Don't Panic (Yet) Chicago

Don't Panic (Yet) Chicago
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In the blink of an eye, the Chicago Bulls have fallen to seventh place in the Eastern Conference. After outlasting the Cleveland Cavaliers in a grueling contest, the Bulls have dropped three straight games against competition they should’ve have been able to defeat. It seems to be a potential repeat of last season. After a hot and overachieving start, the Bulls have fallen back to earth and started to seemingly underachieved. However, this year’s downturn has happened after just 18 games, where the Bulls were in prime position in the Eastern Conference at 11-7.

There are a lot of fingers needed to point blame for the recent struggles. One finger is required for the lack of consistent three-point shooting (maybe even three fingers are needed for that struggle). Another one is mandatory for a poor performance from the bench. A couple more are needed for bad coaching decisions at inopportune times. A few more are required for spacing issues, which are traced back to the poor three-point shooting.

Lots of negativity is flying about, both within the organization and the fanbase itself. Some of it is obviously warranted; with poor performance comes poor reviews. We should not, however, be expecting this team to be the best team, night in and night out. This team’s built in a unique manner, more like a team straight out of the 80’s. Let’s address these issues and numb some of the panic swirling in the cold winter air of the Windy City.

First off, the obvious lack of three-point shooting is alarming. Comprising your wings with Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler while Rajon Rondo is running the point will obviously lead to spacing issues.

Stat Amount Rank
3PT Attempt Rate 23.4% 30th
3PT Made 6.4 30th
3PT Attempted 20.4 30th
3PT Percentage 31.5% 30th

A quick glance at the table above will show why there are spacing issues. When you can’t shoot the three consistently in today’s NBA, you are going to struggle.

Player Name 3PT Made 3PT Attempted 3PT Percentage

(%)

Nikola Mirotic 1.4 4.6 29.9
Isaiah Canaan 1.0 3.6 28.0
Jimmy Butler 1.2 3.5 35.1
Dwyane Wade 1.2 3.3 35.5
Doug McDermott 0.9 2.4 36.4
Denzel Valentine 0.6 2.1 27.3
Rajon Rondo 0.6 1.6 34.5
Jerian Grant 0.3 1.4 23.8
Michael Carter-Williams 0.3 0.7 50.0
Bobby Portis 0.2 0.5 44.4

As you can see, the Bulls’ two highest-volume three-point shooters are both shooting below 30% from beyond the arc. Ironically, the supposedly poor-shooting trio of Butler, Wade, and Rondo are all shooting at least 34% from beyond the arc, which is rather respectable.

One of the calling cards of Fred Hoiberg’s offense is spacing, which causes the Bulls to struggle. A lot of people assume that the best way to get spacing is to spread the defense thin with razor-sharp three-point shooting, which is a tough point to argue. However, one of the best benefits of Hoiberg’s offense, when it’s run how it’s drawn, is the idea of constant movement. Off-ball movement is key for Hoiberg’s offense to succeed, especially when his sharpshooters seemingly can’t hit the broadside of a barn. When you have slashers like Butler and Wade, and powerful screen-setters like Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez, constant movement is a necessity for them.

The Bulls are not at full strength right now, currently missing Michael Carter-Williams and just getting sharpshooter Dough McDermott back in the swing of things, which is also another downfall for Chicago. The bench has been poor when called upon over the recent rough patch, not being able to keep a lead and not being able to close a gap when behind. Once back at full strength, however, Carter-Williams and McDermott will benefit Chicago in ways we can’t foresee just yet.

Everything seems bleak in a time like this. Not at full strength, underperforming and losing to teams they should be beating sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it? Do not worry just yet, however. It is too early in the season to panic. A lot of the issues we see now are also issues we foresaw as early as free agency all the way back in July.

However, that does not mean that these issues are permanent. Injuries happen in the NBA, and you can expect some of the core players to go down temporarily at some point, along with resting players as well. Obviously, getting McDermott back is going to be extremely beneficial for the spacing and three-point shooting as well as depth. McDermott will have a much larger role with the team as the season progresses. So long as Butler and Wade keep playing at the level they are playing at; the Bulls will have a chance of winning every game they play.

There are other issues worth mentioning, such as Rondo playing sub-par most nights and Nikola Mirotic playing, well, very Mirotic-like (inconsistent). However, it’s too early in the season to assume that the sails on the ship are doomed for the season. There is a lot of basketball to be played so far, and the Bulls have been rather average. Only time will tell whether or not the recent struggles are a sign of things to come for Chicago or just a bump in the road. One thing is certain, however; this experimental season for Chicago has been interesting at the very least, and we should all be excited to see what comes next.