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How are the Chicago Bulls performing in clutch situations?



Zach LaVine's clutch performances late in games - Locked On Bulls

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Jordan Maly is the host of Locked On Bulls, he's a native of Naperville, IL and graduated from Indiana University - Bloomington. Jordan has spent time covering the Indiana Pacers, Indiana Hoosiers basketball and football, and the Big Ten Conference as a credentialed writer. Jordan has been published in Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, SB Nation, FanSided, and Yahoo Sports.

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Wendell Carter Jr.’s season is probably over with surgery recommended

Less than 24 hours ago, Carter was expected to play in Saturday’s matchup against the Miami Heat. Now, Carter will likely need surgery on his left thumb with a recovery time of 8-12 weeks.



Wendell Carter Jr.'s rookie season is likely over after surgery is needed to his left thumb - Locked On Bulls

Locked On Bulls is back with a fresh episode, the guys spend the first segment of the show talking about the last leg of the road trip from hell and the ninth consecutive loss in Denver. For the breaking news on Wendell Carter Jr.’s injury, fast forward to 48:52 mark. According to the Chicago Tribune, Wendell Carter Jr. is being recommended surgery on his left thumb he injured in Tuesday night’s game that would keep him out 8-12 weeks likely ending his season.

Locked On Bulls discusses how the Denver Nuggets coming into this game were at the top of the Western Conference as one of the best teams in all of basketball. Jim Boylen and his Bulls made little to no adjustments to their game and were blown out in the third quarter.

The guys discuss how Lauri Markkanen’s impressive first quarter was overshadowed by another embarrassing loss mixed little effort and awful game planning. The guys break down some advanced analytics during the Bulls nine-game losing streak and how this possibly could get worse.

The guys spend some time taking voicemails from Bulls fans to end the show, you can interact with Locked On Bulls at (331)-979-1369 or on Twitter @LockedOnBulls. First voicemail asks the guys about how the players need to start taking more accountability for their performances. The guys discuss how LaVine and Dunn have ghosted on this road trip, the inability to get to the free throw line, and the terrible offensive first quarters under Jim Boylen.

Second voicemail details a Bulls fan who no longer believing in Kris Dunn as the starting point guard of the future. The guys describe how Dunn’s play has lacked over during the road trip, since his return from injury, and why all of a sudden it seems like his mentality is to score first rather than to facilitate? Has he been worse for LaVine and Markkanen’s development or all of these guys just trying to do it themselves? The last voicemail asks the guys who the front office will choose if it comes down to Zach LaVine vs. Jim Boylen if their relationship continues to crumble.

The final 10-minutes of the show is dedicated to the breaking news of Wendell Carter Jr. potentially missing the rest of the season. How will this affect the Bulls on the floor and are the Bulls cursed? All of this and so much more on Locked On Bulls.

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Bulls finding out trade market is scarce for Robin Lopez, Jabari Parker?

The Bulls have been adamant about not taking on long-term money, so the market for Jabari Parker has become increasingly thin. Lopez wants a buyout.



Bulls finding out trade market is scarce for Lopez, Parker - Locked On Bulls

Locked On Bulls is back with a fresh episode, the guys kick off the show talking about the Bulls matchup tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers. The guys also focus their conversation on the Bulls unwillingness to buyout Robin Lopez at this point, looking to trade him for assets.

Just how bad have the Lakers been since LeBron James’ injury 10 games ago? Jordan Maly and Matt Peck discuss some of the advanced analytics behind the Lakers struggles. Some of the surprises include the Lakers being one of the best defensive teams in all of basketball yet being the worst offensive team in the same stretch. Will the pressure to win tonight by Lakers coach Luke Walton be at all time high and can the Bulls steal one on the road to boost morale?

The second half of the show dives deeper into the situation surrounding center Robin Lopez. In the past few days, reports have surfaced that Robin Lopez and his agent have been working with the Bulls to find a deal to either move or buy him out.

