The Bulls offensive system is working and the math backs up Jim Boylen

The Bulls offensive system is working and the math backs up Jim Boylen

Bulls coach Jim Boylen told a group of reporters before the season started that “we believe in the math and we coach to the math.” This, of course, caused an uproar in the ‘watch the games’ community and even Zach LaVine was quoted on being skeptical of the team’s approach to mid-range shots.

Is Jim Boylen’s offensive system working? The analytics say it is despite having the NBA’s 26th ranked offensive rating (per Basketball-Reference.com).

It’s an understatement to say the Bulls 3-7 record is disappointing, and the fan base is looking for someone (or something) to blame. The latest focus is on the team’s offensive system and reliance on the 3-point shot. They are 11th in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game this season, a big jump from the 27th they finished last season.

The massive increase has a lot to do with Jim Boylen’s new system, his overhaul of the coaching staff in the offseason, and the front office’s roster changes. Boylen hired former Nets assistant coach Chris Fleming this past summer and he brought much of the Nets’ offensive philosophy with him. The Nets were 5th in the NBA in 3-point attempts a year ago.

Lauri Markkanen, whose own shooting woes have been chronicled at length, doesn’t believe the team has to change its playstyle to score more points, “I wouldn’t be worried about that, I know how well we can shoot… I’m confident in our offense.”

^ In this example from Saturday’s loss to the Rockets, we see Zach LaVine drive past Russell Westbrook and P.J. Tucker comes over to help, leaving Lauri Markkanen open in the corner. LaVine makes the right play, but Markkanen fails to hit the open shot.

There are many close observers of the Bulls (including our own analysts Kendall Gill and Will Perdue) who believe that the team needs to go back to a traditional play style that includes more mid-range shots and post play.

However, the analytics suggest that the Bulls’ offensive system is working because it’s resulting in open and wide-open shots. It’s overly simplistic to say an open shot is good, a contested shot is bad but the goal of any offensive system is to create good looks for its scorers. Through 10 games, the Bulls have attempted 347 3-point shots. Of those attempts, a whopping 89.6% of them are considered open or wide-open by the league’s closest defender metrics (1). The Bulls are hitting just 31.1% of those open or wide-open shots. That is far below the league average. They rank 27th in the NBA on ‘wide open’ threes made, and 24th in the NBA on ‘open’ threes made.

The Bulls run an offensive system that gives priority to an open three over a contested two, even if that shot attempt is near the rim. The team believes that there is more value in an open corner three than a contested shot in the paint.

^ In this clip, Wendell Carter Jr comes up with the offensive rebound off the Coby White miss. Because he’s double-teamed immediately, instead of taking a contested shot 3 feet from the rim, Carter passes out to a wide-open Kris Dunn.

They are also taking an above-average number of 3-point attempts (26.0 per game) without a dribble. That’s the 8th highest total in the league and suggests that most of their attempts are coming within an offensive set and not in isolation. They are converting just 31.9% of their threes without a dribble, which is near the bottom of the league at 26th.  To give a little more context, Fleming’s former team, the Nets, are hitting 41.0% of their 3-point attempts with no dribble.

^ In these two examples from the Bulls win over the Hawks we see the Bulls passing offense in action. In play 1, off the rebound, the Bulls push the pace and Tomas Satoransky hits a wide-open Otto Porter Jr. In play 2, Jabari Parker leaves Markkanen wide open to help on Satoransky.

The most common 3-point shot taken by the Bulls is a catch-and-shoot jumper, 79.3% of their attempts a game are shots with the touch-time less than 2 seconds. As you’d imagine, the numbers line up with their no-dribble threes, their 31.6% conversion rate on catch-and-shoot threes is fourth-worst in the NBA.

If the offensive system is working, then why are the Bulls struggling to score points? This could be due to a collective slump by the team’s high volume three-point shooters.

Speaking after Saturday’s loss to the Rockets (a game in which the Bulls shot just 4 of 32 from three) Jim Boylen reaffirmed his belief in the offensive system, “We have guys shooting below their career averages by multiple points. Will that turn? I think it will. It’s frustrating when it doesn’t. I get it. Believe me. I’m sitting there with it too.”

The numbers back up Boylen’s assertion. Using Markkanen as an example, he is hitting just 25.0% of his ‘wide open’ threes. He’s 16th in the league in ‘wide open’ 3-point attempts per game, but 244th in converting ‘wide open’ threes. That is a massive difference. Last year Markkanen shot 43.2% on ‘wide open’ 3-point attempts. He clearly has the ability to hit that shot.

Of the Bulls eight highest volume 3-point shooters this season, 5 players are shooting below their career average. A 6th player, rookie Coby White, is hitting just 21.2% of his threes (2). Markkanen, Luke Kornet, and Kris Dunn are converting far below their career averages.

