The Chicago Bulls are a deep and talented team on paper. Not many teams can boast a rotation filled with so many established players and former All-Stars (Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah). This team, with offensive savant (at least in college) Fred Hoiberg at the helm, should be one of the best offensive teams in the league. So far they’re only better than the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers on offense.
You read that right. The Bulls rank 28th in the league in points per 100 possessions. Chicago ranked 10th in the league in offensive efficiency last season with defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau as the coach and Rose limited to 51 games. Rose has double vision this season and Mike Dunleavy Jr. has yet to play, but that putrid number is still shocking. Chicago’s sixth-ranked defensive efficiency and the brilliance of Butler is the only thing keeping them from being a mere .500 team. How in the world are the Bulls this bad on offense? Their shot chart tells some of the story:
The Bulls’ shot distribution isn’t ideal in the this advanced stats age. A whopping 29.7 percent of Chicago’s shots come from the vaunted mid-range. Their conversion rate of 38.5 percent on those shots is slightly below league average. The bigger issue is that only 28.2 percent of the Bulls’ field goal attempts are coming at the rim, and they’re shooting an abysmal 52.2 percent from that range (helped by Rose’s 41 percent shooting at the rim so far this season). The only above-average shooting areas for the Bulls are in the corners, but those attempts make up only five percent of their shots.
Nearly half of Chicago’s shots (49.7 percent) come from mid-range and above the break three-pointers. The Bulls spot up on 20.3 percent of their shots, which is the seventh-highest rate in the league, per Synergy. The Bulls also rank seventh on points per play on those shots, which is encouraging, but there’s room to do even better if they shoot more from the corners and less from mid-range. The Bulls’ shot distribution has been poor, but they’ve actually been an above-average jump-shooting team. The real killer on offense has been the lack of easy buckets.
Nothing is coming easy
The Bulls’ inability to finish in the paint has brought down the offense, but their failure to create easy shots has been just as detrimental. The easiest shots in the game come from transition, putbacks and the free throw line. The Bulls are among the worst in the league in all three of those categories.
According to Synergy, Chicago is in transition for only 11.7 percent of its possessions, ranking seventh from the bottom in the league. Their points per play of .98 in transition is the fourth-lowest mark in the NBA. That’s unacceptable for a team that ranks eighth in the NBA in pace and has a backcourt of Rose and Butler. The Bulls often crawl the ball up the court offensively instead of pushing the ball in transition. Exhibit A:
This is off a missed shot. 4 guys below half court with :19 on clock. Hinrich doesn't cross until :17. Can't happen. pic.twitter.com/zZK22glUMI
— Stephen Noh (@hungarianjordan) November 28, 2015
To make matters worse, the Bulls create few second-chance opportunities. After ranking fifth in offensive rebound rate last season, Chicago has crashed down to 27th this season. The starting frontcourt of Gasol and Nikola Mirotic have a rebound rate of 45.9 percent when they share the floor together, per NBA.com. The Milwaukee Bucks have the worst rebound rate in the league at 46.4 percent. You get the idea.
The Bulls are also drawing significantly less free throws this season. Chicago ranked fourth in free throw attempts and third in percentage last season. This year, the Bulls rank 23rd in free throw attempts and 17th in percentage. Butler is still living at the free throw line, but opponents are no longer falling for Mirotic’s flailing antics. The team’s increase in jump shots has also led to less foul-drawing opportunities. The combination of fewer fast breaks, offensive rebounds and free throw attempts has helped the Bulls’ offense fall from above-average to a near league-worst mark this season. Starting two players who are really struggling offensively hasn’t helped, either.
All-Stars no more
Rose and Gasol are struggling on offense for different reasons. Rose has double vision, but more importantly hasn’t shown he can be the same player post-injures. Gasol is a 35-year-old coming off one of the best seasons of his career, but his offensive contributions are inefficient. The Bulls have been awful offensively with both of them on the floor.
Both players have sub-96 offensive ratings, which is staggering considering the Los Angeles Lakers are the second-worst offensive team in the league at 96.4 points per 100 possessions. Rose has tried to take better shots, but his inability to finish in the paint or hit outside shots has derailed his efficiency this season. He’s a step slower than he used to be and has lost almost all the lift in his legs. He’s also just an average playmaker, so his contributions have been largely negative. Double vision has played a factor in his poor play, but time is running out for Rose. If he can’t prove that he can play at even a league-average rate anymore, he’s likely playing his last season in Chicago in 2016-17.
Gasol is a poor offensive rebounder whose offense primarily comes from post ups and mid-range shots, which would be fine if he excelled in those areas. He doesn’t.
Pau ranks in the 33rd percentile in post-ups, which makes up 21.4 percent of his offense. He no longer has the strength to back players down, so he’s often forced to take tough turnaround jumpers. The rest of his offense comes from mid-range jumpers, which make up nearly half of his field goal attempts (48.6 percent). He’s shooting a league-average 42.2 percent on those shots, down from a 45 percent mark last season. This inefficient offensive approach has led to his 94.9 offensive rating, which is third-worst in the league among non-Sixers (min. 25 minutes per game).
Gasol is a poor fit for this team and Hoiberg’s system, making a trade seem like a good idea, but the Bulls seldom make trades. Thus, this team will have to improve on offense internally. Until the Bulls start taking better shots and creating easier scoring opportunities, that’s not going to happen.