Bulls

Pace, bouncing back, Holiday shines: Observations from Bulls-Bucks

Pace, bouncing back, Holiday shines: Observations from Bulls-Bucks

 

The Bulls picked up their second win of the preseason, topping Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks 114-101 Friday night at the United Center.

Here are three observations from the victory:

Pace, pace, pace: Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wouldn’t definitively say whether he wanted this team to lead the league in pace in terms of the advanced stats, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say being a top-five team is a micro goal.

With that said, they got up shots early and often, not allowing the shot clock to get in the danger zone many times.

Eight of their 10 first-quarter field goals were assisted and they finished with 30 assists on the night.

“We want to play with pace and draw two to the ball. Our bigs were much better, our space was much better,” Hoiberg said. “When you can collapse the defense, generally good things happened. We had a lot of good to great plays, where we had a good shot and turned it to a great shot.”

The great equalizer? Denzel Valentine hit four triples in the first half, and Nikola Mirotic hit three of his own. Over half the Bulls’ 23 field goals came from behind the 3-point line in the first two quarters, enabling them to score 60 points. They only hit three in the second half but the tone was set.

Valentine was perfect with his first five 3-point looks before missing his final attempt. He scored 15 off the bench. Mirotic matched him and added seven rebounds.

“Playing unselfish and open shots came,” Valentine said. “I shot confidently and made my open looks. The trust factor, we’ll keep gaining that.

“We all believe in ourselves and trust ourselves. If we have an open shot, take it. Sometimes we’re almost too unselfish.”

Bouncing back from a bad loss: No matter if it’s preseason, regular season or CYO ball, getting outscored 44-11 like the Bulls were in the fourth quarter Wednesday to Dallas is bound to shake a team’s confidence, especially one as young as the Bulls.

Seeing them play with a consistent and confident effort bodes well for a season that’s sure to have more than its share of lumps.

“I give our guys a lot of credit for coming in with a great mentality this morning with practice. Our guys went out there and got better,” Fred Hoiberg said. “I think it really bothered them the way the game ended the other night. They came in focused and had a great teaching moment and carried that over to a good session on the floor.”

The Bulls played with energy and competed, two things they’ll need in full supply this season to keep the fans engaged and hopeful this rebuild is going in a position direction. 

“We know we played uncharacteristic (Wednesday),” Valentine said. “We were taking shots that weren’t good shots. On the defensive end, they were doing whatever they wanted. It was right there for us, we gotta keep playing hard, keep playing together.”

Holiday: With Zach LaVine out until at least December, Justin Holiday is admirably filling in, being aggressive without being too thirsty with his shots and getting them into the flow of the offense.

Scoring 21 and looking for his offense, there will be shots to take and he’ll be glad to do so, which will be a necessity from the shooting guard and small forward spots no matter if LaVine is on the floor or not.

“The way Fred has been with us, play your game and take what the defense gives you,” Holiday said. “So we’re moving the ball to get a situation where we can attack or have an open shot. If you have it, you have to go.

“You don’t have to, but pick and choose your times. I’m the type of person where I’ll go. In attacking those slots, the ball will still move.”

Holiday recalled an instance where he caught the ball and swung it, then looked around to realize every player on the floor was a threat to hit an outside shot—not something that will happen all the time, but enough of an instance to see nights where the Bulls can be effective.

Being in this type of offense will certainly allow him to improve on that 5.7 career scoring average. No one should be surprised if it doubles this season.

“That’s something I’ve tried to work on, something I try to do, improving my game, moving forward in my career,” Holiday said. “This offense allows you to do that. It’s so many spots I can shoot, drive and open up things for other people.”

No, Zach LaVine wasn't ranting at Jim Boylen in latest viral video

No, Zach LaVine wasn't ranting at Jim Boylen in latest viral video

In the final moments of a hard-fought 124-122 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night, Zach LaVine was caught on camera saying something to the effect of, "I've got 40 [expletive] points."

LaVine has been broadcast multiple times this season appearing to exhibit expasperation over late-game timeouts called by Jim Boylen, so some segments of NBA Twitter took this as another show of frustration towards the Bulls' head coach. But it seems that's not the case.

According to reporting by Eric Woodyard of ESPN, LaVine was merely jawing back and forth with Thunder guard Dennis Schröder. Common practice in a closely-contested game.

The report quotes LaVine, himself.

