Bulls

Supporting actor Dwyane Wade ready if called upon to lead in Game 3

Supporting actor Dwyane Wade ready if called upon to lead in Game 3

Dwyane Wade had to chuckle at himself when the notion of him taking a leading role could be needed to complete an improbable start to the Bulls’ first-round series with the Celtics.

One of the reasons Chicago was so attractive to Wade was the presence of Jimmy Butler, who’s certainly cemented himself as a top 10-15 player this season. So Wade is more than content letting Butler have his turn in the spotlight—but he’s also had his share of closing moments this season, such as his 11-point fourth quarter in Game 2 where he turned off the lights at TD Garden with walk-down 3-pointers.

“I’m a supporting man,” Wade said. “I want to be up for an Oscar in my supporting role. Jimmy’s the leader. He’s the lead actor here. Myself, Rondo and all those guys -- it’s our job to support him. When it’s time in these playoffs for me to lead, I’ve done it my whole life.”

One could argue Wade has been one of the best leading men in NBA history before ceding some spotlight to LeBron James in Cleveland. Wade wasn’t shy about making the comparison of Butler’s responsibilities in this series to James’ in Miami, where Wade also mastered the art of being a supporting actor.

With the Bulls up 2-0, Wade has taken yet another half-step back to allow Rajon Rondo to emerge and Butler has been his usual brilliant self. He knows a time will be called for him to do more, but he won’t answer until he’s called.

“I’m not saying I’m gonna always come through, but I enjoy the moment when it’s time for me to make (plays). Some nights, it won’t be. You’ve got to do other things. But the other night, it was an opportunity to make some shots, get the ball in the areas that I like.  ... That’s a comfort in our team knowing that we have guys that can do it, especially Jimmy.”

Make no mistake, though, two games don’t determine a series, even if the Bulls have outplayed the Celtics for the most part of 96 minutes on the road and being the first team since the first round moved to the best of seven format to take a 2-0 lead as an eighth seed.

“You’re not thinking you’re gonna go in Boston and get two,” Butler said. “You’re just trying to get one. That’s your focus. But once you got that one, now it’s just another game. Now, you’ve got to try and get the next one. But coming in, I didn’t say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna be up 2-0 on Boston.’ No, no one thought that. But we are in this position. We’ve earned it.”

And earning the right to have a 2-0 lead with two games at home on a spring weekend in Chicago brings about a different kind of pressure, one would think. The Bulls haven’t won five games in a row all season so a win Friday night would not only break that trend but put a stronghold on the series not many thought possible before it began.

Even if many saw the Celtics as a perfect opponent for the Bulls, expecting them to take a 3-0 lead would be seen as farfetched given the 82-game sample size presented from October to April.

“We anticipate Boston coming out, it's one of the best road teams in the league, it's been a very resilient team all year,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to continue to go out and play for each other. I know our guys aren't satisfied, they've got to continue to bring it and I'm confident our guys will.”

Only the Celtics and Toronto Raptors have winning records on the road this season (each at 23-18), and Isaiah Thomas rejoined the Celtics in Chicago after spending time with his family in Seattle following the unexpected death of his sister over the weekend.

The Celtics are hoping the change of scenery brings about some extra toughness, considering the way the Bulls have beat them up on the boards, led by Robin Lopez playing keep-away from Al Horford.

Considering the way the Bulls have outmuscled the Celtics, Wade is expecting a different brand of basketball this weekend and his team had better be ready.

“Just when you’re down you make a few adjustments, whether it’s your lineup, your coverages. You try to do things a little different than you did,” Wade said. “They’re gonna play a physical game. As the series goes on you start disliking guys a little more, game gets a little more physical, it’ll be the hardest game we’ve played to date. Gotta be prepared for that.”

And if Wade is called upon to step forward, his understated sentiments aside, he feels he has more than enough to make a difference.

