The Bulls are clutch again, even if doesn't feel that way
will AKME take the wrong lessons from these wins?
I try not to base my expressed thoughts on “what people are saying” or outright strawmen, but I’m finding most reactions to the Bulls last three games bizarre. It’s like every fan or media partner account has marching orders to pump up Zach LaVine.
I maintain there’s no influence on LaVine’s trade market from how he plays, and certainly not from coverage of his play. So I really don’t get the compulsion to exaggerate.
But what could have influence, and this is with the ever-present context that we have to assume the worst with Bulls management, is that the Bulls are pulling out these victories even while not looking like a markedly better team.
In both the last two games the Bulls had a favorable-to-layup matchup and a late lead, only to see the team completely fall apart in regulation but win in overtime.
Does that make them a good clutch team or a bad one?
from old pal Jason Patt (though not so friendly where I’ll link the platform where he wrote this):
Bulls have obviously been playing better in general but one HUGE difference between now and the 5-14 start: they’re been 8-2 in clutch games (within 5 points in last 5 minutes). They’re winning basically all their close games, and they tried very hard to give away the last 2.
Coby White and winning close games have "saved" this season (these things obviously go hand in hand). Some of it is also based on elite defense (like a 93 DRtg). While some of that is small sample size luck, I'm also just going to basically just credit Caruso for most of it.
Jason went further in pointing out that for the Mid-3 era this has swung wildly. First year 25-16, then 15-23 last season. They're now 11-8 this season.
Remember that Arturas Karnisovas has no idea what any of this means. Literally, when asked about clutch performance after last season, he said “I don’t know”.
That jibes with a lot of what he doesn’t know, which includes the pretty big job function of applying context towards self-assessment and goals-setting.
If we try to think how they think: do they see a team that is finding its groove and playing to their preseason expectations now (conveniently with no action from them required)? Or a team that is still not very good if it has to be in so many clutch games in the first place, plus clutch performance is inherently volatile?
That will be answered in whether or not there’s a LaVine trade in the next few weeks. LaVine has played well, but ultimately like usual. In the closing lineup’s final 6 minutes of regulation, the Bulls were -9 and LaVine had 3 turnovers and 2 fouls. Vucevic had 2 fouls and missed 3 three-pointers.
They are not the key marginal difference of what’s a clutch victory or defeat. That is pretty much entirely on the defense of Caruso and DeMar DeRozan’s shotmaking. DeRozan also went 0-3 in this time, but is still the best option given the alternative is LaVine throwing it in the fourth row or Vuc throwing it off the backboard.
And of course a huge games-long key in these wins is Coby White! He was awesome these past two matchups, the mini shooting slump appears over, and he contributed down the stretch though clearly not the number one option.
That’s a dynamic that can work, and improve if White continues his career trajectory to where soon he can be asked to dominate the ball at the end of games.
But that shift seems less plausible if Zach LaVine is still around, and brings to mind lingering doubt in the Bulls ability to realize this. Instead I fear they feel it’s already working because they’re winning games. And so no action from them required.