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Bulls shooting woes are not due to the ‘where’, but the ‘when’ and ‘how’

if anything, take MORE threes

Houston Rockets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

One of the most glaring reasons for a so-far-wretched season for the Bulls is how poorly they are shooting. It was truly evident in their latest loss to the Rockets, going 4 for 32 from beyond the arc and being outscored from three by 45 points.

Head coach Jim Boylen insists this will work itself out:

Who had better shots in the first half, us or them? Who had better shots, do you guys think? We did. We made them in Atlanta. We didn’t make them tonight. They made them and we didn’t. Give them credit.

We have guys shooting below their career averages by multiple points. Will that turn? I think it will. It’s frustrating when it doesn’t. I get it. Believe me. I’m sitting there with it too.

We’ll take a deeper look. With a roster that contains players who have historically shot league average or above from three, how can they can be shooting this bad? Are they taking bad shots? If not, then how can their shooting improve? Let’s dive into some numbers.

Bulls shot selection is in line with modern offenses

Modern NBA offenses are predicated on getting shots at three different areas; at the rim, free throw line and from three, and limiting attempts from mid-range. While the coaching staff does deserve it’s share of criticism for how the season has started, one thing they’ve done well is restructuring the Bulls shot selection to fit this criteria.

Chicago is first in the league in shots at the rim. Some more good news is that Bulls are 29th in the league in mid-range attempts, per Cleaning The Glass. Who’s the team behind them for the lowest amount of shot attempts from that range? The Houston Rockets, one of the teams who’s revolutionized the way we look at modern day offenses.

They are more middle of the pack when it comes to three point shooting: 12th in corner three attempts, 14th in non-corner three attempts, and 14th in overall three point attempts, per Cleaning The Glass.

So this profile doesn’t look to be a problem.

Bulls shot attempts are open looks

While the Bulls are taking shots from the right spots on the floor, the follow-up question is how well are they being defended on these attempts?

One way we can look at this is via to see where the closest defender is.

Bulls Open Threes

Type Definition % of Attempts % made
Type Definition % of Attempts % made
Open defender 4-6ft 13.9% 31.0%
Wide Open defender > 6ft 20.4% 31.4%

So, we know that the Bulls are getting shots from the right spots on the floor, and that nearly a third of them are considered to be at least open attempts. Why the heck are they missing so many?

Some of that is due to them just missing shots, like many say, the NBA is a make or miss league.

There also has been anecdotal evidence of shots not being in rhythm, instead taken while open but after a hesitation.

Additionally, their missed attempts can be attributed to when they are being shot, and if they’re within the flow of the offense.

Increase in pace hasn’t carried over enough

The story of pace in regards to the Bulls offense goes back to the start of the Fred Hoiberg era. Pace means getting the ball up the floor as quickly as possible and taking efficient shot attempts early in the shot clock, a concept patented by the Seven Seconds or Less, Phoenix Suns. Slower offenses that typically wait until later in the shot clock to attempt their first shot will be less efficient.

The Bulls pace during the preseason was great. They were getting the ball up the floor quickly, and getting high quality looks early in the shot clock. However, once this season started, that pace hasn’t been as remarkable, at just 14th in the league.

For example, per, 28.3% of the Bulls two-point attempts and 17.9% of their three point attempts are coming between 15 and seven seconds on the shot clock, deemed as average. They’re shooting 45.9% on those twos and 29.4% on those threes.

Now, let’s look at their percentages if their attempts are coming earlier in the shot clock, between 18 and 15 seconds. The Bulls are shooting nearly 7% better from two, at 52.3% and a whopping 10 percentage points better from three, at 39%.

So when they are earlier in the clock before the defense is set, the ball is going in more. But the problem here is that those shots are only coming at 12% and 8.5% frequency for twos and threes.

We’ve seen spurts this season of the Bulls offense clicking with great pace. They have the ability to do it, but the issue, which is one that plagues the team in general, is that they can’t sustain it throughout all four quarters. Many times we’ll see the offense clicking in the first quarter or two of the game, but then by the second half, specifically fourth quarter, things bog down into isolation basketball.

If Boylen and Chris Fleming can find a way to sustain the team’s offensive pace through the entirety of a game, there’s a good chance we’ll see their shooting numbers improve.