Do-or-die time for Bulls' revamped offense to show up


Do-or-die time for Bulls' revamped offense to show up

One year and two weeks ago the Bulls took the United Center floor facing elimination. Squaring off against an upbeat Washington Wizards team led by a pair of blossoming guards in John Wall and Bradley Beal, Tom Thibodeau's group proceeded to shoot 33 percent from the field and tied a franchise playoff-low with 69 points in a Game 5 loss, a disappointing end to a season in which they admittedly overachieved yet still fell short of the championship aspirations they had when the season began.

With that infamous performance in mind, GM Gar Forman and the Bulls used that offseason to re-tool their offensive arsenal. A healthy Derrick Rose returned after essentially two years away from the game. The front office agreed to a deal with overseas rookie Nikola Mirotic. Jimmy Butler locked himself in a Houston house with no internet or cable, focusing on nothing but basketball. The team signed veteran Pau Gasol two weeks after trading up for and drafting sharpshooter Doug McDermott. They also added shoot-first point guard Aaron Brooks to complement a second unit that touted Taj Gibson and Tony Snell.

The massive overhaul was indeed a required one. The Bulls had ranked dead last in points per game the previous two seasons, and even under a defensive genius in Thibodeau realized the current group simply wasn't going to cut it in the playoffs, when every team has the ability to tally 100 points on a given night.

[MORE: Gibson's controversial ejection proves costly in Game 5 loss]

The results were telling. Despite a myriad of injuries to key players over the course of the season, the Bulls finished the regular season ranked 10th in offensive efficiency, showed off terrific balance as one of three teams (OKC, ORL) with three players averaging 17 or more points per game (Butler/Gasol/Rose) and went 35-10 when scoring 100 or more points. Their defensive prowess continued, finishing 11th in defensive efficiency, and they also proved they could win games by outscoring teams rather than simply out-uglying their opponent in a 12-round boxing tilt.

And still, 54 weeks later, the Bulls find themselves in the same predicament, facing elimination at home without any idea of which offensive group will show up Thursday night against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Rose has lost his hot shooting touch from earlier in the series. Gasol is banged up and will give all he can with a bum hamstring. The bench, which was supposed to be a major advantage against Cleveland, has done nothing but fire blanks. Joakim Noah has become a shell of himself that the Cavaliers defense isn't honoring in the slightest, switching any ball screen he sets and not worrying about what may happen on a mismatch in the post.

The Cavaliers defense has been superb in the series. Though they were better defensively in the regular season with Kevin Love off the court, they're still down one of their superstars while trying to hide a hobbled Kyrie Irving on defensive sets whenever possible. Even LeBron James has been matched up with Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy a considerable amount in an attempt to keep him fresh for offensive sets, where his playoff usage is at a career-high without Love and a 100 percent Irving.

[WATCH: Friedell previews Game 6 between the Bulls and Cavs]

And how have the Bulls responded? By shooting less than 41 percent from the field - less than 39 percent since their offensive barrage in Game 1 - including 39.5 percent combined shooting form their backcourt duo of Rose and Butler, which also was supposed to be an advantage and their main key to success. Chicago's effective field goal percentage - which weighs 3-pointers more heavily - in the series is 45.6 percent, a number that would have tied Charlotte for worst in the NBA in the regular season.

The maddening part of it all is that the offense has been crisp everywhere else. They've turned the ball over on 12 percent of possessions, the best mark in the second round of the eight teams remaining, and their 28.6 percent offensive rebounding rate is also the NBA's best mark this round - they have 83 second-chance points in five games. They haven't earned as many trips to the free throw line against a stout Cavaliers defense that has defended to near-perfection at the rim (Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson should teach verticality classes in the offseason) and received stellar contributions from Iman Shumpert on the perimeter. Still, their offensive execution has been there, minus that little part about putting the ball in the hoop.

Thibodeau, ever a perfectionist on the defensive end, noted after Game 5 that offense wasn't the problem, citing the Bulls' 101 points in a losing effort. But to get to the century mark the Bulls needed a frantic fourth quarter in which they shot 7-for-13 in a 7-minute span that cut the Cavs' lead from 17 to two. And even then, the Bulls still shot just 40 percent from the field and needed 41 shots in the paint to score 38 points (in contrast, Cleveland took 32 shot in the paint to score 40 points).

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

It would be easy to point to Gasol's absence as a factor in the low offensive output. But the Spaniard shot a combined 6-for-15 in Games 2 and 3 and can't be expected to carry a load playing in Game 6 on a hamstring he admitted was at 40 percent two days ago.

The onus must be put on Rose and Butler, the team's two volume shooters and healthy stars, to find the right shots and knock them down with confidence like they did in Game 1, when they combined for 45 points. Of course, it goes deeper than that. The Bulls need to find ways to free up Dunleavy, Noah must face the basket and find open cutters (and not take any more lefty layups) and a bench which has combined to shoot under 39 percent has to give some kind of spark when Butler and Rose get their few minutes of rest.

Slowing down James and a Cavaliers offense that's hitting their stride late in the series would be the optimal solution for the Bulls. It just isn't feasible. At some point - with that "point" being a do-or-die Game 6 occurring later tonight - the Bulls must make good on what their entire offseason plan of attack was predicated on: finding the scoring to compete in the postseason.

They'll score more than 69 points. But if they can't start making shots, the end result will feel just the same.

Making of a Chicago legend: A look back at Jabari Parker's decorated Simeon career


Making of a Chicago legend: A look back at Jabari Parker's decorated Simeon career

From the moment Jabari Parker started his local basketball career, he's been a special talent who has produced at every level. Parker's signing with the Chicago Bulls this offseason brings back a lot of memories of his decorated four-year high school career at Simeon.

