Bulls

Former Bulls in the playoffs: Dwyane Wade turns back the clock in Philly

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USA TODAY

Former Bulls in the playoffs: Dwyane Wade turns back the clock in Philly

The NBA Playoffs are just three days old and yet there's a contingent of former Bulls who are alreayd leaving their mark on the postseason.

As the first in a series, we won't roll these out every day, but any time one of the dozen or so former Bulls in the postseason has a big night, we'll let you know right here.

Dwyane Wade, Heat: Flash turned back the clock in Miami's Game 2 victory in Philadelphia, scoring 28 points on 11 of 16 shooting in a 113-103 victory. Wade scored 21 points in the first half and made nine of his first 10 attempts, and he closed out the Sixers with an 18-footer to give the Heat an eight-point lead inside a minute to play. It was Wade's first 20+ point game since March 6, and the 28 points were the most he had scored since he scored 31 against the Kings last season with the Bulls. Miami won't necessarily need Wade to go off like that again to win the series, but it sure helped Monday night.

James Johnson, Heat: Not to be outdone by Wade, former first-round pick James Johnson was equally as good. In addition to being tasked with guarding Ben Simmons, Johnson finished with 18 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting night, sive rebounds, five assists and three steals. He's made all four 3-point attempts in the series, and the Sixers haven't had much of an answer for him as they focus their attention on players like Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson and now Wade. He could become the series' X-factor.

Nikola Mirotic, Pelicans: We're a few days late on this one, but Mirotic continued his red-hot April with a solid showing in Game 1 against the Blazers. He double-doubled with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and also added four blocked shots in the road win. Mirotic hadn't blocked four shots in a game since late February, and the double-double was his fourth in his last five games. He's peaked at the exact right time for New Orleans.

Rajon Rondo, Pelicans: Playoff Rondo! Bulls fans remember this version of last year's starting point guard, as he went off for 17 assists and just two turnovers in New Orleans' Game 1 win. He added six points and eight rebounds, but the dimes were the key. He also helped limit Damian Lillard to 18 points on 23 shots. We'd say this is surprising, but after what he did to the Celtics in Boston last year we're really not shocked. The four-headed monster of Davis/Holiday/Mirotic/Rondo could really make noise in the playoffs.

Derrick Rose, Timberwolves: The TimberBulls needed a spark in Game 1 against the Rockets and got it in Rose, who scored 16 points off the bench and added four assists in 24 minutes. His defense on James Harden - and the Rockets as a whole - left plenty to be desired, but it was an inspired performance for Rose, who is back in the postseason.

Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves: He's clearly not 100 percent, as Butler's 13-point performance showed in Game 1. The Timberwolves really don't have much shot at knocking off the top-seeded Rockets, and that's if they were entirely healthy. Butler isn't, but he'll still have an impact on this series at some point.

Marco Belinelli, Sixers: Famous in Bulls postseason history for his, erm, Big Marbles dance in Game 7 against the Nets, Belinelli is showing the postseason gene again with the Sixers. He scored 25 points on 9 of 17 shooting in a Game 1 win over Miami and was solid in the Game 2 loss, scoring 16 points. He's proven to be a critical piece on the second unit for a Sixers offense that can't stop scoring.

E'Twaun Moore, Pelicans: He's been great all year for the Pelicans, but Moore was quiet in Game 1, scoring four points in 27 minutes.

Pau Gasol, Spurs: Gasol really has no value in this series against the Warriors. In two losses he's totalled 18 points and six rebounds in 36 minutes.

Tony Snell, Bucks: The Snelly Cat was nowhere to be found in Game 1 against the Celtics, as he scored two points and grabbed three rebounds in 33 minutes. Clearly they need him to be better moving forward.

Taj Gibson, Timberwolves: Tom Thibodeau is going to rely on Gibson for big minutes. He scored nine points and hauled in six rebounds in 32 minutes in a Game 1 loss.

