The Bulls got a much-needed 120-102 win over the New York Knicks on Tuesday behind a historic night from rookie Coby White, some excellent defense from Kris Dunn, and the rest team finally catching fire from deep. Coming off of the win over New York, things ramp up in difficulty in a big way as the Bulls will be taking on a Bucks squad that — even without All-Star Khris Middleton — will present quite a large challenge.
Here are three things to look for in Thursday's Bulls-Bucks matchup:
Bring your track shoes: Two of the best transition offenses in the league face-off
Bulls head coach Jim Boylen talked earlier this week about being encouraged by the Bulls' shot profile, saying, "We're getting the shots that we want." Boylen and Co.'s new-look offense is heavily focused on getting shots at the rim and from the 3-point line, and both of these facets are aided by their transition offense. Chicago is leading the league with 35.3 restricted area field goal attempts per game and they are 12th in 3-point attempts per game (34.5).
Over the last five games, the Bulls are second in the league with 18 points per game in transition. It will be very important from the onset of Thursday's game for the Bulls to push the rock in transition early and often, as they will need to do their best to wear down a Bucks team that currently ranks second in the league in opponents' field goal percentage in the restricted area (54.3%).
Both the Bulls (8th, 1.14 PPP) and the Bucks (9th, 1.12 PPP) are in the top 10 in the league in points per possession in transition, so slowing down the opponent will be the theme of Thursday's matchup.
On the defensive side of things, the Bulls are trending in the right direction. Over the last five games, the Bulls have the fifth-best defensive rating in the NBA at 102.3. But on the season overall, Chicago is still in the bottom 10 in defended field goal percentage (i.e. shots where the Bulls have a player contesting the shot).
This highlights the fact that the Bulls may need to get a tad more aggressive with their shot contests as a unit.
Getting back in transition and contesting aggressively will be key to slowing down the Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. As Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul learned on Sunday, one man being in the way of "The Greek Freak" does little to deter him from attacking the rim with aplomb.
In the above clip, notice that the Bucks go from defensive rebound to outlet pass to a Giannis layup with a mere four seconds coming off of the shot clock. The Bucks will put this type of pressure on the Bulls transition D through the game, so this will be a great litmus test to see the attention to detail for the Bulls, as Milwaukee has been off since Sunday.
Defensively, the Bulls have started off most games strong only to fade away down the stretch.
"The Bulls rank fourth defensively (97.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) in the first half, but 28th (115.4) in the second half" https://t.co/1ahW6Cnrrt— BlogABull.com (@BullsBlogger) November 12, 2019
So while it would obviously be encouraging if the Bulls play the Bucks tough in the first half, their second-half defense is going to have to show up if they hope to keep this matchup from getting ugly.
Giannis, the marksman?
The nickname "Giannis The Marksman" is going to catch on anytime soon—or ever for that matter—but the moniker looks like it could catch on one day, especially if the reigning NBA MVP continues to shoot the 3 ball as he has through the first six games of November. Below is Antetokounmpo's shot chart 10 games into the 2019-20 season, which shows off his new confidence in his 3-point shot (30.8% from 3-point range through 10 games).
This month Antetokounmpo is averaging 33.7 points, which includes shooting 40% from 3-point range on 4.2 attempts per game.
Antetokounmpo is looking quite comfortable shooting the ball from the perimeter on the season overall. His career-high 3.9 attempts per game from 3-point range showcase that — unlike Ben Simmons up in Philadelphia — he will look to punish defenses from deep if they continue to play off him and go under screens,
With Otto Porter Jr. still out nursing his foot injury, the onus will be on Chandler Hutchison and Thaddeus Young — with Young being one of the better "Giannis stoppers" in the league — to keep Antetokounmpo from getting clear driving lanes to the rim, while simultaneously trying to get up (at least) a half-decent contest on his jump shots.
The Bulls have played the 11th most clutch time minutes in the league and have a +4.8 net rating in the clutch, good for 14th in the association.
In the clutch, the Bulls are posting a 111.1 defensive rating, which reflects their struggles to close out games pretty well and highlights why Boylen has often gone with Young down the stretch over Markkkanen.
On the flip side, Chicago is posting a 115.9 offensive rating in the clutch (with a 59.7% true shooting percentage) which even with the obviously small sample size, illustrates the immense offensive potential of this young Bulls squad.
For the Bulls to start to convert that offensive potential into consistent and great production, they will need to come to an agreement on a clear and concise crunch-time offense. Their great offensive rating in the clutch so far this season was likely inflated by Coby White's 23-point fourth quarter in Tuesday night's win.
The Bulls know that they obviously can't count on that type of incredible production from the rookie guard on a regular basis but the fact that he and Zach LaVine were the only Bulls to make more than one shot from the field on Tuesday says quite a bit about the state of the Bulls' crunch-time offense. Like everything else on O this season, it heavily based around the perimeter shooting and when those shots aren't falling, it's not clear who is going to be the player to get to the charity stripe and get the Bulls some easy baskets.
In the fourth quarter scoring barrage that sealed the game for Chicago on Tuesday, White and LaVine combined for 14 of the Bulls 22 shot attempts but neither one of them got to the free throw line a single time in that final frame.
That will get you a win against the lowly Knicks, but the Bulls will have to up the aggression on both sides of the floor, especially down the stretch, to take down the Antetounkmpo-led Bucks.
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