Bulls vs. Sixers: Injury-induced shorter rotations diminishing Bulls aggressiveness

The Bulls' 17 turnovers in Wednesday's 16-point beating at the hands of the 76ers were certainly the devastating factor that Philly exploited for a gap-widening 29 points. But the Bulls were also out-rebounded 43-37, accumulating only eight on the offensive end where they bricked 42 shots from the field for a season-low 20% offensive rebounding rate (ORR/ORB%), according to Hoopdata.

The Bulls themselves won't make excuses, but they're a team that wins with energy, hustle, aggressiveness, blah, blah, blah -- basically extensions of their speed, size, alertness, I.Q., and the knowledge acquired through scouting before the game. The injuries to Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton are forcing extended shifts on the lesser-skilled Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, shrinking those reserves' margin of error, demanding more push from the entire rotation, and the wears are showing some tears.

Tom Thibodeau called the Bulls "sluggish" after the blowout, adding: "They [the Sixers] came out with a lot of aggressiveness. We got back on our heels... Our reaction was very poor. They beat us to loose balls, second-effort plays."

The Bulls came out of halftime looking absolutely awful. Their six turnovers into 13 points in the third quarter played a huge role in the Sixers lighting them up for separate 11-1 and 13-5 runs. The Bulls just added to the mess, grabbing only two offensive boards on 13 bricks and dropping an egg on points in the paint, while Philly grabbed four offensive boards on 15 misses, getting out-rebounded 14-9 in the quarter of a game where they were out-rebounded by four [.pdf].

Sure, the turnovers put the Sixers over the top, but it's one thing to turn the ball over being sloppy and another to get caught napping on loose balls of all sorts. It's one thing for opponents to convert forced turnovers into fastbreak points and another to have opponents' halfcourt possessions constantly never challenged by second-efforts -- let alone lacking the third-efforts to prevent basket cutting and recovering to close out on shooters.

Through Wednesday's games, the team which committed more turnovers is 111-190 (36.9%) this season and the team that's been out-rebounded is 103-207 (33.2%).

The Bulls are 8-4 (67%) this year when their turnover rate (TOV%) is higher than that they force on opponents, but they're 5-3 (62.5%) when they're in the red in ORB% differential. They've been on the wrong side of those factors in three straight games, losing two -- but the one win was against the Wizards, so, well, you know.

The fact of the matter is that data from this season's NBA reflects that sloppiness is up and energy is down across the league. According to Basketball-Reference.com, FG% is down to .443 from .459 (3.5% drop), FT% is down to .745 from .763 (2.4% drop), and scoring is down to 102.6 points per 100 possessions (ORtg) from 107.3 (4.4% drop). And even with Pace Factor only slightly down to 91.5 from 92.1 (0.7% drop), "pace" is a reflection of possessions per team per 48 minutes and the factors which add possessions to games are up -- TOV% is way up to .143 from .134 (6.7% rise) while this year's defensive rebounding rate (.737 DRB%) is about the same as last season's .736.

The Bulls themselves are up to fifth this season in ORtg from 11th last season, but slightly down to 107.2 from 108.3 (1% drop), about the same in TOV%, way up in ORB% to .315 from .294 (7.1% rise), but down to a league-average .734 in DRB% from last season's second-best .762 (3.7% drop). The volatility of swings in turnover differential are just going to be the state of the league this year and the Bulls are definitely well on the right side of average in that category, but inconsistent rebounding on the defensive end elongates their opponents' possessions, wasting their own successful efforts at forcing bricks, and kills more opportunities for them to catch opponents napping in transition.

Sure, the Bulls lost in Philly -- to a 16-6 team with a league-best 94.0 DRtg, allowing only an absolutely ridiculous 81.3 PPG at home primarily -- because of turnovers. But the Bulls have proven time and time-again that their aggressiveness on the glass creates blowouts when other numbers suggest otherwise, holds difficult leads when other aspects of the game are lacking, and can always keep opponents within striking distance when they themselves are getting outplayed.

The injuries to this team will slow down the hurt players here and there. But when they're not there, the shrinking rotation more unevenly distributes the burden -- and threatens the energy necessary for the Bulls to win games.

All of that said, they're an East-best 18-6. Let's have a party.

But, yeah, since starting the 2010-11 season 11-18 in their first 29 games that included the Bulls kicking them around for a 45-point slaughterfest, the Sixers are 46-29 with three straight wins over the Bulls. They're The Truth.

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