A returning Bobby Portis summed up Sunday’s game well:
I think in all the categories, rebounding everything, we beat them in almost every category. We just made seven 3s and they made 16.
Going 7-18 from three, the Bulls had no real chance of staying close to the Brooklyn Nets, who made 16 on more than double the attempts (46) to wind up winning 117-100. It’s not impossible, but winning a game of basketball when the opposing teams nearly makes as many threes as you attempt is hardly probable.
The loss against the Nets marked the seventh game this season with 20 or fewer attempts from distance — five of the seven games have come since Jim Boylen was named head coach. For context, only two teams in the league have more games with 20 or fewer attempts from three: the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs. Yesterday, in a win against the Sacramento Kings, Steph Curry alone had twenty 3-point attempts. Clearly, the Bulls don’t have anyone on their roster who remotely resembles Curry. But they could have someone of the caliber of Nets PG D’Angelo Russell, shot 6-for-14 from distance.
Part of the lack of 3-point-shooting volume is undeniably the flaws of the roster — a second unit consisting of Robin Lopez, Shaquille Harrison, Ryan Arcidiacono and Antonio Blakeney is hardly a threat to punish a team from deep. But starters Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine are two capable shooting threats who need to be encouraged to let it fly. For both to combine for only five 3-point attempts against the Nets, schematically, something is seriously off.
Whether the Bulls have been mandated by Boylen to reduce their 3-point rate or if it’s simply inferred as part of his vision in being the East Coast Spurs, this is a question that requires further clarification. The results, however, seem to suggest the players have been told to shoot fewer threes.
Of all players to receive minutes under both Hoiberg and Boylen, only Markkanen has (marginally) seen the percentage of 3-point versus total field goal attempts rise under Boylen, and Hoiberg only got to coach him for 25 minutes this season.
Take note of the 19.3 percent delta between Kris Dunn’s 3-point rate under Hoiberg versus Boylen. This is skewed as he also played only 1 game for Hoiberg, but by instead using his 52 games under Hoiberg last season he’s still shown a 9.1 percent decline under Boylen.
While the numbers suggest Dunn has lost confidence in his 3-point shot since Boylen was promoted, it bears out in his play, as we saw against the Nets.
With another possession headed nowhere fast — thanks in large part to Harrison turning down a corner three — Dunn passed up an open three to dribble into and force a tough contested midrange jumper over the outstretched arms of Nets center Jarrett Allen. It didn’t end well.
On the next offensive possession, the ball eventually finds its way to Dunn late in the clock after previous efforts to score were denied. With time set to expire, instead of beating the buzzer himself, Dunn passes to Portis, lumping the responsibility to shoot onto a teammate. Turnover.
As the team’s point guard, more than anyone else, Dunn should be most aware of how many seconds remain on the clock. That said, I’m somewhat prepared to give him a pass on this play — LaVine setting up for isolation and failing to create a shot, only to pass at the end of the clock isn’t ideal.
No such excuses can be afforded on this possession. With 13 seconds left on the clock, Dunn is wide open and in position to catch and shoot from the corner. Turning down a clean look to drive in the lane, Dunn hands the ball to Chandler Hutchison, who promptly has his shot sent into the stands by Allen.
Scoring 16 points on 8-of-15 shooting, it wasn’t all bad for Dunn. Clearly more comfortable operating in the lane and shooting midrange jumpers, he’s largely been good from those areas all season. While true, actively turning down threes — and being no threat to get to the free throw line — puts a ceiling on Dunn’s efficiency as a scorer, and more importantly, shrinks the court for those around him.
In that regard, Dunn serves as a proxy for the team’s offensive woes. Under Hoiberg, the Bulls were already behind most of the league in volume of attempts from three, but were working toward some semblance of a modern offense. By coincidence or design, that progress has been reversed under Boylen, something that is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Ahead of a five game West Coast trip against some of the elite offense’s the league has to offer, allowing opponents to attempt more than 40 threes while shooting fewer than 20 will all but guarantee the Bulls start the new year with an 0-8 record.