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The Bulls' after-timeout execution has been abysmal

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The Bulls are playing poorly in fourth quarters this year, and a big part of that has to do with their ATO struggles.

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

If you have followed the Bulls at all in 2016, you are likely well aware of the struggles the team has had finishing out games, regardless of opponent quality. In fact, in two games alone in the past week, the Bulls surrendered a 34-15 fourth-quarter run in a loss to the Heat and followed it up by nearly giving away a win against the Raptors that saw Toronto explode for 30 fourth quarter points.

So what is hampering the Bulls so hard down the stretch? Our friend Stephen Noh (aka THJ) at The Athletic believes much of it has to do with Fred Hoiberg's after-timeout play design and subsequent failure. It's a subject he has been critical of since the earlier parts of this season, but this last month of incompetence has added perhaps even more fuel to his argument. He notes:

The Bulls have been especially horrid at scoring out of fourth-quarter timeouts in March. They've had 18 such opportunities to run after-timeout plays (ATOs, as they're commonly known) and in those 18 opportunities, the Bulls have scored only seven points. Four of those came off broken plays with multiple offensive rebounds.

In reality, the only time the Bulls have legitimately scored off a fourth quarter Hoiberg-designed play this month was when he drew up a 3-pointer for Aaron Brooks in garbage time with the Bulls down by 19 points to the Heat. They have not scored on their last 17 consecutive attempts, excluding broken plays from offensive rebounds.

Read that again: The last 17 fourth-quarter ATO plays Hoiberg has drawn up have resulted in zero baskets. The Bulls have two baskets in that span because of offensive rebounds. --Stephen Noh

Perhaps even worse for the Bulls is that they not only aren't scoring on such plays, in many cases they fail to even get a shot off, and in the worst of cases they end up taking a five-second violation. I say "cases" because it not only happened against the Drakeville Drakes on Monday night, but also in the final seconds of a loss to the Mavericks earlier this season, and it nearly happened again in a game against the Rockets before a timeout was called. The Bulls promptly turned the ball over on the next inbounds attempt. For this March alone, the Bulls have airballed two of their inbounds attempts and turned the ball over six times on 18 chances.

Noh acknowledges some of these instances are just sheer dumb luck, but also recognizes that much of these struggles come down to poor situational awareness from Hoiberg:

The Bulls were drawing up plays for Jimmy Butler last night, who was playing big minutes in his first game back from injury and had played the entire quarter. He was clearly tired at the end of the game, but Hoiberg kept on pounding him the ball in isolations and Butler kept on missing badly on his shots. --Stephen Noh

If you would like to examine each of Hoiberg's ATO plays in all of their mediocrity, Noh provides a wonderful log of each play from the month of March in his article, complete with videos from the NBA Stats website. Read it before it ends up behind a paywall!