It isn’t a hot take to say the Chicago Bulls offense has had its fair share of struggles this season. It’s sort of disappointing considering some of the talented offensive players they have, though to be positive the talented players are also young which means more time for them to improve.
Positive Residual, who is one of the top follows on Twitter if you are into sports analytics, recently created a unique type of shooting chart. These charts are really cool stuff, telling you where a players true shooting percentage ranks against the NBA average from a given spot, and also better illustrating the volume of shots taken from a particular area.
For this piece I decided to take a look at the shooting charts of the four “key” players on the Bulls this season: Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Wendell Carter Jr., and Lauri Markkanen. Here are some of the observations from these charts.
(all numbers are through the Denver loss on 1/17)
Kris Dunn hasn’t changed
Shooting a TS% of 50.7 so far this season, Dunn is having his typical below-average shooting efficiency. But it is an improvement: he’s right now averaging career highs in eFG% and 3P%, but he’s only played 19 games so the sample size is a bit small.
Looking at the chart, it’s quite clear Dunn still isn’t confident in his three-point shot. There is a big cluster of shots right in the midrange and it vastly outnumbers those beyond the arc. His three-point attempt rate this season of .123, the lowest in his career. He seems to be doing meh when it comes to shooting from near the top of the three-point line but he’s ice cold from nearly everywhere else. The left corner seems to be a spot of interest for Dunn but with barely any shot attempts in that region you almost have to discard it.
Dunn seems to be the most comfortable shooting on the right block as his TS% from there is above league average along with the shot volume. It makes sense as a lot of the time, you’ll see him drive to his right, then make a crossover or step back and then shoot the jumper if given space.
Another area of interest for Dunn has to be his shooting around the rim. For a point guard like him who isn’t a threat from distance, it’s essential for him to be an efficient scorer near the hoop. Despite teams backing off him and daring him to shoot, Dunn is still a willing driver to the basket. And he’s finishing better at the rim this season...but he’s still lower than league average.
In all, the chart confirms the concerns surrounding Dunn’s offensive arsenal. His attempts from three are paltry in comparison to the amount of mid-range shots he’s taking. Dunn has only attempted 27 three-pointers this season and when compared to the 78 attempts he’s taken in the mid range (16 to 10 feet from the hoop), you can tell which shot he prefers and it’s a bit concerning.
Zach LaVine is shooting a lot
As we all know, LaVine is Chicago’s engine on offense. He’s highest on the pecking order and you can see the Bulls offense really start to sputter when he comes off the floor. LaVine’s shot usage of 31%, which shows the percentage of the teams attempt that he uses while on the floor, is one of the higher numbers in the league and the highest of any of the four main guys Chicago has.
The making percentages haven’t changed much for LaVine this season as compared to last year when he was recovering from the ACL tear, and it’s also nearly the same when it comes to volume.
Given the Bulls use LaVine in a ton of PNR situations as well as in isolation, it should come as no surprise the amount of shots he’s taking in the mid-range. Oddly like Dunn, LaVine has been shooting well from near the right block. He’s been ok on the other block, knocking them a bit above league average.
One thing which stands out in the TS% chart is how bad he’s been from near the top of the circle. He’s been ice cold when shooting long two-pointers despite there being a a good amount of shots taken from there. Despite his knack for making tough shots, LaVine sometimes tries to force a bit too much when it comes to attacking defenders off action. He gets a bit too aggressive and a Bulls offensive possession ends up with him taking a step back jumper with a hand in his face.
With his athletic ability, LaVine is a huge threat to any defense any time he’s near the hoop. The chart and numbers reflect the same. LaVine has been hitting on 62.9% of his attempts at the rim and his TS% is very near to league average. We’ve seen some of the misses from here, the result of frustration drives where LaVine will just put his head down towards the hoop and put up a shot no matter how many defenders are around him.
A component of LaVine’s game which needs to continue is his willingness to fire from the three-point line. Averaging 35.1% from deep this season, LaVine has been a decent shooter and the chart indicates it as well. There hasn’t been much volume from the corners, which is expected as the Bulls don’t really run plays for him in those areas. You can see the high amount of shot’s he’s taken from straight away three and he’s been near, if not slightly better than, the NBA average from that range.
It’s almost a certainty that LaVine will continue to take the majority of the shots the Bulls take on any given night. He’s one of the few players on this team who is able to create their own shot. His efficiency has taken a dip since the earlier months of the season, mostly due to how much he has to do, but LaVine is still one of the Bulls best three-point shooters and their best offensive option.
