The spacing concerns that dominated the offseason look pretty overblown after the Bulls opened the season with a win over the much improved Boston Celtics. The Bulls shot 44% from beyond the arc despite a combined 1/7 effort from Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott. The trio of Alphas, much maligned for their shooting, canned 9/13 three pointers, with Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler each shooting 4/6 from deep.
Wade’s shooting was particularly impressive to me. He appeared to be committed to improving his range during preseason and at least for one night he’s stuck with it. The fact that he made four of his six attempts was nice, but just seeing Wade shoot from beyond the arc is a positive sign for the Bulls. Wade has attempted six or more threes in a game just eight times since 2010, an incredibly low volume for a high usage guard who’s athletic peak was in the distant past. Thursday night was his first time attempting six threes in a game since 2013!
For the most part, Wade was content to just take what the defense gave him. His connected on his first three pointer after catching a pass on the wing and seeing Avery Bradley sag way off to prevent a drive or a pass to Robin Lopez. His final triple, the dagger with under a minute left in the game, happened because Bradley completely abandoned Wade in the corner so he could help on Taj Gibson in the paint. When a loose ball found it’s way out to DWade, he calmly sunk the biggest shot of the night before Bradley had a chance to fully recover.
I don’t expect Wade or Butler to make 66% of their three point attempts all season. I’d be thrilled if they settled into the 34-35% range. But what must happen, even if the shots aren’t falling, is they must continue to fire away when their defenders sag and clog the paint.
For much of the night, general paint clogging was a big issue for the Bulls. While the Celtics were the victims of a hot shooting night from a few unlikely sources, they were able to keep the game close with their stout defense in two point territory. The Bulls shot just 37% on twos.
Much of the shooting woes can be tied to a high number of mid-range attempts the Bulls were forced into taking. Chicago overall was a paltry 6/22 on inefficient two pointers taken from outside the paint.
Wade and Butler were the primary mid-range culprits, attempting 13 shots in the dreaded NBA dead zone. But while a few of these shots can be chalked up to poor decision making, the majority were merely indicative of the Celtics’ strategy to stop Chicago by packing the paint.
Give credit to Butler for his willingness to fight through the thicket of bodies all night. Jimmy, who quietly led Chicago in scoring with 24 points, made 12 trips to the line. The Bulls shot 30 free throws in this game, and are going to need to live at the charity stripe if they hope to have anything approaching an efficient offense this season.
Butler’s unique athleticism and aggression will probably not rub off onto the other perimeter players on the roster, and that’s alright. Wade does not need to take a pounding in the regular season, and Rondo’s inability to finish around the rim make his assist hunting less concerning than it seems.
But, if the Bulls hope to sustain this kind of offensive efficiency (105.8 points per 100 possessions!) two things must happen:
- The Alphas must continue to bomb away from three. Even if this first game proves to be a major outlier in terms of three point accuracy, a willingness to shoot will have some psychological effect on defenses that should open up other avenues of scoring.
- The high volume of mid range jump shots must either be converted to attempts near the rim, or moved back a few feet beyond the line.
A win is a win, but there are definitely aspects of this victory that seem unsustainable. The Bulls will not out-shoot their opponents from three very often this season, as they did against the Celtics. But if they make a concerted effort to maximize the efficiency of their shot locations, this could be a team that far exceeds their low expectations.