The Bulls’ complete dominance over the Hawks this season continued on Saturday, with the Bulls recording their third 20-plus point victory against Atlanta. It pushed their point differential against this lowly opponent to 89 points through these three games.
Capturing the win was a task made simpler given the Hawks were without its best player (Trae Young) and a former Bulls legend (Jabari Parker) through injury. That reality undoubtedly helped the Bulls cement an easy win, one which saw this singular game propel the Bulls from 30th to 27th in offensive rating, and from 9th to 4th in defensive rating.
There may soon be puff pieces about Jim Boylen actually being good, and the far too premature playoff narrative circulating the team. We’ll see how long those marks last after an upcoming 4-game stretch against the Bucks, Jazz, Celtics and Mavericks commences on Monday. But for the moment, at least, let us all bask in the glow of these numbers.
Another notable positive: Bulls center Wendell Carter made two 3-pointers. That may not sound significant, but for Carter and the Bulls, it is a step forward — and also a reflection on the state of his jumper.
Wendell Carter could always shoot threes
Carter owns a career 17.6 shooting percentage from three. But efficiency itself means little without considering number of attempts and the context of shooting locations. As a staunch believer in Carter’s ability as a jump shooter, that is what I constantly tell myself.
Carter’s lack of attempts from distance has always been more concerning than his conversion rate. But for one game that doubt dissipated, even if only momentarily.
For only the second time in his short career, Carter registered multiple 3-point makes, connecting on two of his three attempts.
Carter drilling threes is a positive sign. But why something like this couldn’t have happened sooner?
This is a legitimate question for two reasons.
Firstly, the premise of Carter being a confident jump shooter has always been about his natural face-up game away from the post — along with the fact that he made 41.3 percent of his threes during his lone season with Duke. While that conversion rate has yet to translate to the NBA, that leads me to my second point: We have seen Carter make multiple threes before. Over a year ago, in fact. We may not remember it given it happened in the eighth game of his rookie season, but against Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, an inexperienced Carter sunk two 3-pointers, en route to scoring 25 points. Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof.
This further illustrates that Carter’s shot — and confidence in it —has greatly regressed during his time in Chicago.
Under Fred Hoiberg, it was clear that Carter was enabled and encouraged to shoot his open threes. He did exactly that, attempting 24 threes in the 24 games Hoiberg was given before being canned in 2018.
When Jim Boylen infamously took over from Hoiberg, something also shifted in Carter’s shooting mentality, too. The Bulls prioritised post touches more under Boylen than their former coach. For Carter, emphasising the development of his back-to-the-basket game came at the expense of developing his 3-point shot. Given the dramatic drop off in attempts, we can only surmise that Carter was told to put away the deep ball. And he did, only taking eight more threes in the the 20 games he would play under Boylen before prematurely ending his debut season through injury.
Taking far less than one three a game under Boylen is something that has continued for Carter into his sophomore season — the center had only attempted 19 threes in the 32 games prior to this Hawks game.
Boylen deserves his share of blame for Carter’s unfortunate development into a timid shooter, but Carter himself isn’t without culpability. To the detriment of his team and development, Carter is often too unselfish, barely even feigning at the basket when rolling to the rim or delivering the ball to a teammate in a dribble hand-off. Such a team-first approach is commendable, but opposing defenses are rightfully exploiting it by ignoring him.
The Hawks defense did the same. Only this time Carter did shoot, to this blogger’s delight.
Maybe this is a sign of change. His coach now wants him taking open threes. It’s on Carter to trust his coach, and to trust his shot, and launch them, whether they fall or not.