Chicago has gotten the season off to a better start than anyone would’ve expected, with a record of 10-7, currently in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency. At this juncture it’s safe to say that this year’s team is a likely playoff one.
Three games this season the Bulls have lost in the final minutes of the fourth quarter; Clippers, Nuggets and Lakers. A theme from last season has reared its ugly head: Chicago’s execution down the stretch of tight contests has been downright awful.
What we’ve seen in the fourth quarter blunders has been a mix of poor coaching and player performance. Questionable rotation decisions from Fred Hoiberg (Bobby Portis vs. the Clippers, playing Rajon Rondo) have been a factor. And the players have strayed away from the game plan during the final minutes, coming undone on the defensive end, turning to inefficient iso-ball on offense.
While the above clips single out Rondo and Dwyane Wade for poor shot selection, that doesn’t absolve Jimmy Butler from criticism. While he’s certainly hit some big shots during clutch situations this season, he’s also taken some very tough ones as well. Butler’s shooting 37.3% from the field and 22.2% from three in the final period. And in the fourth quarter alone, Butler has a -8.9 net rating. Which, isn’t quite as bad as Wade’s -10.4 or Rondo’s -13.4, is still less than ideal (everyone else is awful too).
Individual plays and statistics aside, as a team the Bulls are one of the worst in the league in clutch situations. Defined as the last five minutes of the game, with the score within five points or less, Chicago’s net rating of -19 lands them 25th overall. They aren’t stopping anyone, as evident by their 106.7 defensive rating.
But probably more alarming is the fact that they aren’t scoring when it’s needed.
Their offensive rating during the clutch is a paltry 87.7 which again, lands them 25th overall. With players such as Butler and Wade, guys crashing the boards in Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez, this shouldn’t be the case, but it is. The Bulls are dead last in the league in field goal percentage in the clutch, shooting a mere 26.6%. Three point percentage? 18.2%.
There are certainly situations where it’s OK to isolate Butler and/or Wade, but that can’t always be the de facto in the clutch. In the final minutes of a close contest, each possession is critical. Sabotaging offensive possessions for forced, long two-point jumpers as seen above or unnecessary isolations isn’t going to result in success, as we’ve seen.
Chicago has two primary issues at hand, their bench unit and being able to close out games in the fourth quarter. Both of these issues are fixable however, the latter of the two more pertinent. If they’re able to shore up their fourth quarter performances in the clutch, they can be a better team than what we’ve seen thus far.