Chicago needs to keep feeding Lauri
After a stellar rookie campaign, Lauri Markkanen’s sophomore year hasn’t exactly gone as planned. He missed the first 24 games with an elbow injury to his shooting arm and he has been up and down since his return to the lineup. Looking at the numbers, Markkanen hasn’t made any real strides in his offensive game despite the uptick in field goal attempts. His 3P% and eFG% have stayed relatively the same while his TS% has dipped just a bit from last season. Like Dunn, Markkanen has played less than 700 minutes with this team so the numbers can be a bit skewed. However, it’s not a good sign to see Markkanen go through parts of games where he’s completely out of the offensive flow.
The shooting chart shows some interesting things about Markkanen’s season thus far. Markkanen’s been one fire in some areas and then there are parts like near the left corner where it looks like he can’t hit a single shot. Even if he’s struggling, it looks like Markkanen is exhibiting fantastic shot selection either from three or near the paint. He looks to be doing well when it comes to shooting in the lane with the majority of the areas surrounding it being above the average TS% in the NBA. Around the rim he’s right at league average and it’s where he has taken the second most field goal attempts this season.
Markkanen is one of the best bigs in the league when it comes knocking down the three-ball, and from straight-away he’s at an exceptional clip. There are a lot of red dots from near the left side and although it’s slightly less in terms of comparison to league average, the right side isn’t bad either.
It’s a positive sign that Markkanen has been still hitting shots when getting the ball beyond the arc, but the problem is that he could be doing a lot more and his team needs to do a much better job of putting him in positions where he can succeed. Consistently running more plays for him off screens or where he gets switched onto by a smaller player could certainly help. As the chart shows, Markkanen does a decent job when posted up on the right block. This is probably the case with being able to face up and shoot or take a turnaround jumper with able to contest. It’s a bit harder to spin and shoot while on the left side of the court and it’s a place where the Bulls really don’t like to draw up for Markkanen, which explains the solid amounts of blue there.
Markkanen’s shot usage is only at 25% and it certainly needs to be higher. He still struggles to get a healthy amount of shot attempts per game let alone quality looks. It’s been said before but worth repeating: Markkanen needs to taking at least the second most shots of any Bulls player in every game they play. His ability to stretch the floor can do a lot of good for Chicago and he’s shown flashes of being able to take guys off the dribble. We need to see more production from Markkanen.
A more aggressive Wendell Carter Jr. would be nice
Defensively, Carter has shown great strides as a 19-year old. But offensively he has looked off as of late and has shown some worrying signs. He’s passing up open looks and at times he’s not even looking at the basketball when he gets it at the top of the key. At his size and playmaking, WCJ could be a real key cog to this Chicago offense.
Shooting a TS% of 54, Carter Jr. is a borderline-efficient player and rarely takes a bad shot. He’s able to stretch the floor at times and can find his teammates for open shots. But the threat of his shot has seemed to vanish, which plays in the hands of many defenses. Teams are not even attempting to defend Carter Jr. when he catches the ball out of the paint. This closes the driving and passing lanes for him and disrupts the Bulls offense. In today’s NBA, you need bigs to stretch the floor and force defenses to be reactive. Carter Jr. needs to be attempting more threes in the Bulls offense. He was a good shooter from college and should be able to knock down a corner three. WCJ doesn’t have to be a high volume shooter like Markkanen or LaVine but taking 3 to 4 three-pointers per game isn’t an unreasonable task for him.
The chart reflects the observations many Bulls fans and experts have seen from WCJ. He is mostly blue from three expect for a sliver near the left side. There are two spots where Carter Jr. has been fantastic from which are near the hoop and near the free throw line. WCJ is shooting 66.7% from the rim and his TS% at that area has been a good amount above league average. Carter Jr. has shown skill around the hoop with his ability to finish despite contact. He has had plays where he gets hit, adjusts in mid air, and still finishes (he had one against Portland recently). Despite limited post moves, the right hand hook has been kind to Carter Jr. and it also helps that he has a soft touch when it comes to floating the ball up to get over a defenders hand.
As for the red area near the free throw line, this is where Carter Jr. sometimes receives the ball off a dribble hand-off action and occasionally he will take advantage of the defense sagging off and knock down a shot. This needs to happen more often. Although it might not be as much as Markkanen, WCJ can stretch the floor for Chicago in his own way. He can hit long two’s from near the top of the circle while also knocking down corner three’s. We have seen his ability to move off the ball and find himself in good positions to shoot the ball.