For Bulls fans who didn't follow Parker before Duke or the NBA, here's some of the notable moments from four years in the Public League.

As a freshman with the Wolverines, Parker was seen as one of three big incoming freshman in the area for the Class of 2013, along with forward Alex Foster and center Tommy Hamilton. Although all three players had the size and skill level to be varsity contributors, it was Parker who was special from his debut game.

Coming off the bench for a top-5 Simeon team against a top-10 Thornton team at Chicago State, Parker had 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting with two 3-pointers as the Wolverines went on to win in his first game in high school. Eventually becoming the first Wolverine freshman to start on varsity, Parker piled up high-major scholarship offers and national acclaim, as he was the team's second-leading scorer behind Brandon Spearman.

But Parker was hurt on the eve of the IHSA Class 4A state championship weekend and was on the bench injured as Simeon went on to surprisingly win the state title after some late-season slip-ups. Parker contributed heavily to Simeon winning the state title during his first season, however, as he was leading scorer in six games during that season.

During his sophomore season, Parker blossomed from a prospect into a full-blown star as Simeon once again captured a state title. By this point in his career, Parker was a consensus top-5 national high school prospect in his class as he regularly led a loaded Simeon team in scoring. Parker eventually averaged 15.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as he won ESPN High School 2011 Sophomore of the Year national honors, while also Simeon won a title at the prestigious Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

The summer of 2011 saw Parker become a contender for No. 1 in his class -- and regardless of class at the high school level -- as he dominated the summer circuit against his peers and older players.

Making the 2011 USA Basketball U16 team, Parker won MVP honors at the FIBA Americas U16 Tournament as the USA team captured a gold medal. Parker also had big performances at the Kevin Durant and LeBron James Skill Academies before winning the MVP at the Nike Global Challenge in August against mostly older players.

Before entering his junior season at Simeon, some national scouts believed Parker was the best prospect in either the junior or senior national classes. With Parker garnering so many accomplishments as an underclassman, he had a huge reputation already as Simeon was an established national powerhouse.

Parker helped the Wolverines capture a third straight state title, a city title and another title at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, as they went 33-1. Simeon didn't lose to an Illinois opponent Parker's junior year (they only lost to nationally ranked Findlay Prep) with Parker setting a school record of 40 points in only 21 minutes against Perspectives on Dec. 19. For his junior season, Parker put up 19.5 points, 8.9 rebounds per game as he became the first non-senior to win Mr. Basketball in Illinois honors.

Gatorade also declared Parker the national boys basketball Player of the Year for that high school season as he became only the fourth non-senior to win that award. Sports Illustrated put Parker on its cover and proclaimed him as the best high school basketball player since LeBron James.

Facing an enormous amount of pressure during his senior year, Simeon played a national schedule and went 30-3, winning a fourth consecutive IHSA state title with Parker as he put up 18.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

Becoming the only player besides Sergio McClain to start on four straight IHSA state title teams, Parker secured back-to-back Mr. Basketball in Illinois honors while also making the McDonald's All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoop Summit. Parker played all over the country during his senior season, with nationally-televised games and packed crowds filled with fans.

Reclassifications and the emergence of other contenders, coupled with Parker's foot injury before his senior season, dropped Parker below the No. 1 ranking to end his high school career. But he still finished as a consensus top-5 prospect in the class who eventually rose to the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft in 2014.

Now that Parker has signed with the Bulls, he has a chance to resurrect his career in Chicago, the place where he had his most basketball success.

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

According to Bleacher Report, Wendell Carter Jr. would be taken fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies if the NBA were to redraft this year’s class based off of Summer League performances.

It may sound like a crazy concept (and it is), but Carter Jr. averaged the second most points, 14.6, through five July games in Las Vegas. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field while averaging 28.8 minutes in his glamorous first-stint with Chicago. Those numbers are even more striking if you consider Carter Jr.’s 42.9 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.

Carter Jr., the real seventh overall pick of this year’s NBA Draft, looked like the all-around player the Bulls were hoping to get this offseason. He made his blocking abilities as a center known from the moment he stepped on the court in Summer League.

In their re-draft, Bleacher Report had Chicago using the No. 7 pick on the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, who was actually taken 36th overall in last month’s Draft.

Robinson, a center, averaged 13 points and 24.8 minutes per game over five Summer League contests. He was the best rebounder on his team with an average of 10.2 in the five games that the Knicks played.

The 20-year-old took the second most shots on the Knicks and had the highest field goal percentage at 67 percent, but Robinson did not have any three-point attempts.  What made his recent production seem even more surprising was the fact that the 7'1'' big man did not play a single minute of college basketball.

But would Robinson fit in the Bulls’ system?

Chicago has taken on an offense-first mentality, so Robinson would not be as great of a fit in the Bulls lineup as Carter Jr., but he would still be an impact player. He can be compared to the Bulls’ current center Robin Lopez, who averaged a similar amount of points per game (11.8 points in 26.4 minutes) last season as Robinson’s Summer League average (13 points in 24.8 minutes). And like Lopez, Robinson will likely be most effective around the basket and in the pick-and-roll.

Robinson would also have to learn the defensive concepts that a veteran like Lopez has mastered over his 10-year career.

Next season, the Bulls will have an exciting scoring trio of Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. And the fact that Carter Jr. is getting so much love in the national spotlight is yet another reason for Bulls fans to be excited about this upcoming season.