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

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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.
Touches/Chance
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.

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

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USA TODAY

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

Lauri Markkanen doesn't often feel short.

The Bulls forward is 7-feet tall, which even in the land of NBA giants makes him one of the tallest players on the court at all times. So when Markkanen stands next to Yao Ming, it changes perspective quite a bit.

Markkanen posted a photo with him and the 7-foot-6 Chinese Hall of Famer. Markkanen looks like a child.

Makes you wonder if Markkanen pulled some "What's the weather like up there?" jokes just because he otherwise never can.

 

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

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USA TODAY

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

Former Miami Heat two-way player Derrick Walton Jr. is reported to be nearing a deal with the Bulls. In an interview with The Athletic, it was stated: "Walton, 23, says he knows where he’ll play next season. An agreement is in place, but his agent, Mark Bartelstein, is requiring him to sit on the news until next week. All Walton can put out publicly is this: 'Long story short, I’m good. I’m going to a great situation. All I can say.' "

And while it is not yet known if the potential contract will be a two-way deal or not, Walton would provide an intriguing lottery ticket for the Bulls. 

The team mostly ignored looking for a backup point guard on the market. There is obviously a belief in the organization that Cameron Payne will have some internal growth, making him the best option. And the trade of Jerian Grant for essentially nothing, shows even more that Payne is there guy. Retaining Ryan Arcidiacono is a nice move considering the hustle that he showed last season at both the G League and NBA level, but it still leaves the Bulls thin in terms of established backup PGs behind Kris Dunn. And that is where Walton comes into play. 

Walton was a four-year player at the University of Michigan, where he played in some big-time games and showed immense leadership potential. But in terms of strictly on the court skills, there is one thing that he does extremely well: space the floor. 

In his four years at Michigan, Walton took a total of 581 3-point attempts, and knocked them down at a 40.1 percent rate. His elite shooting is enough to make him a legitimate rotation player for Fred Hoiberg. And while Payne still may develop into a better player, his outside shooting is his calling card despite never being elite at that skill at the NBA level. And in fact, when you compare he and Walton’s stats from college, the G League and the NBA, it becomes apparent who is the better shooter right now.

3-point percentage at NCAA level: Payne- 35.9 percent, Walton- 40.1 percent
3-point percentage at G League level: Payne- 33.8 percent, Walton- 37.7 percent
3-point percentage at NBA level: Payne- 34 percent, Walton- 41.2 percent

Now obviously, there is a “small sample size alert” for the NBA level, as Walton has only taken 17 3-pointers at the NBA level in his limited time with the Miami Heat. But these numbers show that even dating back to their freshman years of college, Walton has been the more efficient shooter from 3-point range.

Cameron Payne has the edge when it comes to playmaking, and this is based off of the fact that Payne has maintained an assist rate above 30 percent through all of his G League stints, while also having a low turnover rate (9.9 percent). Walton didn’t come close to Payne in terms of G League assist rate, and his 17.9 percent turnover rate at the G League level shows that his decision-making has yet to catch up to his shooting. 

Ultimately, Walton is going to be most effective as an off-ball guard who can make quick decisions, and knockdown the 3-point shot at a high level. Though if Summer League was any indication, his passing out of the pick-and-roll is getting better. And while Payne certainly is a good shooter, his game is much more predicated on having the ball in his hands, and playing in the pick-and-roll. With so many players on the Bulls who can create their own shot, Walton could end up being the cleanest fit with this constantly evolving Bulls roster.