The Chicago Bulls have found themselves in plenty of close games to start the season. In New York, it was no different last night for the Bulls pulling out a double-overtime win against the Knicks. Think about the way you perceived this Bulls team looking after learning Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and Bobby Portis would miss the first 4-6 weeks and also missing a rotational piece in Denzel Valentine. More than likely, you saw a team on the surface who was going to struggle.
If the injuries weren’t enough to convince you, the Bulls schedule for the first two months of the season is brutal. 10 of the first 20 games include teams who made the playoffs last year in addition to playing the Nuggets (46-wins) and Pistons (39-wins). Yet, the Bulls have been in more games than not. Yes, blow out losses have happened like in Charlotte or at home to the Warriors but not as often as you might have predicted.
The Chicago Bulls have been within five points in the final five minutes in eight out of their first 11 games this season. Zach LaVine has stressed the importance of learning how to win as a young team. While the outcomes haven’t resulted in wins, the Bulls are finding a way to hang around.
Clutch time statistics are defined as stats acquired in the fourth quarter or overtime, five minutes or less remaining, and no team ahead by more than five points. Through 11 games, the Bulls have four of the top-10 players in clutch time minutes across the NBA. Let’s take a look at how those Bulls individually and how they have played in clutch time.
#2 – Zach LaVine (38 minutes)
To absolutely no surprise, Zach LaVine (along with Justin Holiday) have recorded the most clutch time minutes this season for the Bulls. LaVine has single-handedly dragged the Bulls to two of their first three wins this season in the final possession. LaVine going to the rack against Charlotte to ultimately knock down the two game-winning free throws. Monday night, LaVine drives to the hoop in a similar fashion, drawing what would be the game-winning free throw in double-overtime.
What is clear is that Zach LaVine is making defenses pay late in games. In 38 minutes, LaVine has a league-leading 31 shot attempts and shooting 48.4%. He also leads the league with 38 points in clutch time. LaVine’s usage percentage ranks third highest in the NBA at 33.1% but in clutch time his usage is up to 44.1%. LaVine seems fine with that role and in fact called for it in comments after their first few games.
Zach drives off the glass with the left pic.twitter.com/aD6z6a9vb4
— Ⓜ️arcusD ᴿᴵᴾ ᴹᵃʳᶜᵘˢᴰ² (@_MarcusD3_) November 6, 2018
If there are areas of improvement for LaVine in clutch time it’s in two places: taking care of the ball and getting to the free throw line.
Zach LaVine has been much better this season at getting to the line overall (8.3 FTA) but has mostly gone away from it and relied on his shot in late game situations. LaVine has only attempted six free throws in clutch time. Four of those six free throws helped result in wins. Point being, LaVine’s ability to draw fouls in late-game situations can ultimately swing games for the Bulls. Let’s check back on that in February.
The other area of improvement down the stretch would be LaVine’s ability to take care of the ball. LaVine leads the NBA with six turnovers in clutch time. In some cases, it has cost the Bulls (ex. vs. Pistons). This is mostly to be expected though with Hoiberg asking LaVine to take on a quasi-point guard role in the absence of Dunn. For now, LaVine needs to find a way to take care of the balls and avoid potential costly plays.
#3 – Justin Holiday (38 minutes)
Coming into the season the Bulls were lacking pure wing depth. They thought Jabari Parker was that answer and we know now that hasn’t even been entertained as a solution. The Bulls drafted a four-year player in Chandler Hutchison to try and close that gap a bit. While Hutchison has been better of recently, he has been reluctant to use him in closing situations. Here’s where Justin Holiday comes into play.
Holiday has been better than advertised from three-point range this season but it hasn’t reflected the same in clutch time situations. This may be a case of LaVine commanding most of the offense but Holiday is just 1-5 from the field in 38 clutch-time minutes. Holiday’s usage percentage in clutch time is third lowest on the Bulls at 5.5%. If not for his offense, then why is he on the floor in crucial situations?
The statistics tell you that he’s been the best defensive rebounder in clutch-time, grabbing 17.1%. What the eye test will tell you is his lack of awareness around the rim cost the Bulls a win against the Denver Nuggets.
Holiday get in the weight room son. pic.twitter.com/VoXzipD1al
— Ⓜ️arcusD ᴿᴵᴾ ᴹᵃʳᶜᵘˢᴰ² (@_MarcusD3_) November 1, 2018
As the season progresses maybe Fred Hoiberg gains more confidence Chandler Hutchison and we see less of Holiday. The more likely scenario is you will continue to see Holiday even when Markkanen, Portis, Dunn, and Valentine return. If Holiday hasn’t contributed at all offensively so far, what’s to say they need him to do that when Markkanen and Dunn are back? It’s possible we see Valentine (when healthy) surpass Holiday in closeout lineups too. We could even see it by committee, going to the hot hand among the three of them.
