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How Nikola Vucevic has changed the Bulls for these ten games

slower and more inside, role players slumping

Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been ten games since the Bulls made their trade deadline moves, most prolifically acquiring Nikola Vucevic as the starting center. It was a bold, welcome action for a franchise that desperately needed to do anything. Whether it turns out to have been too risky and a mistake will depend a lot on the next two seasons performance and other moves made.

But was certainly another goal of the trade to get better immediately and secure a spot in the playoffs this season. And while they will make the play-in by default, the on-court performance has been a disappointment.

The Bulls have had a 3-7 record with Vucevic (with Daniel Theis and Troy Brown added to the rotation as well), and there are various small sample issues liked missed games, opponent strength, rest days, etc. But, still, wanted to take a look a bit deeper to see how the team has changed if not declaring they’re somehow worse.

Team Offense

The highlights you see above are subjective to what I find interesting. While pace isn’t 100% on the offense dictating it, the Bulls are objectively playing slower since the trade deadline. Unfortunately while the defense has suffered (that’ll be next!) it hasn’t been offset by some surge in offensive efficiency. They’re definitely changing their shot profile to be more on the interior and with more assisted baskets than before. I’m don’t put much value judgement in assisted versus unassisted (could mean they don’t have shot creation) but no doubt having more assists and fewer turnovers is good.

They’re not hitting shots. A component of the TS% being down is a drop in 3pt% from 34.1% to 32.4%, not the biggest change but adding a 3-point bomber in Vooch should produce a team-wide uptick here, especially with Vooch himself over 42% from distance as a Bull.

The lack of free-throws is egregiously bad. Sinking even lower than the prior number is especially troubling because that pre-deadline mark was already worst in the league.

Team Defense

If that defensive rating post-deadline was for the entire season, the Bulls would now be a bottom-5 defense. It certainly has looked that way, with Vucevic’s relative lack of mobility in the middle only making it more noticeable that the team has nobody capable of defending point guards and barely anyone on the wing either.

I am pleasantly surprised the fouling is down, and somewhat similarly offensively a lot of the more ancillary stats look ok, it’s just that pesky ‘putting the ball in the basket’ thing. I am struggling to get into the deeper shot profile for the opponent, but can tell you that 3-point attempts for Bulls opponents have decreased a bit (1 attempt per100poss) but 3pt% has gone from 34.7% to 36.8% in the last ten games.


Vucevic, and to a lesser extent the other additions (Theis has been awesome overall, but should be noted he’s at 22% from three as a Bull) have played well, so it only logical that the team performance has dipped from the holdovers.

Again, I’m choosing to highlight certain things, you can do some yourself:

  • LaVine has simply not shot well. Whereas leading up to his All-Star appearance it was all the rage to look at that TS% and declare him a superlative offensive player, falling from that level is significant. The Vucevic trade was also an investment in LaVine, he doesn’t have to put up historically-high TS%+USG% numbers to justify it, but it made things a lot easier! It’s also important to note he suffered an ankle sprain during this time.
  • It’s clear that White, Markkanen, and to a lesser extend Williams have all gone in the toilet. These win-now moves, combined with the pre-deadline change in the starting lineup, were always going to hamper the young players productivity because their minutes would be lessened. Markkanen especially with them acquiring two bigs. But their efficiency (the counting stats above are per-100poss) shouldn’t have gone down that much, right? With Williams it’s just a total lack of doing anything anymore. Similarly with Lauri Markkanen, even though there was a theory he’d be more assertive with the second unit playing less with Vucevic or LaVine. Coby White has completely regressed (and he wasn’t performing adequately earlier). I don’t have many nuanced defensive metrics but notice that foul rate is up huge for Coby and he’s getting visibly frustrated at it. Why is that red, while Lauri fouling less is also red? I don’t know, it’s my rules, and I feel like Lauri not fouling is him being too out of position to even do so.
  • Not as much to say on Thad and Sato. Young is still very Thadgic, but the drop in steals has probably been a partial driver for the team’s drop in opponent TO%. I think we know what we get with Sato, he’s a good swingman backup who moves the ball well and was having a very efficient shooting season, but that is getting exposed a bit when playing as the starting point guard. Already mentioned was an inability to defend at the point, but the shotmaking (let alone simply taking them when open) just hasn’t been there.

I offer no prescriptions for this all, at least not in this post!