Beyond the Box Score: Analyzing Joakim Noah's offensive emergence


Beyond the Box Score: Analyzing Joakim Noah's offensive emergence

Welcome back to Beyond the Box Score, a series where we use advanced metrics to provide deeper analysis of the Bulls.

This week we're exploring the recent emergence of Joakim Noah in the Bulls offense. After the Circus Trip, Noah took a much larger role on the court, and it's paid dividends.  Just by watching, you can tell Noah has the fire back in his eyes.  He's playing with purpose again.  He looks like the player who won Defensive Player of the Year and led the Bulls offense, and it's got Bulls fans excited.

Joakim Noah Pts/Chance Pts/Shot
Last two games 0.15 1.14
Rest of season 0.055 0.73

Let's start by looking at a few basic scoring metrics: points per chance, and points per shot.

First, pts/chance is a usage measure, which gives us an idea of how often a team looks to a particular player to score. Earlier in the year, Noah only contributed 0.055 points every time the Bulls had an offensive opportunity, according to Vantage Sports. Not only was that mark by far the worst on the team, but it was also the ninth lowest figure in the league.

[BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Analyzing Tony Snell vs. Doug McDermott]

Fast forward to the last two games against San Antonio and Denver, however, and Noah's numbers jump all the way to 0.15 pts/chance.  That was fourth best on the team, during those games, with Pau Gasol leading the way at 0.22 pts/chance.

One reason for this major uptick is the fact that Noah is shooting the ball far more efficiently. Noah only recorded 0.73 pts/shot in the first 14 games, again the worst number on the team.  But against the Spurs and Nuggets, Noah soared to 1.14 pts/shot, good for third best on the team, behind Tony Snell's remarkable 2.2 pts/shot (although Snell's numbers are skewed since he primarily shoots 3's.)

But how can we explain this major shift?

Joakim Noah Open+ Freq.
Last two games 71.4 0.78
Rest of season 39.6 0.67

We can tell just by watching that Noah is taking better shots. Earlier in the year — and even parts of last season — it seemed Noah would throw up a wild shot, hoping to score. But now Noah is getting better looks, and taking higher percentage shots, like easy putbacks and layups.

The data actually reveals that the difference is actually far greater than our eyes may lead us to believe.  The most eye-popping number is Noah's Open+ Frequency. This metric shows the percentage of shots taken, that are open, or with a late arriving defender.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Previously, only 40 percent of Noah's shots were uncontested or lightly contested, according to Vantage Sports. But in the last two games, Noah was able to make solid cuts and strong moves to the hoop to give himself better opportunities. That led to him taking 70 percent of his shots with open looks.

Furthermore, Noah had more opportunities to make plays in the Bulls' most recent games. Looking at how many times Noah actually held the ball for every offensive opportunity the Bulls had, we can see he certainly took a bigger role in the flow of the offense. While the jump from 0.67 touches/chance to 0.78 touches per chance may not seem significant, it was the biggest margin on the team. Clearly, Noah received more opportunities, and he capitalized.

With Nikola Mirotic recovering from a concussion, Noah will likely take on an even larger role in the rotation, and will probably get the opportunity to contribute more on the offensive side of the court. Bulls fans can only hope that their spark plug continues to find the ignition.

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games


Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East


Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.