Saying goodbye to the inept trio and other positives

[Another great Diary from sbulls9030. The main point is something very few prognosticators have noticed: Even without acquiring a 'low-post scorer', the Bulls' acquisitions should improve the offense from their frontcourt. -Matt]

One thing that is clear from NBA history is that teams with really good point differentials win championships.  For the Bulls to be a championship caliber team, the Bulls must improve their point differential.  Last year the Bulls finished 5th in the NBA in point differential by outscoring opposing teams by 5 points, but were still more than 3 points behind league leader and NBA champion San Antonio.  This team will need to get closer to San Antonio's 8 point differential in order to compete for a championship.   Dean Oliver's Four Factors summarize the four major categories that lead to point differential.  Here are the four factor rankings for the Bulls last season along with each category's importance, what statistic it's measured by, and the Bulls ranking relative to the rest of the league.  This chart makes it easy to see where the opportunities for improvement are.  The Bulls must shoot better, take better care of the ball, and rebound better on both ends of the floor.

Factor        Off (Rk)   Def (Rk)
 Shootimg     .493 (17)  .473 ( 3) effective FG% = 40%
 Turnovers    .166 (24)  .180 ( 2) turnovers/possessions = 25%
 Rebounding   .286 ( 9)  .743 (10) rebound rates = 20%
 Free Throws  .229 (22)  .252 (19) FTM/FGA = 15%

The Bulls must become a better shooting team.  Shooting is the most significant factor in point differential, and the needs to improve in this season.    The issue here is not how many jump shots the Bulls take or a lack of the post play.  The Bulls take about the same % of jump shots as any other team.  The real issue with this team was its inability to make shots close to the basket.  The Bulls finished dead last in close shot FG% at 50.1%.    Average teams in this category shoot 55% on close shots and the leaders in this category shoot over 60% on close shots.  Luckily this is an area that should improve this season because the team said goodbye to Malik Allen, Michael Sweetney, and P.J. Brown who combined to be simply awful last year.

              Min      ORtg    DRtg  PW       PL    PW%
Sweetney    385    91    98    0.5    1.3    0.262
Malik Allen    638    96    100    0.9    1.7    0.338
P.J. Brown    1455    95    100    1.9    3.7    0.340
That trio ate up 30 minutes of playing time per game, and took nearly 10 FGA/g with a combined FG% of 41.3%.  Nocioni, Smith, Thomas, and Noah will not only shoot much better inside, but will turn many of those layups into dunks.  One of the big questions here will be how well Thomas and Noah finish inside shots that they can't dunk.  They don't need to be able to post people up, but they do need to be able to finish with a jump hook or a layup when they catch the ball close to the basket.  Ben Wallace can help in this area as well.  He's shown the ability to make over 50% as recently as 05/06.

Reducing turnovers is the second most significant task for this season. Gordon, Deng, Nocioni, Wallace, and Hinrich's turnover rates all increased last season.  These five accounted for 70.4% of all the team's possessions with Deng, Gordon, and Hinrich accouting for over 53.5% of the team's possessions.  Simply returning to their 05/06 turnover rates would reduce the Bulls turnovers by almost 2 per game.  The secondary issue will be keeping Sefolosha, Thomas, and Noah's turnovers down to a manageable level.  But, improvement here is the chief responsibility of Gordon, Deng, and Hinrich.

Rebounding is also a key area where I expect the team to improve. 9th and 10th in the league is good, but not good enough, especially on the defensive glass.  The Bulls weren't a bad defensive rebounding team.  But a lot of times last year it felt like it, as the opposing team grabbed offense rebound after offense rebound as our players stood glued to the ground.  The Bulls will be replacing below average rebounders in P.J. Brown and Malik Allen.  Brown, Allen. and Sweetney had a combined 13.4 rebound rate.  Smith, Thomas, and Noah will each have a rebound rate of at least 15.0 and be above-average rebounders.  If Sefolosha is able to play more minutes, he'll help in this area as well.  Rebounding was the one area he clearly excelled at during his rookie season, and his rebound rate nearly doubles that of Hinrich, Gordon, or Duhon.  Improving in this area is especially important if the Bulls have to play Cleveland in the playoffs as the Cavs are both offensively and defensively dependent on their rebounding advantage.

Finishing inside better, taking better care of the ball, and rebounding better are the three areas where the Bulls should and need to improve this season.  Replacing the trio of Brown, Allen, and Sweetney with better more athletic players is a clear and often overlooked improvement.  I was surprised that John Hollinger didn't get past the low post scoring issue enough to notice the impact of the change in frontcourt personnel.  Improvement in these areas will not only help the Bulls finish better than 20th in offensive efficiency, but will help the defense be even better as well.  For the 1st time in Skiles's tenure, all of his frontcourt players will have the necessary physical ability to trap and recover in the Bulls' defensive system.  That combined with improved defensive rebounding and better offense creates a real opportunity for significant improvement in the league's best defense.  There are clear opportunities to increase the team's point differential.  By how much will depend on the improvement of the individual players.

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