If the Chicago Bulls’ recent 2-3 stretch against some of their fellow Eastern Conference bottom-feeders told us anything, it’s that there is a consistency problem.
Even with injury trouble involved, this Bulls team has turned some heads with their high-quality play against some elite competition this season. We saw them erase a 20-point deficit against the Portland Trail Blazers, we saw them hand Luka Doncic a loss, and we saw them lose by just a combined five-points to the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. In other words, we know this team can play at a pretty advanced level, but we also know that they can’t do it for an entire game.
Billy Donovan spoke to this point after the team’s 105-101 loss to the 5-15 (now 6-15) Washington Wizards. He questioned his team’s effort and spoke about teaching this young unit how to make every possession a priority.
“To be totally engaged in the play is what we need. Every possession is important. I think, like any coach, you’re going to go back and look at all these possessions and say, “this could have been different or that could have been different.” And you can’t treat the game like a light switch where it’s on-off, on-off, on-off. It’s hard. It’s demanding. I mean, it’s not easy to stay with that kind of engagement for the full 48 minutes but every possession really really matters.
You have to make sure every possession matter because when you get to the end of the games, of these close games, now the possessions do matter. So it has to matter all the time. It can’t matter [when] ‘oh well, now we’re up.’ It has to matter all the time.”
The Bulls have not necessarily been the best at coming out of the gate strong. The team has dropped the first quarter in 11 of their 23 games this season, and are currently shooting with the 27th-worst 3-point percentage in the first quarter despite being the 12th-best 3-point shooting team in the NBA.
Looking even a bit deeper into the team’s first and second-half splits, and it’s not at all surprising that Donovan continues to challenge his team to stay engaged for the full 48 minutes. In the first half of this season, the Bulls are 24th in offense, whereas in the second-half, they rank 5th. Their effective field goal percentage jumps from 16th in the league in the first half (54.2%) to a very solid 4th place in the second (56.3%).
The team struggles similarly on the defensive end in practically all quarters, but it’s clear that this team does manage to turn their offensive production up as the game goes on. And while that is probably better than the alternative, it still isn’t a great formula for winning basketball games, especially when you lack the kind of superstar talent that truly has the ability to just “turn it on.”
I’m not surprised that Thaddeus Young was the player who recently shared a similar sentiment to Donovan’s comment above. After the team’s loss to the Knicks – that wasn’t necessarily as close as the 107-103 score entailed – Young said the following:
Thad Young on #Bulls' loss to Knicks: "We tried to essentially win the game in the last 12 minutes. We can't do that. We're not a team that can just flip the switch on. The light has to be on at all times."
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) February 4, 2021
Young’s right. The Bulls have won the 4th quarter in eight of their 14 losses this season, and they also have the 3rd best offensive-rating in the final frame. Guess what? That fact doesn’t really matter one bit if the results still favor the loss column.
I guess it’s encouraging that this team looks as good as it does when they decide to kick things into high gear, but they aren’t going to get over any kind of hump if they can’t listen to what their head coach is preaching. Grab some duck tape and Gorilla Glue and lock that light switch in the on position.
Watch Donovan’s full postgame press conference below:
LIVE: Head Coach Billy Donovan takes questions from the media after tonight's loss to the Wizards https://t.co/qpdvGr6hUE
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) February 9, 2021