We actually had a very brief period of ‘concern’ in analyzing the Bulls two losses to the Sixers last week. But that is now out the window: “The Bulls are back” is back! You keep hearing it more and more. The Bulls do get a boost from being at home in taking out the Nets and Mavericks, but caveats can not get in the way of the good feelings these wins are giving us.
It’s especially notable that the Bulls are not relying on some unsustainable formula, or getting lucky at the end of games.
They are winning using different contributors. For much of the season, DeMar DeRozan has been incredible, but had his worst production last night versus the Mavericks going just 7-20 from the field with only 3 FT makes and zero threes. But the Bulls offense had their 3rd best game of the season with an ORtg over 120 anyway. Zach LaVine put up 23 points on just 12 FGAs, Nikola Vucevic had his best shooting game of the season (not saying much, but a definite improvement), and Lonzo Ball made it rain with 7 threes.
There is a nonzero chance Lonzo finishes the year with a higher % from 3 than 2 and FT https://t.co/UVqyUnuuyS— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) November 11, 2021
What DeRozan can provide even when he isn’t hitting quite as many mid-range jumpers is a lack of turnovers and getting to the free throw line.
The turnover disparity between the Bulls and their opponents is wild, they are a league-best at taking care of the ball (only 11.3% of possessions ending in a TO) and defensively though they have dropped off a bit from their insane start they still are 8th with forcing 14.4 TO%. That net difference of the two percentages puts the Bulls 3rd in the NBA.
And despite some foul-allergic players in the starting lineup in Vuc and Lonzo, behind their two-headed wing monster the Bulls are 3rd in FT/FGA...in a season where there’s been a lot of press over how other ball-dominant players are not getting to the line as much:
LaVine: 5.1 ➡️ 6.1 (+1)— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) November 10, 2021
DeRozan: 7.2 ➡️ 7.9 (+0.7) https://t.co/oHSiiXMPxP
(above is before last night’s games)
The key here, where the Bulls can rely on DeRozan and LaVine (but not exclusively one of them) to provide a solid offense even with a relative lack of shooting, is that they then can load up on hustle monsters elsewhere in the lineup.
Alex Caruso, Javonte Green, Derrick Jones, Ayo Dosunmu, Tony Bradley are all plus defensive players and play their tails off. I already mentioned the team’s ability to force turnovers (and Caruso put on a late-game steal clinic bordering on the ridiculous), but it’s also in other plays like this effort from Green:
And even though a lot of the role players mentioned are technically undersized, it’s interesting that since Patrick Williams was replaced the Bulls defensive rebounding has improved, with nearly all of their best games on that end coming after Williams was injured against the Knicks.
So there’s this dynamic where you have a turnover edge with the high-usage scorers then allowing the rest of the team to out-hustle their opponent. And I can’t say whether it’s a skill, or simply effort weighing the other teams down, or whatever percentage to allocate...but the result is these Bulls are absolutely drilling teams in the fourth quarter:
Bulls lead the NBA in 4Q defensive efficiency so far this season pic.twitter.com/2bBrpPLyVJ— Chris Herring (@Herring_NBA) November 11, 2021
This is such a difference from recent years, where the Bulls would ‘be competitive’ for a couple quarters only to thud in (their proper) place when it got to winning time. In many victories it’s required a massive comeback, but last night the Bulls just looked like the better team and this is just how they win.
(random note to add: it’s also very cool that the Bulls have several players who are great at making free throws and are a league-best 85.8% from the stripe. That’s a huge weapon in 4th quarters!)
I couldn’t help but see that many fans preseason were extremely upset that ‘THE NATIONAL MEDIA’ didn’t see this coming, so I can only assume that they just as elated now that those same analysts are
eating crow and retiring after dat freezing cold take revising their estimates based on useful data. The Bulls still have many flaws, but one of them doesn’t look to be a dogshit defense. In actuality, the defense has been extremely good. And even if it slips to average, it looks like several combinations of this roster can be versatile enough at both ends to win much more than they lose.