Kyle Kover, Cavaliers: Expect bigger things from the former Bench Mob member, who played just four minutes and missed all three shots in a Game 1 loss.

Jamal Crawford, Timberwolves: Death, taxes, Jamal Crawford getting buckets. Crawford scored 15 points off the bench in 26 minutes for the Timberwolves in Game 1. Yes, you millenials reading this: Jamal Crawford played for the Bulls from 2000 to 2004. Fred Hoiberg was his teammate.

We won't consider any "Bulls" who were drafted by the team but never played any minutes. So, no Jordan Bell, Jose Calderon, J.R. Smith, LaMarcus Aldridge. Also, we're leaving out Aaron Brooks because he doesn't play. Sorry, Aaron.

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 head 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.

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.

Footnotes

  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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Denzel Valentine vows to work hard, remain team player as he waits for turn

Denzel Valentine vows to work hard, remain team player as he waits for turn

As Bulls practice wound down Monday at the Advocate Center, coach Jim Boylen pulled Denzel Valentine aside from group shooting drills and spoke to him at center court.

“It was just about him recognizing what I did in my G League performance,” Valentine said.

Valentine, who is playing through a sprained left pinky he suffered in that performance, scored 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting with 18 rebounds and eight assists in Windy City’s victory over the Wisconsin Herd last Friday. Given that Valentine has played just 5 minutes in one NBA game thus far this season, the G League game marked Valentine’s most significant action since undergoing reconstructive left ankle surgery that knocked him out all of last season.

Asked if the performance boosted his confidence or made not getting the chance to contribute at the NBA level more difficult, Valentine didn’t hesitate.

“I think a little bit of both. Like I told (Boylen), obviously I want to play. I’m a competitor. And I know I can play. I’m very confident in that,” Valentine said. “But that’s not in my control right now.  I’m just here to work hard and support the team in any way I can.”

Throughout much of the offseason, Valentine’s return from ankle surgery landed him in the same storylines as additions like Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young. Here was a player who averaged 10.2 points in 27.2 minutes while shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point range poised to fit right into the Bulls’ increased emphasis on taking 3-pointers.

Instead, as the Bulls sit at 25th with a 3-point percentage of 31.4, Valentine is out of the rotation. Chandler Hutchison, Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison all have currently leapfrogged the former lottery pick.

“I’m a very confident player. I know what I can do. And 3-point shooting is definitely one of those things,” Valentine said. “I think I could add energy, leadership, ballhandling, the ability to guard multiple positions. I’m an experienced player. I think I can bring a lot to the floor. But I’m just focused on working hard. Whatever they want me to do, that’s what I’ll do.

“My role here for the Chicago Bulls is to work hard and support the team in any way I can. I’m just happy and blessed to be healthy, to be honest.”

Valentine said his surgically repaired ankle “feels great” and that his game shape while playing for the Windy City Bulls pleased him. Asked if he knows why he’s not playing, Valentine said: “I’m not too sure. You’d have to ask Coach.”

Here’s how that went.

Reporter: Why is (Valentine) out of the rotation?

Boylen: Because I said so.

Reporter: Is there something specific that he needs to improve?

Boylen: I think he needs some seasoning and he needs to play and he needs to grow.

Reporter: Grow in which areas?

Boylen: All areas.

Reporter: Why didn’t you play him at end of the (blowout) Rockets game?

Boylen: Because I didn’t want to.

In previous, more forthcoming interviews, Boylen has pointed to several players shooting below their career 3-point percentages. So it’s likely that theory offsets in Boylen’s mind his need to try minutes for Valentine, a career 37.4 percent 3-point shooter, to help the Bulls improve in that area.

Also, Boylen has consistently used a 10-man rotation. So it’s not like he’s not trying multiple players and multiple looks. Valentine just isn’t currently one of them.

“Stay ready,” Boylen said. “That’s what he needs to do.”

Valentine promised he would. 

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