#4 – Jabari Parker (37 minutes)
Jabari Parker has had a rough start with the Chicago Bulls and I’m probably not the first to tell you that. It became increasingly more evident that Parker was going to get his run closing games once Bobby Portis went down with an MCL sprain. While Zach LaVine has dominated the ball in most clutch time situations, Parker has the second most points among Bulls at 12.
What came as a surprise was Jabari Parker’s defensive rating in clutch time. His 94.5 defensive rating is the best among Bulls players in this span. This is over 15-points better than his overall defensive rating at 110.8. So, is it about effort? Both the analytics and the eye test would tell you that Parker has been, say, selective about his defensive prowess.
Hoiberg is botching these rotations down the stretch again. Why does he insist on closing with Parker? Zero defense being played in a critical situation. pic.twitter.com/ZpK7r2JMSN
— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) November 1, 2018
If Jabari Parker is going to make more of an impact late in games, he has to move well and make good decisions without the ball. Take for example the win against Charlotte at home – if not for Parker’s screen, LaVine doesn’t get to the bucket and draw the foul. Opportunity to make an impact without the ball is crucial.
Sooner or later though, teams are going to game plan for LaVine in late game situations. When that happens the Bulls are going to need another consistent scoring option. Until the return of Markkanen, Portis, and Dunn, Parker has to be that guy.
#10 – Cameron Payne (27 minutes)
I’ll be honest, Cameron Payne has not had a great start to the year in clutch time. Without Kris Dunn, Fred Hoiberg has been limited in his choices at guard to close out games. Ryan Arcidiacono has come along strong but still, Hoiberg has left it mostly in the hands of Payne.
Cameron Payne had one flash of brilliance, dropping seven second-half three-pointers against the Hornets a few weeks ago. One of those seven came to tie the game up with just under four minutes to play.
Stacey King after the Cameron Payne 3 pointer.
"If you had told me Cameron Payne would make seven threes I might've slapped you Neil" pic.twitter.com/YOU2axjfSh
— Ⓜ️arcusD ᴿᴵᴾ ᴹᵃʳᶜᵘˢᴰ² (@_MarcusD3_) October 25, 2018
While Payne hasn’t been asked to be a reliable scorer late in games, some of his decision-making has been head scratching. Go back to the loss against Denver, Payne turns the ball over twice on bad out of bounds passes and a pass to the corner that resulted in a turnover on Justin Holiday. Payne’s poor decision making showed up in New York, too. He went isolation and was stuffed at the rim in a tie game with less than 30-seconds to play and then chucks up a three-pointer in overtime in a similar situation.
The good news: once Kris Dunn returns from injury, Payne will most likely not be seeing much floor time in clutch situations.
Bulls Didn’t “Learn How To Win” Against Knicks
Zach LaVine talked about his team finally finishing a close game, but the Bulls didn’t “learn how to win” against the Knicks. Not even close.
That Bulls game against the Knicks last night doesn’t deserve a closer look. It should be burned from our memories. Hard copies of box scores and game tape? Kill it all with fire. But, seeing as I need a distraction from the giant pit in my stomach as we wait for midterm results to start rolling in, what the hell. Let’s talk about it.
I’ve heard a lot of takes related to this young Bulls team – second youngest roster in the league, by the way – needing to “learn how to win.” “Find a way to finish games.” Zach LaVine talked about it after dropping a career-high 41 points in their double overtime win at Madison Square Garden last night. And I don’t blame him. It’s a common narrative for young teams, and they came to New York riding a four-game losing streak that included heartbreakers against Denver and Indiana. Games in which they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Blown 4th quarter leads. Head-scratching closing lineup choices by Fred Hoiberg and face-palming errors by his players.
Congratulations, guys! You finally pulled one out.
…Not for lack of trying to screw it up again.
I don’t want to hear anything about how last night’s win over a hapless and depleted Knicks team showed progress when it comes to “learning how to win.” Stop it. Shut it. It didn’t.
Let’s refresh our memories, shall we?
LaVine buries back to back three pointers to give the Bulls a 99-93 lead with just under three minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. A couple possessions later, the Bulls’ inability to get a defensive rebound (sound familiar?) has the Knicks within two. LaVine hits another three, and the lead is back to five. The Bulls defense gets a stop (what?? they did??) on the ensuing possession, and another bucket here would’ve likely ended it. What happens? LaVine turnover. One of many LaVine turnovers in the 4th quarter and overtime periods. Undrafted Allonzo Trier hits a wide-open three, and we’re tied.
