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The Bulls big three need to keep shooting threes

in Vucevic’s absence, Ball/DeRozan/LaVine need to keep launching

Chicago Bulls v LA Clippers Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

This post would’ve made more sense had the Bulls not fallen apart in the 2nd half to lose on Wednesday, but in that first half this trend was continuing so who am I to flip #narrative based on 20 minutes?

In the past 4 games since Nikola Vucevic went out due to COVID after the 11/10 win over the Mavs, the team went from 27.5 3-point attempts per100poss (and hitting at a 36.7% rate) to 29.6 attempts, raising their make percentage as well to 39.5%.

This is pretty interesting as the Bulls have replaced a high-volume three-point shooter in Vuc (though as we know he wasn’t making many) with a non-shooter in Tony Bradley. The difference is that the Bulls high-usage players are launching:

Zach LaVine

LaVine, perhaps due to the thumb and getting used to new offensive complements (that actually are productive, a crazy new concept in his Bulls career) has seen his overall percentage of FGAs from three drop after rising the past two seasons to over 42%. Clearly the last 4 games something changed, maybe it is a concerted effort to make up for what the team is missing with Vucevic out.

There’s also the natural progression of LaVine and DeRozan as a tandem, learning how eachother works to maximize open looks from where they are comfortable on the floor.

Stephen Noh had a good breakdown of the plays Billy Donovan is running to deploy LaVine and DeRozan as a lethal combination.

DeMar DeRozan

Yes, DeRozan ran out of gas in Portland, but otherwise he’s of course been phenomenal to the point of genuinely being in MVP conversation (if only such conversation this early in the year was genuine):

DeRozan, famously averse to shooting three-pointers, isn’t exactly J.R. Smith out there this year but is taking a higher percentage of shots from distance than his last season in Toronto. At a make percentage of 35%, that would indeed be a career-high but not too outlandish as he hit 33.8% in the 2015-16 season. I can of course recall how Dwyane Wade spent the first few games in a Bulls uniform embracing space and improved marksmanship...but it was indeed only a few games. We’ll have to see if this is a similar fluke with DeRozan both in attempts and makes or if he’s just further evolving as a player.

But just to diverge from a threes conversation and praise DeRozan overall some more: As a mid-range assassin, DeRozan has not looked to be shooting at some unsustainable rate. His overall TS% is actually lower than 2 seasons ago. And if you look at it split by distance, he’s actually making at a lower rate from some spots (including on two pointers over 16 feet away, down to 36% from 48% last year) but indeed from 10-16 feet he’s at a career-high 52.5%. It’s good news considering the aging curve that his percentage from 0-3 feet has bounced back.

None of this looks too out of the ordinary, except maybe the increase in taking and making threes. It may be just that DeRozan is simply sustaining as a really good player even at the old age of 32, and like LaVine was stuck with some relatively talent-deprived teams.

Lonzo Ball

Now Lonzo...he pretty much IS J.R. Smith out there when it comes to his shot profile.

And his make percentages are trending in opposite ways. He’s at a career-low 38% from two, and a gloriously high 45.2% from three.

(I won’t go into more how important and great Lonzo has been in other areas but it’s worth acknowledging. I can’t believe the Pelicans looked at him as a 23-year-old and decided “nope, this guy is not worth giving a raise to”. That’s why they’re considered a poor minor-league feeder franchise and the Bulls finally have big market energy)

Especially in Vucevic’s absence, Lonzo needs to just keep launching. As you see in the top table, his rate has actually gone down, but it’s still quite high. The Bulls need more like that spectacular 7-of-10 rainmaking against the Lakers, and less of the 3-of-5 against Portland