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How are the Chicago Bulls performing in clutch situations?

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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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Bulls acquire Otto Porter Jr. for Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker

In what came as an unexpected deadline move, the Bulls acquire a former 3rd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft Otto Porter Jr. from Washington for Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis.

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Chicago Bulls acquire Otto Porter Jr. from Washington - Locked On Bulls

Locked On Bulls is back with a fresh episode, the guys are back to cover the biggest story surrounding the Chicago Bulls ahead of today’s NBA Trade Deadline. The Bulls trade Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis, and a 2023 2nd round pick to the Washington Wizards for Otto Porter Jr.

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Give your reaction to the Bulls acquiring Otto Porter Jr. at Locked On Bulls text and voicemail line at (331)-979-1369 or on Twitter @LockedOnBulls.

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Bulls Trade Deadline Countdown: Lakers check in on Jabari Parker

According to ESPN Insider Brian Windhorst, the Los Angeles Lakers could be looking to move Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in a non-Anthony Davis deal before the trade deadline. Enter the Bulls and Jabari Parker.

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Lakers interested in Bulls Jabari Parker - Locked On Bulls

Locked On Bulls is back with a fresh episode, the guys start the show talking about the Bulls only real news of the Trade Deadline Week coming from ESPN Insider Brian Windhorst who said the Los Angeles Lakers may have interest in Jabari Parker.

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Bulls have plenty to think about with the NBA trade deadline looming

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Bulls head into NBA Trade Deadline week with way more questions than answers - Locked On Bulls

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Send the guys your Bulls Trade Deadline deals at (331)-979-1369 or on Twitter @LockedOnBulls.

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