For myriad reasons, the Bulls’ 124-122 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night was something of an outlier. Zach LaVine and Coby White combined for 76 points, smashing records left and right along the way. The Bulls won the third quarter 38-19, a rarity for a team that entered the night 26th in the NBA in third-quarter point differential.
And, perhaps most jarringly, the Bulls attempted 18 NBA.com-defined midrange jumpers (anywhere between the paint and the rim), making 11 (61.1%) — by far the most they’ve taken and made in a game this season.
The Bulls have rather famously spent the third year of their rebuild touting a new-look offensive system centered around a complete eschewing of the midrange zone and an added emphasis on 3-pointers and rim looks. They’re currently tied for first in the league in restricted area field goal attempts per game (33.6), ninth in 3-point attempts per game (35.2) and 26th in midrange attempts per game (7.3).
So, how much of an outlier was the Bulls’ 11-for-18 outing from midrange in the Thunder game?
This season, the Bulls have taken 10 or more midrange jumpers in a game just 14 times, and before Tuesday, had never made more than five. Against the Thunder, 18% of the Bulls’ 122 points came via the midrange, compared to the team's season-long mark of 4.5% (26th in the NBA). The performance sets new season-highs for makes and attempts from midrange for the Bulls (they've made exactly five midrange jumpers in six different games and attempted 14 once). And in 58 games prior to the Oklahoma CIty matchup, the Bulls hadn’t shot more than 50% on midrange jumpers while attempting more than nine in a game.
Zach LaVine and Coby White were the biggest benefactors of this anomaly. The two combined for 15 of the Bulls’ 18 attempts and 10 of their 11 makes from midrange, using them to key an improbable second half rally that ultimately fell short (the two went 7-for-10 from midrange between the third and fourth quarters).
“I had to take ’em,” said LaVine, who shot 6-for-9 from midrange and 19-for-35 from the field in the game. “I could tell my shot was short, I missed all my free throws. And I couldn’t get, on the 3, everything was short. So I just, for me personally, I knew what I had to do to help us. You know, just gotta adjust. I know how to adjust my game, I work on it. It might not be our system, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”
This is not intended to paint a picture of strategic mutiny within the locker room — LaVine made that chide about the team’s ‘system’ good-naturedly. But it’s a fun statistical blip, and a reminder that even in the most progressive, regimented offensive infrastructures, there is room for nuance.
Take these two attempts as examples, one from LaVine and one from White. Both happen rather naturally in the flow of the offensive possession (though both are mid-shot-clock) and exploit sagging or backpedaling Thunder defenders.
Strictly by the numbers, neither LaVine nor White are eye-poppingly efficient from midrange. But if defenses are going to concede these types of looks often, it doesn’t hurt to mix a few in over the course of a game to keep opponents on their toes — especially if they’re hot. Both LaVine and White are clearly comfortable shooting from that area and have the lift to get clean shots off on occasion.
Of course, the Bulls aren’t going to change the way they play based on one torrid shooting night. They’re 29th in the league in shooting percentage on midrange looks (33.6%), even on low volume. But sometimes, when the game ebbs in a certain direction, you just have to roll with it. Head coach Jim Boylen acknowledged that point.
“I thought Zach made a couple midrange shots in that third quarter, he got his feet down and he took ‘em. I think Coby’s done a nice job of taking some of his midrange and turning them into assists,” Jim Boylen said. “A guy understanding where his efficient shots come from is part of the growth process. So we chart those things and we look at those things.
“I think it comes down to decisions and feel. You know, end of the clock, you gotta take a two you take it. What we don’t want is contested, mid-clock twos, those are — and we make some of them, everybody makes some of ‘em — but [limiting contested, midclock twos is] what we’re striving for.”
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