Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Deep Breath

Ok, it's time for fans to slow down and take a deep breath when it comes to the Bulls' slow start. This includes me. I've been quick to jump on Scott Skiles's team during its recent struggles, but with a day since the last Bulls' loss to take a breath, things don't look as bad.

The Bulls are 3-7, with four straight losses on the current road trip. There's no question, that's not pretty. But believe it or not, the Bulls have outscored their opponents for the season. Both the Bulls and their opposition have averaged 101 points per 100 possessions. In other words, if the Bulls could find some consistency, they'd be more like 5-5, which would look a whole lot better. Plus, the recent four losses have come on the road against the Rockets, Mavericks, Spurs, and Lakers, who are 29-13 on the year. The competition has had something to do with the recent slide. The next four games are against Denver, Philly, New York, and New York again, this time back in the clown-free United Center. Those teams are a combined 16-25, counting New York twice because, well, we play them twice. If the Bulls win three of the next four, then we'll know the team remains on the right track.

But to win three of the next four games, and to take advantage of what is really a pretty favorable schedule for the remainder of the year (that's the upside of the annual, early road trip from hell), the Bulls will need to do some things better. Let's start with passing. The Bulls are collecting assists on only 58% of their baskets, while their opponents' baskets are assisted 65% of the time. The Bulls aren't shooting a higher percentage of jump shots than their opponents, but fewer assisted jump shots means fewer open jump shots. As a result the Bulls have a considerably lower effective field goal percentage on jumpers than their opponents. Fix #1: Move the ball better on offense -- drive and kick, rotate it quickly around the perimeter.

Actually, poor shooting has something to do with the Bulls' poor percentage too. On the most open of shots, free throws, the Bulls are making just 69%, compared with 80% for their opponents. The Bulls shoot 1.5 fewer free throws a game than their opponents, but the biggest reason the team is outscored at the line is that the Bulls don't make their free throws, while their opponents do. Fix #2: Make your free throws.

The Bulls have done a good job of pushing the ball this year. They should do it even more. The Bulls take 44% of their shots within 10 seconds of taking possession, as compared to 31% for their opponents. And, the Bulls effective field goal percentage on those shots is .517. Any other time during the shot clock their percentage is under 50%. The Bulls should push at every opportunity. But they also need to be more efficient on the break, which again comes down to ball movement. Opponents have an effective field goal percentage over 60%, and more than 60% of their hoops are assisted, on shots early in the shot clock. The Bulls' lower percentage is, unsurprisingly, accompanied by a much lower percentage of assisted field goals. Fix #3: Get out on the break and run it right.

Either the Bulls still lack a go-to, one-on-0ne player, or their system doesn't give guys the opportunity to succeed in those settings. I think Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni have the chance to be successful in that role, but right now there's no one the Bulls can consistently give the ball to and say, go get us a key basket. So the Bulls need to generate consistent offense in other ways. The Bulls are no more perimeter-dependent than their opponents, but they're not getting comparably good looks from the perimeter. Drive and kick, good perimeter ball movement, making free throws, and getting out on the break and scoring before the opponent's defense is set are all ways the Bulls can improve their offensive efficiency with the guys currently on the team. Kirk Hinrich and Chris Duhon have good point guard skills. Ben Gordon and Thabo Sefolosha are good ball handlers for two guards. And, Deng is a good passer for a forward. This team can do what it needs to do to succeed as its currently put together. Tonight, as the team moves past the hardest stretch on its schedule, would be a good time to get started.


Blogger Jeeves said...

Unofortunately I haven't been able to see as many games as I would like being on the West Coast and all, but the Bulls seem to lack the fluidity that they had toward the end of last season.
Maybe as the season wears on, the Bulls will start to look like a well-oiled machine and the offense will start flowing porperly.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Criminal Appeal said...

Ok, I lied. They suck. God, this team pisses me off.

10:44 AM  

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