Cameron Payne then took it upon himself to be the hero, but instead got completely stuffed on an isolation drive to the basket. Shocking. LaVine misses another shot on a second chance opportunity, and the Knicks have the ball for essentially the final possession. Thankfully for our incompetent Bulls, Trier missed a good look at a 17-footer that would’ve been the game winner. Mario Hezonja also missed a put-back attempt that would’ve won the game because hey guess what the Bulls can’t get a defensive rebound to save their lives. We go to overtime.
The Bulls should’ve won this game in regulation after LaVine gave them leads of 6 points with 3 minutes remaining and 5 points with 2 minutes remaining. But they choked.
I won’t go into equivalent levels of detail with the overtime periods, mostly because I don’t want to relive it that closely. This wasn’t a case of “free basketball!” No. This was a case of “dear god in heaven please don’t make us watch more of this garbage.” I’ll just rattle off a few things we saw in those extra frames:
-Jabari Parker has ball stolen by Mudiay
-Zach LaVine turnover for stepping out of bounds
-Robin Lopez turnover for throwing it out of bounds
-Jabari Parker missing an ill-advised three point attempt
-Jabari Parker turnover for stepping out of bounds
-Cam Payne inexplicably launching a three (which he bricked) immediately after an offensive rebound
-On what could’ve been the winning possession, LaVine steps out of bounds again
-Jabari Parker misses his favorite shot: a pull-up midrange jumper
-Cam Payne misses another three
-Another LaVine turnover
And that’s not even including some of the Bulls’ truly pathetic defensive possessions that allowed the inept Knicks to keep coming back.
No, our young Bulls did not get a “learn how to win” check mark last night. Quite the opposite. They did everything they could to lose that game. It just so happens that in a terrible basketball game filled with ugly mistakes, the Bulls happened to have the ball last and the Knicks made one more mistake. Yippee.
I want to know why Cam thought it was a good idea to try being the hero when Zach was cooking. Cam should not be allowed to have the ball in those late game situations. Speaking of which, hey Fred, why was Cam even on the floor late in this game? Why did he play FORTY ONE minutes to Ryan Arcidiacono’s 17? Better yet, why did you play Jabari FORTY TWO minutes in this game, including late into the 4th and both overtimes? Sure he got you some rebounds. You know who else could’ve gotten you those rebounds? Chandler Hutchison, who’s looking better and better.
Okay, I need to stop now. This was supposed to be a healing exercise to take my mind off the midterms. It did accomplish that for a brief moment, but now I’m all worked up about this stupid game.
IT WAS A STUPID GAME. It was a bad game. It was a “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” game. Kudos to Zach for a new career high, and kudos to him for making the game-winning drive and free throw. But the kudos stop there.
Hopefully at some point this season our young Bulls get that signature “learning how to win” result in a close game against a decent opponent. On the road? Well that would make it all the more impressive.
This ain’t it, Chief.
It’s Time For Bulls To Tank Again
The NBA is as talented and competitive as it’s ever been and the Chicago Bulls lacked the talent before the injuries. It’s time for the Bulls to tank again.
The last time the Chicago Bulls started a season 2-8 was, well, last year. It’s been less than a month, but with just two wins in ten games, the tank is rolling.
The last thing Bulls fans want to do is sit through 82 games of disappointing basketball for another year. However, it beats losing in the first round of the playoffs to draft a player at 15. The Bulls are on pace to win fewer than 20 games, which is good news if you forgot about the four talented players that should all be back by mid-December. Both Lauri Markkanen and Denzel Valentine have yet to play a game this season, while Kris Dunn has played just one. Bobby Portis was also off to a hot start, averaging a double-double in 4 games before suffering a sprained MCL in his right knee. It goes without saying that their absence has a significant impact on the Bulls’ record.
While a competitive Bulls team is fun to watch, it’s not what they have. And it’s surely not what they need. The NBA is filled with championship contenders and the Bulls just aren’t there. Just a few weeks after winning another title, the Golden State Warriors added All-Star big man Demarcus Cousins. The Boston Celtics are finally healthy and continue to develop their young draft picks. The Toronto Raptors are pulverizing every team they play with their new addition of Kawhi Leonard. Point being, even a healthy Bulls roster is far from contending in this league. If you’re not contending for a championship, why make the playoffs?
