The Bulls were obviously fighting an uphill battle from the start in Saturday night’s game against the Miami Heat, being without center Wendell Carter Jr. and having lost 9-straight games coming into the matchup. But things went from bad to worse as the Bulls had yet another second half collapse that led to a double-digit loss, and some reasonable frustration from guard Zach LaVine.
After heading into the half up by 2 points, Chicago completely fell apart at the start of the third quarter, in which they were outscored 28-19. The Bulls got to the free throw line seven times in the third--a rare occurrence for them--but could not close the gap due to an absolutely dreadful 29.4 percent shooting from the field.
In the second half, the Heat went 10/17 from the 3-point line, raining down triples on the scrambling Bulls defense.
Some of the Heat’s 3-point makes throughout the game were extremely difficult. Like the play where Lauri Markkanen played great defense, only to be thwarted by better shot-making from Dwyane Wade.
Others were completely inexcusable, where the Bulls got sucked into the paint too deep on Miami drives, leading to wide-open shots with poor closeout efforts.
And while the Bulls defense initially had some renewed energy under Boylen, it now ranks 26th in the league in efficiency since he took over on December 4th. The offensive woes are well-documented, but if the Bulls aren’t putting up a fight on D, there isn’t much to keep them in games.
And that is why Zach LaVine’s statements from Saturday hold so much weight.
“Something is obviously wrong. We weren’t losing by double digits earlier in the season.”
It is not the fact that his quote could be looked at as coaching criticism that makes it interesting. It is the fact the numbers back up his claim completely.
The Bulls have not been meaningfully better in any way since having their full complement of players back, and that is concerning.
While Boylen is a defense-first coach, he obviously has some input on the offense.
The Bulls have taken 23.6 3-point shots per game under Boylen. In 24 games under Fred Hoiberg, Chicago was shooting 29.3 3-point shots per game. That precipitous drop in 3-point attempts is simply nothing short of bewildering when you consider that Boylen has had Markkanen under his tutelage during his entire stint.
The Bulls may be tougher in terms of collecting paint points on most nights, but they have actually shot 3.3 less free throws per game under Boylen as well.
And on night’s like Saturday where the Bulls actually held an advantage at the free throw line--21/26 for the Bulls compared to 14/23 for the Heat--unimaginative offense made it impossible to hold on to what was once a 9-point Bulls lead.
Lauri Markkanen ended the first quarter shooting 4/7 from the field but finished the game 7/19 from the field. Kris Dunn finished 3/14 from the field, but more important is the fact the he only took one 3-pointer. He is shooting a career-high in terms of 3-point percentage but has regressed in terms of how much opposing defenses respect his perimeter shot.
Dunn is not a great threat on the perimeter, but ignoring that part of his game completely is unlikely to help Dunn or the Bulls offense in the long-term.
And Jabari Parker--who finished with his fourth-straight game of double-digit scoring on 50 percent or better shooting--still received less than 20 minutes of playing time. Interestingly enough, Parker received less than two minutes of playing time in the third quarter, where the Bulls offense fizzled out completely, going 5/17 from the field.
Obviously, not all of the Bulls issues are directly attributable to Boylen. But many are. And in a season of development and many changes, evaluating Boylen is just as important as evaluating the roster.
Since Boylen took over, the Bulls are 5-17 and one of two teams averaging less than 100 PPG in that span.
Coming into this season, Bulls fans were prepared for losses but also prepared to gush over the meshing of the talents of LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen.
But so far, the three core players received in the Jimmy Butler trade have been underwhelming as a group, without much as of late to indicate that they are getting more comfortable on the floor together.
So LaVine is correct when he says something is obviously wrong, even if he can’t quite pinpoint the root of the issues.
“I don’t know. We’re a better team now and we’re getting blown out. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Something has to change for the Bulls. Because as the season wears on, it becomes more and more clear that plopping a top 5 draft selection in this lineup is unlikely to be some all-healing salve. Stability within an NBA organization is built through a great relationship between the front office and head coach, and a clear and effective playing style that maximizes the talents of your roster. The Bulls seem to have the former but it will be tough to stay in games against any level of competition until they get a better grasp on the latter.
All stats used via NBA.com