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The Bulls were simply different (bad) the 2nd half of the season, and shooting threes was the biggest issue

the ‘math problem’ is even worse

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

There have been a lot of ebbs and flows in this Bulls season, and they pretty astoundingly wound up with a negative net rating for the year while winning 46 games. While in general the ‘second half’ saw the Bulls performance go down the tubes, there’s not one single point in time where the season ‘flipped’. One can take some arbitrary dates like by-month or the All Star Break and they’d tell a story, but I think a better story can be found when trying to pick a more meaningful date.

It’s difficult, especially given the COVID absences in the first half of the season for the Bulls and their opponents. But a good one looks to be January 14th, when the Bulls were embarrassed at home in a 40 point blowout loss to the Warriors. That was the last game Lonzo Ball played for the Bulls this season. It was also the game where Zach LaVine tweaked his knee minutes into the contest and had to exit.

It’s also somewhat tidy to see that game mark 40 games into the season. I stuck to my guns and threw out the last few games, as they were meaningless, which left 38 games after that date.

Overall Performance

Again, Lonzo’s absence and LaVine’s lingering knee issues aren’t the only factors in this season’s decline. But while those factors don’t totally cause these numbers, you can speculate that it’s beyond mere correlation.

Before 1/15

ORtg 112.1 (5th), DRtg 109.4 (18th), NetRtg +2.7 (8th), Pace 99.18 (12th), %PtsFB 12.5% (8th)

After 1/15

ORtg 113.4 (17th), Drtg 115.9 (24th), NetRtg -2.6 (21st), Pace 98.28 (18th), %PtsFB 10.2% (22nd)

There are a ton of stats you can throw in from NBA Dot Com, I went with pace and Percentage of Points from Fast Breaks as it shows a precipitous drop and we know Lonzo Ball was both a main catalyst and executioner of fast break offense.

3 Point Shooting

Lonzo was also the Bulls most voluminous 3-point shooter, and he was good at making them too. In Ball’s absence, not only did the team take even fewer attempts, but the rest of the team stopped making them.

As a team, before 1/15

30.3 3PA (last), 11.7 3PM (22nd), 38.5% (1st)

As a team, after 1/15

27.6 3PA (even more last...by over 2 att/gm!), 9.6 3PM (22nd), 34.9% (21st)

Individually, before->after 1/15:

Zach LaVine: 41.2% -> 36.6%

Coby White: 37.5% -> 37.4%

Nikola Vucevic: 33.3% -> 30.2%

Alex Caruso: 36.8% -> 31.8%

Ayo Dosunmu: 41.7% -> 34.5%

LaVine and Caruso playing through injury

Caruso’s numbers above look even worse if you just control for his games back from injury (and I’ll include that final Milwaukee loss here), where he is shooting 30.7% from three and 32.4% overall. Caruso injured his shooting wrist and then his back after returning, it probably had something to do with it.

For LaVine, his 3-point shooting numbers are above, but worth noting that beyond that decline his shooting percentage from midrange dropped from 42.9% to 36.7%, and his overall TS% from 61.3% to 59.7%. He’s also a couple percentage points down in usage.

DeMar...you’re cool

Yes, DeMar DeRozan has cooled off from his Wilt-ian February, but both his incredible months and still-quite-good months are a part of the post-Lonzo period that I’m trying to illustrate. So overall he’s been pretty much the same, increasing his usage and amount of midrange shots a bit. And down, but just a tick, in that midrange percentage, but his true shooting is actually up.


But as everyone knows, midrange is only 2 points whereas a Lonzo three was, well, 1 additional point. That difference has mattered a lot in his absence, and the rest of the team that needed to ‘pick it up’ in the face of that key absence have actually been worse.

And that’s how you get to be the worst-performing team in the playoffs.

At Pro Basketball Talk, Dan Feldman went the extra mile and produced ratings for the actually-available players for all the playoff teams, correctly reasoning it doesn’t really matter how the Bulls played with Lonzo, because he’s not playing in these playoffs.

The overall indication from these numbers is, as Feldman says: “another indicator they’re in rough shape”.

The Bulls, “counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the postseason rotation”, are by far the worst team in the 20 teams qualified: a 110.7 ORtg, a ghastly DRtg of 115.5, and that net rating sinking all the way to -4.8. The only other team to have a negative net rating was the 10th-in-the-West Spurs, at -1.4.