This all comes with a new storyline yesterday about a heated practice, exchange with point guard Kris Dunn. The guys discuss why buying out Lopez right now doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Bulls but come trade deadline if they do not find a deal, they should part ways. The guys also talk about Jabari Parker’s trade value, his potential upgrade to backup power forward, Lopez’s reduction in minutes, Patrick McCaw Cavaliers story, and some quick hits on NBA Draft prospects. All of this and so much more on Locked On Bulls.

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Rock bottom of the NBA: Bulls midseason review

The Bulls hit the halfway point in Portland, cap off the weekend with losses to the Warriors and Jazz.



Bulls midseason review feels a whole lot like rock bottom - Locked On Bulls

It’s safe to say the Bulls’ season has been nothing short of abysmal.

The team hit the halfway mark on Wednesday night in a 124-112 loss to the Trailblazers. The loss was the Bulls’ 31st in just 41 games. This means that through half an NBA season you can count the total number of Bulls’ wins on two hands. The last time this happened was when a guy named Fred Hoiberg scored 4.4 points per game for the post-dynasty team back in 2001.

The Bulls followed up their loss in Portland with an absolutely ugly loss in Oakland to Klay Thompson and the Warriors. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson combined for 80 points on 60-percent shooting, handing the Bulls a 146-109 loss.

After a 5-19 start, the Bulls’ front office fired Fred Hoiberg, replacing him with Jim Boylen. Hoiberg coached 24 games for the team, and Boylen has coached 19.

The argument that Hoiberg didn’t get a chance with a healthy roster is a valid one. What kind of record did the front office expect to see with a lineup filled with injured players? Despite Hoiberg’s lack of success with the team, his firing was untimely and insensitive. Nonetheless, Hoiberg was gone and the team landed his polar opposite in Boylen.

Boylen’s first week as Bulls head coach had fans crying for Hoiberg back, and rightfully so. In Boylen’s third game as head coach, the Bulls suffered their worst loss in franchise history. In the third quarter of the game, Boylen pulled all five of his starters at the same time. He claimed Gregg Popovich used the tactic before when Boylen coached under him in San Antonio. Players were furious to say the least with one player, according to Yahoo Sports saying, “They aren’t the Spurs and, more importantly, he isn’t Popovich.”

To make matters worse, Boylen called for a two-and-a-half-hour Sunday practice the day after the loss. Players, according to multiple sources, started a group text to make sure no players went to practice.

The Bulls became the latest soap opera of professional sports and the laughing stock of the NBA.

However, it wasn’t just the coaching that was subject to change. The front office rang in the new year by sending Justin Holiday to Memphis in exchange for two future second-round picks, MarShon Brooks, and Wayne Selden. Later that day, the team made the decision to waive Cameron Payne. It’s good to know that some good came out of this season.

Don’t think I forgot about the highest-paid Bulls player, Jabari Parker. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the $20 million a year athlete requested to be traded from his hometown back in mid-December. Parker was removed from the Bulls’ rotation in early December and was given his first real opportunity under Jim Boylen last night in Utah. It remains to be seen if the Bulls will find a trade partner willing to take Parker or if they will buy him out after the deadline passes.

The thing is, just halfway through the first season of his two-year deal, the Bulls’ highest-paid player looks disconnected and better served somewhere other than his hometown team.

So much goes on with this team off the court that you would forget they play basketball.

Despite just 10 wins in 41 games, the team is healthier than it has been all season. Zach LaVine is having the best season of his career, Lauri Markkanen is averaging 16.5-points in 20 games, and Kris Dunn‘s offensive numbers are up in just about every category. Wendell Carter Jr. has been the Bulls most reliable defensive players this season and while he hasn’t been an offensive firepower he has shown enough flash to be excited about what’s to come.

This season is over for the Bulls in terms of competing, but they can still find ways to get better for the future. Although there hasn’t been much of any success, many of these young players will play together for years to come.

Everyone knows who the best scorer is, who can rebound, but no one knows who the Bulls are as a basketball team. They’ll never go anywhere without some type of identity. If they can’t prove to themselves that they are legit, they’ll continue to be seen as nothing more than a bottom feeder.

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