boston (23.3%)

It may go unnoticed by some, but getting to the charity stripe is an important factor in winning. And in this category the Bulls have been phenomenal, with an East playoff-high 30.6 percenet free throw rate. It should come as no surprise that Jimmy Butler led the way, totaling 463 free throws (7th in the NBA). Pau Gasol wasn't far behind, ranking fourth in the league among centers with 366 free throw attempts. Surprisingly enough it was Nikola Mirotic who also contributed, with a 45.5% free throw rate, second on the team behind Butler. In the season's final two months that percentage increased further. His continued aggressiveness getting to the line will loom large in the postseason.

On defense

East ranks: 1. Cleveland (23.8%) 2. Atlanta (24.2%) 3. Chicago (24.2%) 4. Brooklyn (25.3%) 5. Boston (27.5%) 6. Toronto (28.4%) 7. Washington (28.4%) 8. Milwaukee (29.8%)

The Bulls were equally good at not allowing teams to the charity stripe. Though they ranked behind the two top seeds in the East, the lack of opponents' free throws is yet another indicator that Tom Thibodeau's defense is equipped for the postseason. Opponents had a free throw rate of 24.2 percent. Their total efficiency was down (11th in the NBA after four straight years in the top-5) but they're not giving many free points to opposing teams, and are actually better in this category than a year ago.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”