Despite the struggles, don’t expect to see any tweaks to the system on either end of the floor. Speaking Monday at the Advocate Center, Boylen was asked point-blank if he was going to make any changes 10 games in, “No… We’re getting the shots we want... I’m expecting us to break through and shoot the ball better. No, I have a belief in this group of guys.”

The question that Jim Boylen will have to answer if this slump continues is “Are the players failing the system or is the system failing the players?” Typically, teams have a solid understanding of who they are at the quarter pole of the season, 20 games in. For his part, Markkanen believes he will turn a corner, saying after the Rockets game, “I know that I can hit shots, it’s just a matter of time.” Just how much ‘time’ Markkanen and the rest of the team has before playoff aspirations turn into lottery aspirations remains to be seen.


  1. The NBA considers an ‘open’ shot to be when a defender is 4-6 feet away from the shooter. A ‘wide open’ shot is when the defender is 6+ feet away.
  2. White converted on 35.3% of his 3-point shots during his freshman year at North Carolina


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2020 NBA Draft Lottery going virtual, breaking two-year host run for Chicago

2020 NBA Draft Lottery going virtual, breaking two-year host run for Chicago

It’s felt pre-ordained for months now. Now, it appears it’s decided.

No, the Bulls didn’t draw the seventh pick in the 2020 NBA Draft (yet). But The Athletic’s Shams Charania did report Monday afternoon that the lottery scheduled for Aug. 20 will take place virtually. All 14 teams ‘in attendance’ will be allowed to ‘send’ remote representatives. The event will presumably be televised, but details haven’t emerged on that front yet.

It’s a logical gameplan given the COVID-19 pandemic’s ongoing nature, and the acclaim received by virtual draft showcases broadcast by the WNBA and NFL while live sports in the United States were effectively paused.

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The news also sends a few ripples in Bulls world. For one, who will rep the team, in this, its third consecutive lottery appearance? Michael Reinsdorf and Horace Grant manned the post in 2018 and 2019, respectively. But for this year? Benny the Bull would be sure to bring the energy. On the heels of the summer of “The Last Dance,” perhaps a dynasty-era contributor could get the call. Or maybe a newly-minted front office face instead? Time will tell.

And, as our K.C. Johnson pointed out on Twitter, this development also marks the end of a two-year streak of Chicago hosting the lottery in 2018 and 2019. The city has long housed the combine.

Here’s what Adam Silver told NBC Sports Chicago in February when asked his impressions of Chicago as a host-city for the lottery:

We have been very pleased in Chicago. Our community comes together in Chicago for our predraft camp and combine. It made perfect sense to also conduct the draft lottery there. And that was something that Mayor Emanuel never stopped reminding me of. Things can potentially change over time. We are enjoying being in Chicago. Because of the geographic location, it’s more convenient for our teams to be in a more central location. And Chicago, for the same reasons that makes it a fantastic All-Star host, has all the accommodations you need for our teams when they come together for our combine. My anticipation is we’ll be in Chicago for a while. And the city has been terrific to work with.

Silver made that comment before All-Star weekend in Chicago, but all of the above virtues translated. Though Bulls representation was limited, no one would deny Chicago played a splendid host for the festivities.

The Bulls enter this year’s lottery locked into the seventh-best odds (7.5%) at nabbing the No. 1 pick, and a 32% chance of vaulting into the top four. 

Slots No. 1 through No. 8 in the lottery standings are set with the teams excluded from the NBA’s restart. Slots No. 9 through 14 will populate at the end of the play-in round, when postseason seeding is officially set. Teams that started the restart as a top-eight seed in either conference can fall into the lottery if they miss the playoffs, but the ultimate order of the lottery odds will be decided by pre-hiatus record (meaning, for example, that if the current standings hold and the Phoenix Suns finish with a better record than the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings, but miss the postseason, the Suns would own better lottery odds than the Pels and Kings by virtues of each team’s pre-hiatus record).

All of which is to say, clear your calendars for next Thursday. After that, rumor and speculation are sure to swirl until the draft itself, which, as of right now, is reportedly scheduled for Oct. 16. The status of the combine remains up in the air, though ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported July 23 that the league is polling teams on which players should be invited to the combine if one takes place.

For the Bulls, helmed by a new front office regime and facing a moment of reckoning in the current rebuild, this year’s draft process is an especially crucial one.


Bulls' Top 10 Centers in franchise history

Bulls' Top 10 Centers in franchise history

NBC Sports Chicago is counting down the top 10 Bulls at each position in franchise history.

We've hit the point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards. And last, but certainly not least, the men in the middle. The centers.

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Defensive anchors, multi-skilled hubs and blue-collar tenacity abound in these rankings. And plenty of hardware — both of the championship and individual variety.

We hope you've enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Without further adieu...

Bulls' Top 10 Centers in franchise history