"You get into the heat of the battle and between players when you guys are talking, you talk smack sometimes, right? And that's all it was," LaVine told Woodyard. "We were still down. Dude was talking a little mess to me and I just let him know 'Look, I've got 40, I don't know why you're talking to me.

"I don't know why they said they thought I was talking to Jim but it was just people being competitive in the game talking."

In the play following the clip, LaVine nailed a pull-up 3-pointer from the logo for his 41st points of the night. It was LaVine's sixth 40-point game of the season, but despite his brilliance, the Bulls dropped to 20-39 and 1-9 in their last ten games with the defeat. A tale as old as time.

It's obviously been an up-and-down season for the Bulls, but consider this 'controversy' dead on arrival.

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Why the Bulls' loss to the Thunder was a statistical anomaly

Why the Bulls' loss to the Thunder was a statistical anomaly

For myriad reasons, the Bulls’ 124-122 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night was something of an outlier. Zach LaVine and Coby White combined for 76 points, smashing records left and right along the way. The Bulls won the third quarter 38-19, a rarity for a team that entered the night 26th in the NBA in third-quarter point differential.

And, perhaps most jarringly, the Bulls attempted 18 NBA.com-defined midrange jumpers (anywhere between the paint and the rim), making 11 (61.1%) — by far the most they’ve taken and made in a game this season. 

The Bulls have rather famously spent the third year of their rebuild touting a new-look offensive system centered around a complete eschewing of the midrange zone and an added emphasis on 3-pointers and rim looks. They’re currently tied for first in the league in restricted area field goal attempts per game (33.6), ninth in 3-point attempts per game (35.2) and 26th in midrange attempts per game (7.3).

So, how much of an outlier was the Bulls’ 11-for-18 outing from midrange in the Thunder game? 

This season, the Bulls have taken 10 or more midrange jumpers in a game just 14 times, and before Tuesday, had never made more than five. Against the Thunder, 18% of the Bulls’ 122 points came via the midrange, compared to the team's season-long mark of 4.5% (26th in the NBA). The performance sets new  season-highs for makes and attempts from midrange for the Bulls (they've made exactly five midrange jumpers in six different games and attempted 14 once). And in 58 games prior to the Oklahoma CIty matchup, the Bulls hadn’t shot more than 50% on midrange jumpers while attempting more than nine in a game.

Zach LaVine and Coby White were the biggest benefactors of this anomaly. The two combined for 15 of the Bulls’ 18 attempts and 10 of their 11 makes from midrange, using them to key an improbable second half rally that ultimately fell short (the two went 7-for-10 from midrange between the third and fourth quarters).

“I had to take ’em,” said LaVine, who shot 6-for-9 from midrange and 19-for-35 from the field in the game. “I could tell my shot was short, I missed all my free throws. And I couldn’t get, on the 3, everything was short. So I just, for me personally, I knew what I had to do to help us. You know, just gotta adjust. I know how to adjust my game, I work on it. It might not be our system, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”

This is not intended to paint a picture of strategic mutiny within the locker room — LaVine made that chide about the team’s ‘system’ good-naturedly. But it’s a fun statistical blip, and a reminder that even in the most progressive, regimented offensive infrastructures, there is room for nuance.

Take these two attempts as examples, one from LaVine and one from White. Both happen rather naturally in the flow of the offensive possession (though both are mid-shot-clock) and exploit sagging or backpedaling Thunder defenders.

Strictly by the numbers, neither LaVine nor White are eye-poppingly efficient from midrange. But if defenses are going to concede these types of looks often, it doesn’t hurt to mix a few in over the course of a game to keep opponents on their toes — especially if they’re hot. Both LaVine and White are clearly comfortable shooting from that area and have the lift to get clean shots off on occasion.

Of course, the Bulls aren’t going to change the way they play based on one torrid shooting night. They’re 29th in the league in shooting percentage on midrange looks (33.6%), even on low volume. But sometimes, when the game ebbs in a certain direction, you just have to roll with it. Head coach Jim Boylen acknowledged that point.

“I thought Zach made a couple midrange shots in that third quarter, he got his feet down and he took ‘em. I think Coby’s done a nice job of taking some of his midrange and turning them into assists,” Jim Boylen said. “A guy understanding where his efficient shots come from is part of the growth process. So we chart those things and we look at those things.

“I think it comes down to decisions and feel. You know, end of the clock, you gotta take a two you take it. What we don’t want is contested, mid-clock twos, those are — and we make some of them, everybody makes some of ‘em — but [limiting contested, midclock twos is] what we’re striving for.”

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