Statistician Dean Oliver is credited with identifying the Four Factors of Basketball Success, or put simply the four possession-based statistics he believed most accurately determined how teams won basketball game. Within these advanced statistics are shooting (40 percent), turnovers (25%), rebounding (20%) and free throws (15%). And with the Bulls ready to begin their seventh straight postseason, we took a look at where Tom Thibodeau's group stacks up against the rest of the Eastern Conference in these four categories.
Effective field goal percentage (FG + 0.5*3 FG/FGA)
East ranks: 1. Atlanta (52.7%) 2. Cleveland (52.0%) 3. Toronto (50.8%) 4. Milwaukee (49.9%) 5. Washington (49.9%) 6. Brooklyn (49.1%) 7. Chicago (48.9%) 8. Boston (48.9%)
If there's one area that's going to cripple the Bulls this postseason it's their inefficiency from the field. It's a glaring weakness that the Bulls, with an uptick in pace this season, are ranked 21st in the NBA in effective field goal percentage (48.9%). If you need context for how important a statistic this is, consider that the 16 playoff teams ranked in the top-22 in the NBA in it. And the Bulls were tied for worst (with Boston) among the 16 playoff teams. Thibodeau's group will get by with stingy defense, but they'll need to get better looks at the basket and not force the issue, specifically Derrick Rose. Atlanta (3rd in eFG%) and Cleveland (4th) will make them pay if they don't.
East ranks: 1. Chicago (47.3%) 2. Washington (48.1%) 3. Milwaukee (48.7%) 4. Atlanta (49.2%) 5. Boston (49.4%) 6. Cleveland (50.2%) 7. Toronto (50.6%) 8. Brooklyn (50.6%)
The Bulls haven't shot it well this year, but neither have their opponents. Despite a year in which their defensive numbers dipped, the Bulls still ranked 4th in the NBA in opponents' effective field goal percentage. Joakim Noah hasn't been fully healthy all year and Pau Gasol has been just average defensively, but it hasn't slowed down Thibodeau's five-man defensive philosophy. The scoring numbers this year were nice, but if the Bulls play deep into May and potentially June it's going to be because of their defense and ability to force misses.
Turnover rate (Possessions ending in a turnover)
East ranks: 1. Toronto (13.3%) 2. Boston (13.8%) 3. Brooklyn (14.3%) 4. Chicago (14.4%) 5. Atlanta (14.6%) 6. Cleveland (14.9%) 7. Washington (15.3%) 8. Milwaukee (17.0%)
It's no surprise that the Bulls' turnover rate improved this season with Derrick Rose - not Joakim Noah - running the offense. They ended the season ranked 15th in the NBA in the category (14.4%) after finishing 27th a year ago (15.7%). They likely would've been better had Rose not missed 31 games due to injury. The biggest contributor to the Bulls' turnover rate was Butler, who finished with a career-low 7.7 turnover rate percentage with a career-high 21.6 percent usage rate; of players who attempted at least 900 field goals, Butler finished with the lowest turnover rate. Quietly Pau Gasol also recorded the second lowest turnover rate (10.7%) of his career.
East ranks: 1. Milwaukee (17.6%) 2. Atlanta (16.5%) 3. Boston (15.1%), 4. Toronto (14.8%), 5. Brooklyn (14.3%) 6. Washington (14.2%), 7. Cleveland (13.9%) 8. Chicago (12.6%)
Though the Bulls hovered around top-10 efficiency much of the year, it wasn't because of their ability to force turnovers. For a fifth straight year under Thibodeau the Bulls did not finish in the top half of the league in opponent turnover percentage; still, it was at an all-time low under Thibodeau, finishing 29th in the league with a 12.6 turnover rate percentage. The Bulls simply aren't going to turn over teams. But there will be ample opportunity for them to improve on that statistic, as the Bucks are committing turnovers on 17 percent of their possessions, 29th in the NBA. Something's gotta give.
Offensive rebounding rate (Oreb / (Oreb + opp. Dreb))
East ranks: 1. Chicago (27.0%) 2. Cleveland (26.8%) 3. Toronto (25.6%) 4. Milwaukee (25.4%) 5. Washington (24.9%) 6. Boston (24.7%) 7. Brooklyn (23.9%) 8. Atlanta (21.4%)
Of the shots the Bulls have missed this season, they've done a stellar job grabbing them. The Bulls ranked first among playoff teams. Though he couldn't replicate his Defensive Player of the Year play and took an expected step back offensively, he averaged a team-high 3.3 offensive rebounds. Pau Gasol's career year on the glass included 2.8 offensive rebounds per game, and Jimmy Butler (1.8) was second among guards in the category (Russell Westbrook, 1.9). The Bulls' shooting isn't going to get significantly better overnight, so staying active on the offensive glass will remain important.
East ranks: 1. Washington (22.7%), 2. Boston (25.0%) 3. Cleveland (25.3%) 4. Chicago (25.6%) 5. Brooklyn (26.3%) 6. Atlanta (26.6%) 7. Milwaukee (26.7%) 8. Toronto (26.7%)
Rebound margin is NOT your friend. Forget that the Bulls were seventh in the league in defensive rebounds per game or fifthin rebound margin; the Bulls have not done well on the defensive glass. Opponents grabbed 25.6 percent of missed shots last year, ranked 19th in the NBA, down from 10th, 13th and 7th the last three seasons. We saw it in April's loss to the Bucks and earlier in the year against the Cavaliers. They'll need to improve in this department, to be sure. Joakim Noah's health could loom large in that respect.
Free throw rate (FT/FGA)
East ranks: 1. Chicago (30.4%) 2. Toronto (29.5%) 3. Cleveland (28.7%) 4. Brooklyn (26.7%) 5. Atlanta (25.9%) 6. Washington (25.9%) 7. Milwaukee (25.8%) 8. Boston (23.3%)
It may go unnoticed by some, but getting to the charity stripe is an important factor in winning. And in this category the Bulls have been phenomenal, with an East playoff-high 30.6 percenet free throw rate. It should come as no surprise that Jimmy Butler led the way, totaling 463 free throws (7th in the NBA). Pau Gasol wasn't far behind, ranking fourth in the league among centers with 366 free throw attempts. Surprisingly enough it was Nikola Mirotic who also contributed, with a 45.5% free throw rate, second on the team behind Butler. In the season's final two months that percentage increased further. His continued aggressiveness getting to the line will loom large in the postseason.
East ranks: 1. Cleveland (23.8%) 2. Atlanta (24.2%) 3. Chicago (24.2%) 4. Brooklyn (25.3%) 5. Boston (27.5%) 6. Toronto (28.4%) 7. Washington (28.4%) 8. Milwaukee (29.8%)
The Bulls were equally good at not allowing teams to the charity stripe. Though they ranked behind the two top seeds in the East, the lack of opponents' free throws is yet another indicator that Tom Thibodeau's defense is equipped for the postseason. Opponents had a free throw rate of 24.2 percent. Their total efficiency was down (11th in the NBA after four straight years in the top-5) but they're not giving many free points to opposing teams, and are actually better in this category than a year ago.