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The Bucks, an actually-credible opponent, exposed familiar issues with this Bulls team

playing an actually-good opponent is informative

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Raise your hand if you thought the Bulls would stick with the league’s best for four quarters?

No one? Yeah, I didn’t have confidence in them either.

The Bulls played well for the first two quarters, keeping it within three points at halftime. But you just knew at some point Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks (who shot 1-14 from three in the first half) would wake up and put the game away. And that’s just what they did in their 123-102 win to end 2019 for the Bulls.

Let’s dive in to a few takeaways from Monday night:

Bulls struggles in the paint continue

Chicago finished the month of December seventh in three point percentage, but landed 25th in free throw attempts and 20th in field goal percentage. This continues the Bulls’ trend of while they’re getting shots from the right places, they are struggling to convert inside the paint and get to the free throw line.

Sitting and watching Monday night’s game, I was really trying to pay attention to quality of looks Chicago was getting in the paint. Because it’s one thing to say “they’re getting looks in the paint!” but another to actually take some context into the quality of those shots and who is taking them.

It’s of my belief that of the attempts that are coming in the restricted area, many come back to poor decision-making. There are many times where there are ill-advised attempts happening over two or three defenders, or it’s simply an out of control play in that area. When that happens, your percentages go down, and the likelihood of getting a favorable whistle decrease as well.

And the Bulls’ roster contains players who have historically struggled to convert around the rim. Adding younger players (who typically struggle at the rim because of the adjustment) such as Coby White and Daniel Gafford only compound that issue.

From Darnell Mayberry’s gamer in The Athletic:

Coby White gets blocked more than any player I’ve ever seen. No exaggeration. He got rejected four more times in this one, bringing his season total to 33.

Needless to say, there is more context to the Bulls struggles converting in these areas other than simply saying they’re just missing them or not getting a whistle.

Second half struggle bus

In the first half of games this season, the Bulls have a 3.4 net rating which is good for 12th in the league. Their second half net rating? It’s -4.1, landing them at 24th in the league. I’ve said it here before, but their inability to sustain a high-level of play for four quarters is embarrassing. That’s on both the players and coaches. The former needs to be able to stay locked in and engaged mentally. For whatever reason when the third quarter buzzer sounds, it’s not there.

The latter is another story. Jim Boylen is the worst in-game coach I’ve seen. Many times opposing coaches will counter and adjust in the second half to what the Bulls did in the first. Once they counter, Boylen continues running with his same schemes throughout the second half that the opponent has now exploited, resulting in second half collapses.

Example: Boylen continues running his blitzing scheme against the Bucks pick-and-roll, even with Giannis as the roll man. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. If that’s your philosophy, OK, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stick with it for each and every game. Some games will require you to adjust that philosophy to put the team in the best position to win. But Boylen continues to fail to understand that concept.

Opposing coaches continue to play chess while Boylen plays checkers.

Lauri Markkanen’s play continues to improve

We all know about Markkanen’s struggles at the beginning of the year, but December finally saw his play return respectable levels. In the month of December, Lauri shot 51% from the field and 41% from three on just over seven attempts pushing his averages on the season to 41.6% and 34%, respectively.

Monday night Lauri had an aggressive start to the first half with 14 points, however much of that aggression disappeared in the second half. In the third quarter he scored zero points and had only one shot attempt. The final period only saw him score four points and end the game with 12 total attempts.

Some of that is surely on Markkanen needing to continue to be assertive offensively. The other half of that falls on Jim Boylen. Clearly Lauri had the hot hand and Boylen should’ve continued to run the offense through him instead of Zach LaVine (7-23 on the night). That doesn’t necessarily mean getting Lauri more shots, but continuing to involve him in actions that could draw the defense’s attention resulting in open looks for teammates. Another one of the many ways Boylen fails at proper game management.