The Chicago Bulls’ 9-12 start to the regular season has left much to be desired. They’ve struggled to carve out an identity on both ends of the floor, and the lackluster play of their All-Star core has been genuinely discouraging.
To recap where things stand, I thought we might as well take a look at five stars that help tell the story of this season.
Spoiler Alert: There not all pretty.
The Chicago Bulls’ offensive rating sits at a lackluster 110.4, which ranks just 22nd in the NBA.
The slow start on this side of the ball comes after finishing with the 13th-best offense in the league last season. To be clear, it was largely the work the Bulls put in during the first half of the year that pushed this number above the league average, but it still suggested that Chicago’s scoring ability had to be taken seriously.
This season, however, the Bulls have looked like one of the least productive offenses in the NBA. Their assist-to-turnover ratio sits in the league’s bottom half, and they can’t consistently hit a 3-pointer to save their life. What’s particularly concerning about that is the fact that this roster is supposedly built around three offensive-minded All-Stars. Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic have all proven to be one of the best scorers at their respective positions in the past. Can they really not push this team toward at least a top-15 offense?
There is still time for the Bulls’ to right the ship on this end of the floor, but their early season struggles have perhaps indicated that this trio isn’t meant to be.
If there is one reason to believe the Bulls’ offense can turn it around, it would be Zach LaVine.
I’m not yet fully convinced that the Monstars didn’t come down to steal all of LaVine’s talent. He’s looked like a complete shell of his former self to start the season, and we need to look no further than his 40.7 percent field goal percentage to see just that.
Take away the 2017-18 season – where he played just 24 games after returning from a torn ACL – and he’s on pace to have easily his least efficient season shooting the basketball. LaVine is averaging just 20.9 points per game, his fewest in five seasons, and also converting just 60 percent of his shots at the rim (42nd percentile, per Cleaning the Glass). Whether settling for crappy contested mid-range jumpers or missing point-blank layups, everything from his touch to his decision-making seems to be out of control.
Now, in all fairness, he deserves more than 17 games to find his groove after another knee surgery. But this team will only go as far as LaVine takes them, and their offense will continue to sit near the bottom of the league until he taps back into his elite shot-making.
One season after sitting dead-last in 3-point attempts per game … the Bulls sit dead-last in 3-point attempts per game with just 28.9.
This roster’s lack of reliable downtown threats had to be addressed this offseason, but the front office did nothing more than hand money to Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond. And, to their credit, both role players have performed better than expected, but neither plays the kind of game that would have solved this massive problem.
The Bulls are repeatedly getting crushed behind the arc in a truly embarrassing fashion. Cleveland outscored them 48-21 from 3. San Antonio outscored them 48-27. Philly outscored them 42-33. Denver outscored them 39-18. New Orleans outscored them 51-33. Orlando outscored them 36-15. Phoenix outscored them 45-12. To no surprise … those games make up seven of the team’s 12 losses.
At the end of the day, this is arguably the front office’s biggest failure to date. Shooting is the most important thing to have in today’s NBA, and this front office, for some reason, decided to ignore that this summer completely. I’ll be curious to see if they continue to do that when this season’s trade deadline rolls around.
One of the main reasons the Bulls have just been “bad” instead of a “total disaster” is their defensive effort. This team’s 10th-ranked defensive rating is truly a pleasant surprise to start the year, especially when we consider that they have played one of the toughest schedules to begin the season.
The main reason this defense has been so good is because of the Bulls’ ability to generate turnovers. This team’s 16.0 forced TOVs per game sits 5th-highest in the NBA, which has also led to them scoring the 2nd-most points off turnover a night. So while this group does tend to struggle with hitting their rotations and protecting the paint, they have played with active hands and been one of the better teams at generating deflections. If they can keep this up while the offense finds its rhythm, we could only have more reason to believe in a midseason turnaround.
The starters should take the bench out for dinner and give them a “one free back massage” coupon.
Without this second unit, the Bulls are likely looking at an even grimmer start to the year. The bench currently holds the 5th-best net rating in the NBA. Dragic and Drummond have given this group some extremely valuable experience and a smart and active identity.
The Bulls’ bench plays up-tempo and pesky. Alex Caruso and Javonte Green each play a crucial role in setting the defensive tone, while Coby White is one of the few players who can get streaky from behind the arc. All in all, this team’s depth has been one of the better storylines of the season, and the Bulls can only hope they keep up the good work.