The Bulls finished the regular season at 46-36 and made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. They surpassed preseason expectations (win total predictions were set at 40), despite constant injuries plaguing the team. The Bulls caught the attention of the city and the league when they went 39-21 through the first 60 games. But then really limped to the finish after losing Lonzo Ball: finishing on a 7-15 run in the final 22 games.
The Bulls finally returned to the postseason and got some vital playoff experience and found out exactly where they need to get better in the offseason. The Bulls lost their opening round series 4-1 to the Bucks. Milwaukee exposed some weaknesses that the Bulls must improve to compete at the same level. To me, there’s three major areas needing improvement to take the next step.
Get Some Shooting
In the regular season, the Bulls finished dead last in the NBA in 3-Point shots attempted per game (28.8). That is due to the Bulls offense revolving a lot around DeMar DeRozan and his mid-range game. But the Bucks took that away and the let the Bulls chuck from deep- and the Bulls obliged. Milwaukee’s defensive scheme wants opponents to take threes. Especially a team like the Bulls: who don’t typically shoot many. Below, we see the Bulls 3-point attempts in this year’s playoff series with Milwaukee.
Only in one of the games did the Bulls attempt less threes than their season average: Game 2. Surprise, surprise- that’s the one game the Bulls won. Demar DeRozan scored 41 that game so that’s a big reason why the threes were lower in that one. But when the Bucks locked in on DeMar in the following games, the Bulls answer was just to chuck threes- even DeMar began chucking threes in Game 4 and he shot 0-5 from deep in that one.
The three-chucking finally culminated in a Bulls franchise-record 52 attempted threes in Game 5. If opponents focus a defense around DeRozan and his mid-range, the Bulls need a knockdown shooter to create space. Someone who can force defenses to expand out and guard at the three. We need a shooter. Having Lonzo Ball healthy would definitely help, so it’s hard to say exactly what we have, but adding a legitimate 3-point threat has to be on the table this summer.
The Bulls lost the points in the paint battle in every game against the Bucks (see below).
Part of losing the points in the paint is certainly Giannis, chucking threes and failing to run in transition. But when the Bulls did look into Vucevic, the results seemed pretty good. The issue was that it wasn’t very often. I can still hear Stacey King imploring Vucevic to stop floating around the 3-point line.
In addition, the Bulls lost the rebounding battle in all five games against Milwaukee. The Bulls could definitely use a high energy big who can crash the glass and provide second chance opportunities.
The on-ball defense was pretty good, but it’s the second level where the Bulls struggled. Over-helping off shooters like Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton allowed the entire Bucks offense to get going. There were just way too many times guys would get stuck looking at the ball or fail to find shooters in transition. Below is just one example where Coby White gets stuck looking at the ball when guarding a shooter in Pat Connaughton and doesn’t see him relocate for an open three. Then no one finds Connaughton in transition the very next play and he knocks down another.
These types of plays are the difference makers in competing with teams like the Bucks and making a playoff run. The Bulls finished 22nd in the NBA in defense (points per possession). That needs to improve to make this team into a team that gets past the first round.
Adding a few shooters, a post presence and taking a step in that second level of defense are the three glaring areas of improvement to me. That being said, there was a lot for Bulls fans to be excited about this year. From DeMar’s buzzer beaters to the 39-21 start to Patrick Williams’ back-to-back 20-point games in the playoffs; it was a really fun year. I’m excited to see what this team could look like with a healthy Zach LaVine (assuming we re-sign him), a healthy Lonzo Ball and a more experienced Patrick Williams. Add in some shooters and an energy big and I’ll be ecstatic.