To the front office, it’s always been about making money. Tanking doesn’t sell tickets and it’s for that reason they told us the plan this year was to be competitive. You can give the credit for last year’s tank (which they still ultimately failed) to Zach LaVine’s rehab and Dunn missing 30 games. If LaVine played more than half the season and Dunn didn’t suffer fluke injuries, the Bulls could have ended up drafting in the teens instead of lucking into Wendell Carter Jr. at #7. The Bulls won’t be a championship contender anytime soon if the front office continues to prioritize ticket sales over the team’s future. They should be shooting for Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett, not giving Jabari Parker $20 million to take minutes and touches away from the young guys.
The roster will be healthy soon, and will start to win games because of it. There are things, however, that the front office can do to keep the tank rolling. As the season progresses, players get hurt and teams readying for a playoff run need to replace those players to maintain their depth. The Bulls need to get anything they can for Robin Lopez before the trade deadline. His expiring deal increases whatever small trade value he has, and the Bulls won’t offer him a new contract next summer. While he may not be a hot commodity right now, a competitive team could use his size when games slow down in the playoffs. Justin Holiday is the second oldest player on this Bulls roster and averages the most minutes on the team. Holiday is also shooting just under 60% from the field, averaging 12.1 points per game. If his efficient start to the season continues, he may be a good trading piece for a competitive team looking for a shooter off the bench.
There’s a difference between contending for championships and making a playoff appearance. If contending means missing the playoffs for a few years, Bulls fans should be on board, regardless of how hard it is to watch.
Zach LaVine Is Just What Bulls Need
Zach LaVine has been a bright spot for the injury-plagued Bulls so far this season. His efficient scoring is all that separates the Bulls from an 0-6 start.
This summer, Zach LaVine signed a 4-year contract worth $78 million dollars with the Sacramento Kings, which the Chicago Bulls promptly matched. The reception was mixed at best. Many detractors of the deal pointed to his inefficiency in his injury shortened season, in which he played only 24 games, shot 38% from the field, and scored 16 points a game. He was coming off an ACL injury. Supporters of the deal believed last season was an anomaly, and that LaVine had another gear in him, one that might be worth the hefty price tag to keep him. So far, the supporters have been right. And that’s been a blessing for the Bulls, because if LaVine wasn’t playing up to his contract, this team would look like the worst in the league.
In six games for the Bulls, LaVine is averaging 29.3 points per game. In their loss to the Mavericks, he had 34 points on 11/15 shooting, including 5/7 from the 3-point line (CBS Sports). Zach looks like a completely different player this year, which is just what the Bulls were hoping for. If you look at his shot selection on NBA.com, it looks similar to his trends last year (lots of pull ups, yikes). But instead of shooting sub-35% in catch and shoot and pull up shots, he’s shooting 50% and 46%, respectively. From within ten feet, he’s improved from 56% to 81%.
LaVine also looks more like a combo guard, although that’s mostly due to the fact that his starting point guard has been Cameron Payne in all but one game. It hasn’t translated to big assist numbers yet, but it does put pressure on the opposing defense. When Zach drives, unlike last year, he’s able to get to the rim. Instead of contested midrange jump shots, he’s finishing with dunks like this, or collapsing the defense and dumping it off to a big man or kicking out to an open shooter.
All these positives are great for this young Bulls team, who sit at 2-4 with a daunting 4-game home stand coming. Without LaVine’s production, those 2 wins are almost assuredly losses and the 4 losses are much uglier. Without Lauri Markkanen, who is sidelined with an elbow injury, the Bulls didn’t have a reliable scoring option outside of LaVine coming into the season. A starting lineup of Cameron Payne, LaVine, Justin Holiday, Chandler Hutchison (in the wake of the Bobby Portis injury) and Wendell Carter Jr. is not a world beating lineup by any means, so a shot of scoring espresso from Zach is much needed.
Everyone had their doubts about Zach, including me. I thought he was best served in the 6th man role. He’s now proving everyone wrong, and showing how valuable of a scorer he can be. He’s got things to work on, mostly on the defensive side, but it’s hard not to get excited as he strings together so many strong performances. If he keeps this pace up, he could be a front-runner for Most Improved Player. For now, just bask in the glory of his efficient scoring. And maybe, if you counted yourself as a doubter, send him something nice with a card that says, “I’m sorry.”
- Bulls fall to Mavericks, LaVine: “We have to have more energy” November 13, 2018
- Bulls-Mavericks Betting Preview: LaVine, Doncic in for a big night? November 12, 2018
- Bulls squeeze past Cavaliers with Jabari Parker block November 12, 2018
- What’s going on with Denzel Valentine, should Bulls fans be concerned? November 8, 2018
- Will the Chicago Bulls be in play for Duke’s Three Alphas? November 7, 2018
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