The Chicago Bulls aren’t bad; they’re bipolar. And the near-loss to the Los Angeles Clippers exemplified everything that’s both right and wrong with the team.
They watched a 16-point lead dissolve in the fourth quarter in spite of the fact the Clippers were without the services of Blake Griffin, and Chris Paul was uncharacteristically inefficient. They shot 34.1 percent and nearly won.
It was the fourth game in a row the Bulls were completely outplayed and harassed into a total breakdown in the final frame.
In the fourth quarter of their last four games combined, the Bulls have been outscored by 39 total points — by far the worst figure in the league. In that span, they’ve shot 39.8 percent for the field and 23.8 percent from deep when the game matters most.
With an offensive rating of 97.1, they have the second-worst offense in the league.
On the other hand, they’re a team that built a 16-point lead while the Clippers did have Griffin. They forced Paul into that uncharacteristically poor shooting performance. They held the Clippers to 34.1 percent shooting.
They have the third-best point differential in the third quarter over the last four games. Before the recent swoon, they were actually +14 in the final frame, good for 12th in the league and were fresh off a fourth-quarter comeback over the Denver Nuggets.
And, as horrid as the offense has been, the defense has been stellar, ranking third in the league with a rating of 96.9. So, while there are plenty of bad things to say about the Bulls, there are as many goods. Which is what makes the whole thing so frustrating.
The easy temptation is to lay it all on the feet of new coach Fred Hoiberg and his new “three-point centered offense,” but that’s not entirely fair. The Bulls are shooting just fine from deep, hitting 36.5 percent of their shots and 38.2 percent if you discount the awfulness that is Derrick Rose’s shooting that no coach can compensate for.
Even with the Masked-Possession Bandit throwing the ball about willy-nilly, though, the Bulls are sixth in the league in three-point percentage. On shots where the closest defender is no less than four feet away, they’re shooting 38.4 percent. Only the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers are doing better. This belies the notion that the Bulls don’t have the personnel to run that kind of offense.
The problem isn’t there. In spite of their success in shooting the three, they’re only 21st in both open and total threes attempted. And let’s face it, you can only make the shots you take.
Here’s the Bulls’ shot chart:
We see mostly yellow, which means the Bulls would at least be average if they weren’t so awful at the rim.
Now these next couple of illustrations are hideous, so if you’re squeamish or have recently eaten, you might want to avert your eyes.
This is not what we mean when we fans say “see red.”
Let’s try a different approach. Here’s the Bulls’ shot chart overall, courtesy of StatMuse:
And here it is without Noah or Rose:
See any difference? See all that dark blue in the mid-range area? Not only are the Bulls better at the rim and from three, they’re also better at the mid-range game sans Rose and Noah.
I know sometimes it’s not always about the numbers. But sometimes the answer is pretty obvious. The problems aren’t related to the new coaching staff. They’re related to Rose and Noah being god awful, R-rated-for-violence shooters.
This isn’t complicated. It’s not Hoiberg’s fault that Rose and Noah couldn’t land a tea bag in a cup of hot water. The struggle with the offense is the Bulls’ two former stars playing like a shell of their former selves. (Nikola Mirotic taking a step backward hasn’t helped either.)
When crunch time comes, the Bulls fall back on old habits. And guess which pairing has been outscored by 27 points in the fourth quarter of the last four games, the worst of any Bulls duo?
And while it’s heartbreaking to type that, it’s undeniable. The proof is in the pudding…or in the not putting of the ball in the basket.
If you want a glimmer of hope, though, here’s Rose’s shot chart since taking the mask off:
All stats and shot charts for this article were obtained from NBA.com, unless otherwise indicated.