PORTLAND, Ore. — In an NBA landscape where the three-pointer is more important than it’s ever been, the Bulls are going the other way.
Halfway through the season, Chicago is in a three-way tie with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers for fewest three-point attempts per game with 9.2. They rank 20th in three-point percentage, hitting from beyond the arc at a 34.6 percent clip. The Bulls rank dead last in the NBA in offensive efficiency, scoring just 100.5 points per 100 possessions, nearly three points worse than the 29th-place Cavs.
Last week, they traded one of their best outside shooters, Justin Holiday, to the Memphis Grizzlies. With Holiday gone, the Bulls only have four players shooting above 35 percent from long range: guard Antonio Blakeney (44.6 percent), forward Lauri Markkanen (40.4 percent) and guards Ryan Arcidiacono (39.1 percent) and Zach LaVine (35.3 percent).
“Sometimes you don't have the personnel to become a team that's in the top 10 in three-point attempts and makes and field-goal percentage,” LaVine said Wednesday morning at shootaround in Portland. “I think we can take more, but we'd have to be hunting them and certain guys have to hunt them. But I think we've been doing a good job getting to the paint. We've got to get some more foul calls and get to the line. For as much as we drive the ball, we don't get to the free-throw line enough and that's offsetting it. So if you're not getting to the free-throw line enough and you're not shooting threes, that's where the problem comes.”
Foul calls or no, Bulls coach Jim Boylen has been pushing LaVine and the rest of the team to focus on scoring in the paint and attacking the basket, rather than look for outside shots.
“We need open shots,” Boylen said. “We talk about getting open shots and finishing plays, and we have some solid in-the-paint numbers but our [offensive efficiency] on those possessions isn’t great because we don’t finish or we don’t spray out, or we do spray out and we don’t make it. So it looks like it’s empty, but to me it’s not. I see growth and I see development.”
Now that Holiday, the Bulls’ starting small forward for much of the season, is out of the picture, LaVine plans to look for more outside shots. He has shown proficiency in that part of his game earlier in his career — before he suffered a torn ACL during the 2016-17 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he was hitting 38.7 percent of his threes through two-plus seasons in the NBA.
“Trust me, I’ll shoot some 3s now,” LaVine said. “You’re going to find them throughout the game somewhere. I think me and Lauri can both take a few more. But I think we’re doing a good job of playing our game regardless. I’m not somebody who is going to take 10 threes a game. But I think I have to be efficient on the ones I do take. If it’s around four or five [attempts per game, if I can hit two or three of them, that would be incredible. Consistently, if I’m around that 38-40 percent, that’s going to start helping out a lot.”