Bulls fans have been pulling their hair out all week. After a largely preventable three-game skid, the Bulls nearly dropped a fourth in an unnecessarily close win against the Clippers. Up 16 points against L.A, the Clippers stormed back after Blake Griffin’s flagrant two ejection mid-way through the third quarter. Sure, the Bulls ended up hanging on for the win, but it wasn’t exactly the most convincing win of the season.
This Bulls win was like when your opponent hits the 8 ball in when you're playing pool.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) December 11, 2015
Try as the Bulls might, the Clippers refused to let them lose tonight.— Ric Bucher (@RicBucher) December 11, 2015
According to Popcornmachine.net, the Clippers went on a 11-3 run to end the third quarter and a 12-0 run to start the fourth. For a team with aspirations of anything other than a 76ers tank job, this is completely unacceptable. Even worse, it wasn’t even the first (or third) time this week the Bulls have allowed their opponent to surge back from a major deficit to creep back into the game.
The Bulls have gotten beaten up in the fourth quarter of every game this week. Popcornmachine also shows the Bulls went -7 against the Clippers, -5 against the Celtics, -18 against the Suns and -9 against the Hornets all in the fourth quarter. During those 4th quarters, they allowed a 10-0 and a 5-0 run vs. Boston, 14-5, 14-4 and 7-0 runs against Phoenix, and a 5-0, 7-2, and a 7-0 run to close out the game in Charlotte. Charlotte and Boston both had 30-point fourth quarters, while Phoenix managed 42, so it’s not surprising that they dropped all three of those games, during which time they dropped from first place in the East on Sunday to 8th by Wednesday.
The Bulls allowing their opponents to cut into their lead is them beating themselves. They come out in the fourth quarter with no sense of urgency, no energy and no will to actually close out very winnable games. Many people have blamed the players, many have blamed the Front Office and some have blamed Hoiberg for these botched games. While the answer is probably option D, all of the above, the real problem is the lack of identity that has determined the fate of this team.
Per NBA.com’s SportVU data, the Bulls have some clutch statistics that match the eye test. Their clutch time (last five minutes of a game within five points) net rating is -0.2, and are bottom five in both offensive and defensive rating, 90.0 and 90.2, respectively. What really sticks out is the fact that they assist on only 38.2 percent of their clutch field goals (26th in the league), and have a brutal assist to turnover ratio of 0.59 (28th). This really informs their struggle to score the ball in late game situations - they are 29th in eFG% at 36.1 and 21st in TS% at 48.9%.
The Bulls offense has been a mess, but in the clutch, they completely fall apart. They run a couple of Hoibergian sets towards the beginning of each the fourth quarter, but essentially regress into an isoball team as they start to miss their shots.
After whatever this is, everyone is completely ready give up on Hoiball, opting for isolations and low IQ basketball plays.
The iso-game just doesn’t cut it. Rose is so afraid to miss shots, he only takes them if it’s a wide open layup, or the shot clock is running out.
That is not the face of a player who looks remotely interested in playing. Rose took that shot because the shot clock was at 1, not because he has any sort of confidence in his game right now.
The Bulls will need more from Rose. But his personal (pre-maskless) struggles shouldn't cloud the fact that Nikola Mirotic has completely fallen off the face of the Earth, and is a completely unreliable scoring option in late games. The fact that Joakim Noah isn’t a scoring option at all, and that Pau Gasol needs to back his man down into the post until 4 seconds on the clock, and that completely clashes with the Hoiberg system.
But the problem isn’t entirely the players. It’s that the players, aren’t as good as they used to be and haven’t yet bought into their system. That’s on everyone from the players, to the coaching staff to the front office.
At this point, we all know this is Jimmy Butler’s team, but all of the players need to be a part of it. They need to have faith in the system and not rely entirely on Butler pulling up for long two’s. He's kind of addicted to them, and not so great at it.
For those interested, here's the worst mid-range % for players with 91 such FGA. Oy, Mudiay. pic.twitter.com/vn0QvKw2x2— Jacob Rosen (@WFNYJacob) December 10, 2015
This isn’t what Hoiberg envisioned when he took the job. Nor Bulls fans, who dreamt of a seamless jive with their new offense a la Kerr’s Warriors. Currently, the Bulls only show up for the National TV games. They have to come to play every day, no matter their perceived skill of the opponent. The East is too good this year for the Bulls to get away with that laziness.
And Butler needs some help. He’s proven he has the skill to be a clutch time scorer, but judging by the last four games, the Bulls can’t beat teams with talent alone. It’s easy to give Jimmy ball and tell him to go get buckets, but that doesn’t help the team learn Hoiball. And the Bulls aren’t going reap the benefits of Hoiball until they learn it.
They have to give it a chance by engaging and wrestling with it, through the challenges, rather than turning into a isolation team in crunch time. This is a lesson in the importance of completely buying into their new system, because having one foot isn’t helping this team win at a high level.