Three observations: Bulls come up short against Bucks — again

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USA Today

Three observations: Bulls come up short against Bucks — again

For the second time in less than a week, the Bulls played the Bucks close, but came up just short — this time falling 115-101 at the United Center. Three observations from a soul-crushing loss:

Daniel Gafford: Free man

If I dumped all the expletives I have written in my notebook about Daniel Gafford from this game, you’d never read another article under this byline.

So, while I catch my breath, here are the hits:

 

 

 

Gafford ended the game a -4 in 20 minutes, but it’s hard to overstate the impact he had on a particularly electric Bulls bench in this one. He was every bit the gumptious, brick-bodied big that Jim Boylen billed him as, and so much more. Every second without the ball in his hands on offense, his feet were moving — setting screens and leveraging rebounding position. In the air, every shot, pass or lob within five feet of him seemed to find his hands, and then — rather violently — the bottom of the net.

At one point, en route to his team-leading 16 first-half points, a fan behind me exclaimed: “Him and Giannis are going at it!” In reference to… Daniel Gafford. What a night.

Gafford ended his stellar NBA debut with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and approximately 2.716 million hearts stolen, on 10-of-12 shooting.

The three-guard lineup provides a spark

At the very beginning of the season, Boylen’s utilizing of a three-guard lineup (Kris Dunn-Coby White-Ryan Arcidiacono) was widely panned. Tonight, that group — with contributions from Thaddeus Young and a combination of Wendell Carter and Daniel Gafford at the center spot — proved their mettle. 

In the first half, that lineup catalyzed a 20-8 run that pulled the Bulls from down nine with 2:17 remaining in the first quarter to up two with 8:05 to go in the second. In the fourth quarter, a torrid stretch by Arcidiacono and White vaulted the Bulls from down 98-90 to up 99-98 in a matter of 66 seconds, sending the UC in a frenzy not seen in quite a while.

The Bucks pulled away from that point on, but this lineup showed something tonight — so much so that Boylen closed with White and Arcidiacono both on the floor along with Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. (Stunningly absent was Tomas Satoransky, who logged only 18 minutes tonight after coming out of the gate aggressive, offensively.)

Arcidiacono was on every loose ball in sight. White was a blur in transition and coming off screens and dribble handoffs. Combined, they shot 7-of-11 from long distance. Maybe Boylen is on to something.

Bulls melt down the stretch

The Bucks finished the game on a 14-2 run after that aforementioned White-Arcidiacono blitz. For most of the game, the Bulls were able to hang around despite being out-shot from three and on the wrong end of a 35-14 free throw disparity, but their energy waned late in the game. Despite miraculously out-rebounding the Bucks 50-48, out-scoring them in the paint 50-46 and competing defensively throughout, the Bulls couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch (they failed to score a field goal in the final six minutes), and it ultimately cost them.

The blame is shared in this one. Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine combined to shoot 6-of-28 from the floor (only 0-of-4 in the fourth) and were largely outplayed by the bench unit. 

In a performance reminiscent of last Thursday’s in Milwaukee, the Bulls appeared to everything necessary to win on Monday. But they didn’t. Now, with a record of 4-10, the heat is on.

Does the Bulls' offense need more pick-and-roll possessions?

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USA TODAY

Does the Bulls' offense need more pick-and-roll possessions?

Last season Zach LaVine was a great pick-and-roll scorer for the Bulls, finishing in the 70th percentile among pick-and-roll ballhandlers. He scored 0.90 points per possession in pick-and-rolls, with that play type accounting for 40.2% of his possessions. That has decreased to 32.8% of his possessions this season, despite his efficiency (0.94 points per possession in pick-and-rolls in 2019-20) improving. 

In traditional stats, LaVine shot 43.9% on 7.2 attempts per game out of pick-and-roll plays and that is down to 5.8 field goal attempts per game, though again, his field goal percentage on pick-and-roll shots is up to 46.1%.

So what is the reason for the drop in this play type for LaVine and could a reverse in this trend improve the Bulls struggling offense?

