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Another Bulls loss where the crunch-time offense devolved into isolations

The Bulls struggled to score when the intensity ratcheted up

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

After blowing a 20 point first half lead, the Bulls had plenty of opportunities to right the ship in a close fourth quarter. They began the final period down just three points and held the Timberwolves to a game-low 21 points. Unfortunately, the Bulls managed just 19 points of their own in the fourth quarter and continued a frustrating trend of complete offensive stagnation with the game on the line.

The Bulls built their lead in the first quarter by pushing the pace on offense and creating easy scoring opportunities before the defense could get settled. Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant each caught fire to start the game as a result of getting themselves easy scoring opportunities while the Wolves were scrambling the find their assignments. But in the last twelve minutes of action, the Bulls abandoned their offensive principles (I think it’s called Hoiball? Does that sound familiar?) and resorted to walking the ball up for isolation heavy possessions.

The Bulls run isolations on 7.7% of possessions, about a league average rate this season. The team averages .89 points on these isolation possessions, which is the 8th highest rate in the NBA. They’ve got two of the more effective isolation scorers in the league with Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler, who rank in the 77th and 66th percentile in isolation, respectively. But even though the Bulls are effective in isolation relative to the rest of the league, they are still significantly less efficient on these possessions than their average of 1.05 points per possession overall.

The offense for the most part looks nothing like how I imagined it would after learning about Hoiberg’s hiring before last season. The team is taking the fewest three point attempts per game in the NBA and converting them at the league’s lowest percentage. But even with the shooting woes, the Bulls rank 11th in points per possession and seem to be holding steady as an above average offense. A lot of that can be attributed to the team’s league-leading offensive rebound rate and sky-high free throw attempt rate, but some of the credit can be attributed to the offensive game plan. In the first three quarters of games the Bulls make an effort to cross half-court with 20 seconds on the shot clock and move the ball side to side in order to create cracks in the defense for Wade or Butler to drive through.

But in the loss last night the Bulls, as they have in many of their losses, seemed content to just roll the ball out on offense and rely on heroic performances from Butler and Wade. The two stars are certainly capable of delivering victories in some games, but it would be nice to see Hoiberg demand adherence to his philosophies for all 48 minutes.