From One of the Best Clutch Teams in the NBA to One of the Worst
Last season (2021-22), only two teams had a better clutch net rating than the Chicago Bulls: The Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks. In case you forgot, those are the two teams that competed in the NBA Finals one season prior.
And for the Bulls, it wasn’t just wins in analytics. Their 15.3 net rating materialized into the third-most wins in clutch games (25-16).
Of course, the primary reason for that was the epic play of DeMar DeRozan. The Bulls’ All-Star finished one point behind Joel Embiid as the NBA’s leading clutch scorer in total points. In the 4th quarter as a whole, DeRozan dropped 612 points, which sat 84 points ahead of the second-place Giannis Antetokounmpo.
To put it simply, when any given game came down to the wire, the odds were heavily leaning in the Bulls’ favor. And isn’t that the way it should be for a team with a pick-your-poison scoring duo like Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan? Not to mention, a team that has a two-time All-Star at center and an elite defensive stopper in Alex Caruso?
Heading into another year of the experiment after a five-game exit in the playoffs, we knew not everything would come easy. The Bulls were no longer the NBA’s super team or feel-good story. Opponents knew what to expect and had plenty of film to study. Still, it felt like the late-game odds would favor a team like the Bulls.
Except … nope!
The Bulls finished this regular season with the 4th-WORST clutch win percentage in the NBA. The only teams to rank behind them were the Spurs, Wizards, and Pistons, respectively. Both the Pistons and Spurs are tied for having the best odds to land the No. 1 overall pick this summer, which underscores the company this Bulls team found themselves in this season.
Trust me when I say nothing made me want to pull out every single hair in my body more than watching the Bulls try to close out a game. The concerns about the LaVine-DeRozan fit were justified with easy-to-defend your-turn-my-turn possessions. Meanwhile, the team’s lack of size became a lethal flaw, as they had the 5th-worst REB% in clutch games this year.
Whether it be missing 50-50 balls, turning it over on inbound plays, settling for questionable 3s, or breaking down on the defensive end, we watched the Bulls throw away games in almost every method imaginable. And that is the exact opposite of what “continuity” is supposed to bring about.
It’s also not as if we can blame DeRozan for taking a step back either. He finished with the second-most clutch points in the NBA this season behind only De’Aaron Fox. The ice in his veins didn’t go anywhere. Instead, all we saw was the collective roster’s true colors start to show.
The lack of reliable 3-point shooting proved to be a back-breaker, as the Bulls shot the 4th-worst mark from downtown in clutch games this year. The absence of a true point guard stagnated the offense, as the 8th-highest percentage of the Bulls’ clutch field goals were unassisted. Minimal size at the wings and a shortage of physicality led to costly second-chance points and allowed opponents to shoot a top-10 clip, per NBA Stats.
Nothing is a greater indictment of this roster’s overall poor construction and the need for change than their late-game woes. I know it can sound cliche, but when someone’s back is against the wall, that’s when you see what they’re made of. And what we saw from the Bulls this year is a level of fragility that needs to be addressed.