Friday, April 20, 2012

Bulls Offense Worrisome But Not Fatal (Yet)

It's been noted elsewhere, but after being among the top 3 offenses in the NBA throughout most of this year, the Bulls' offense has fallen out of the top 5 (down to sixth), and has been downright ugly since the start of April. I ran the numbers for points per 100 possessions since their April 1 stinker against OKC and got 98.1, which, over the course of a full season, would have the Bulls tied with Cleveland for 4th worst offense in the NBA, ahead of only Detroit, Washington, and the historically atrocious Bobcats. Take away the Bulls' game against the Bobcats (who also have the league's worst D), in which they scored a scintillating 117.6 pts. per 100 possessions, and that number plummets to 96.1, ahead of only Charlotte. Last night against Miami, they managed all of 80.9 pts. per 100 possessions, a number that even Charlotte could LOLZ at. 


So what's been the problem? I think a couple things. Their True Shooting percentage hasn't really been elite all year, but it was hovering slightly around and even above the league average for most of the season. That's changed, with the Bulls now pretty firmly in the latter half of the league. This doesn't hurt the Bulls as much as it would most teams because THEY ARE FUCKING TERRORS ON THE OFFENSIVE BOARDS, and with the exception of last night's game vs. Miami, that (thankfully) hasn't changed in April. If it had, instead of watching a run-of-the-mill poor NBA offense, we'd be watching a historically shitty one. 

Much more destructive has been the increase in turnovers this month, with the Bulls giving away the rock 19 times in three of April's 10 games thus far, with another game of 17 miscues and one of 15. This run of sloppy play has seen the Bulls fall out of the top 10 in TO rate for the first time all season. 

Also worth noting is that the Bulls' FT shooting, never anything to write home about, has been downright awful in April. They've gotten there at a very decent clip in some games, but have pissed away any advantage they might accrue from that. April has seen Deng getting to the line more than he has at any time since his wrist injury, but that increase has totally been offset by his 70% pct. once he's there, the worst he's had in a month this season. And it's not just Luol. Boozer, never much better than low 70%, is shooting 55% this month. Asik, always terrible, has been especially so, at 42%. And that's still better than Brewer's 41.5% from the line in April. Taj and Noah have both had good months at the line for them, but they haven't been able to make up for the plummeting averages of their teammates.

In some sense, this is good news. The Bulls are never going to be a good FT shooting team so long as they play Boozer, Brewer, and Asik big minutes, but going forward those three shouldn't be as terrible as they've been recently, and if they can return to shooting at their career averages, that would be a considerable bump. 

Still the TOs and offensive struggles in general are extremely concerning. Over the past month, the Bulls have remained an elite defensive team (overtaking Boston recently to become the most efficient defensive team in the league) and that might still be enough to take down a flailing Sixers squad in the first round. But beyond that, an offense that's scoring at one of the worst rates in the league over the past month is not going to be able to seriously compete for a title. Simple as that.

However, recent history suggests all is not lost. Last year, the Mavs, like the Bulls this year, were a surprisingly effectively offensive team throughout the season, but in the final month, their offense was severely hampered by injuries to some key players. They stumbled toward the Playoffs, but they got healthy and managed to get things working offensively just in time. There's still a ton of uncertainty surrounding Rose's ankle injury, but assuming he can come back healthy, it's certainly conceivable the Bulls could regain their elite offensive status fairly quickly. The Bulls' recent offensive swoon isn't ideal by any stretch, but it isn't necessarily fatal to their Title hopes.**

**(Unless Rose can't come back, in which case, yeah, we're pretty fucked.)

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