The first thing to tackle here is why is LaVine shooting less out of the pick-and-roll, and my best guess here would be it is a general part of the new system's goal of creating looks for everyone and keeping the ball from sticking. The Bulls, however, are only 23rd in the league in passes made, the same ranking they had last year while actually making fewer passes per game than they did a season ago.

Since the decrease in pick-and-roll plays isn't helping the Bulls pass more, is it helping their intended goal of getting up more 3-pointers? The short answer here is a very strong yes.

The Bulls are taking 35.5 3-point attempts per game (through 13 games) as compared to 25.9 attempts per game last season but even so, the Bulls offense has actually taken a step back, with a 102.9 offensive rating, compared to a 104.5 offensive rating last season. 

LaVine's usage rate has only decreased slightly from 29.8% to 29.1%, so the breakdown of plays he uses would have to be the main culprit in his slight drop in offensive efficiency. LaVine's 32.8% usage of pick-and-rolls is lower than similar players such as Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell, Andrew Wiggins (sorry Bulls fans), or even Portland youngster Anfernee Simons.

Now, of course, the Bulls play—as we have heard extensively at this point—a style of play more akin to the Houston Rockets than assistant coach Chris Fleming's former Nets squads, as the majority of their 3-point attempts are of the catch-and-shoot variety and usually come off of drive and kick action rather than players running off of screens. 

The Bulls roster is not exactly comprised of a bunch of players who can easily beat their man off the dribble, so it would behoove the Bulls to allow not just LaVine, but the entire roster to work out of pick-and-roll more. LaVine himself touched on how pick-and-roll is his go-to for when he absolutely needs to make a play, especially in situations late in the shot clock. 

"I try to call a pick-and-roll most of the time when that happens and then if nothing comes from that, I'm going to take the shot or pass it. I'm definitely going to at least get a shot on the rim...  If I get it at the top of the key with eight, nine seconds left on the clock, I'm going to try to make a play."

The Bulls roll men have been underwhelming so far this season, with only Wendell Carter Jr. averaging over a point per possession (1.09 PPP, 46th percentile). Carter and Lauri Markkanen have both seen a decrease in their offensive efficiency in pick-and-rolls and the fact that the frequency of which they use pick-and-roll plays has decreased has a lot to do with it.

In 2018-19, Carter scored 1.17 PPP on pick-and-rolls and averaged 2.3 screen assists per game (5.3 screen assist points) and this season that is up to 4.5 screen assists and 10.2 screen assist points per game. No one on this year's steam outside of Carter is averaging more than 1.4 screen assists per game and that is largely a byproduct of the Bulls "five-out" offense, which encourages everyone to spot up for 3-pointers and (usually) has a lone big man to corral offensive rebounds and kick them out to the perimeter.

Last year Markkanen averaged a robust 1.20 PPP on pick-and-rolls and that figure is down to 0.98 PPP in 2019-20. He is by no means an extremely physical player but even he is helped out by the simple threat of a screen to opposing defenses. Even when he makes minimal contact on his screens—a recurring issue—the simple act of a screen and roll, or "slip" provides Markkanen, who has a suspect handle, a more clear path to attack smaller players trying to guard him. 

This is a key reason the Bulls need to implement more screen and roll into their offense. Chicago is second in the league in FGA at the rim coming into Monday night, yet dead last in field goal percentage.

They are getting to the basket plenty, but the fact that they are not converting means they need to scheme up different ways to get these many, many looks at the rim. Playing rookie Daniel Gafford more—or at all for that matter—will likely help remedy this issue as well, as he has excelled in the NBA G League in terms of putting pressure on opposing defenses as a devastating rim-runner. 

And the simplest way to get easy baskets at the rim when your team is not finishing well is to run more pick-and-roll, allowing clear avenues to the basket. The Bulls need to force opposing defenses into rotation more so that they can attack a defense that is scrambling rather than a set one and increasing their pick-and-roll frequency is one of the easiest ways for them to give defenses something different to think about.

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