By J. M. Poulard
Fresh off a home win against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Golden State Warriors (21-27) will host the Chicago Bulls tonight (34-14) at Oracle Arena. The Bulls have looked like quite the contender as of late and have their fans thinking that they could possibly represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals this year. Let’s see why.
On offense, this Chicago team puts up 98.3 points per game (17th in the NBA) on 45.9% field goal shooting (14th in the league). They do a good job of creating shots at the basket as evidenced by their 24.1 shots at the basket per game (seventh in the association). Chicago’s 62.1% conversion rate at the rim (18th in the NBA) is fairly average but given the fact that the team generates so many attempts near it, it helps make for an efficient offense.
Indeed, the Bulls score 41.9 points in the paint per game (14th in the league) and also attempt 24.7 free throws per game (13th in the association). Most of these points typically come courtesy of Derrick Rose’s electrifying drives (I never thought I would use the word electrifying in sports entertainment unless I was referencing The Rock, which says a lot about the former Memphis Tiger) to the basket and his aesthetically pleasing finishes. Mind you, Rose is not alone. Carlos Boozer was brought in during the summer to compliment The Officer’s talents (in case you haven’t been paying attention, I once laid down the nickname Officer Rick Rose for the Bulls star guard) and he has done exactly what the team has expected. His scoring on the low block helps the team generate offense in the half court and get points right at the basket without having to weave through two or three defenders much like Rose does.
Because Chicago’s two big guns are so potent, Luol Deng often gets lost in the shuffle. He is a very good small forward that scores both on drives and perimeter jump shots. The end result is that the Bulls are able to get scoring from a variety of places on the court. Furthermore, we view this team as being a tough and hardnosed defensive team, but the truth is that this attitude also shows up on offense. Indeed, although Joakim Noah has been on the shelf, they have a solid rotation of tough big men in Kurt Thomas, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson that impose their will on teams on the offensive glass as we can see from their 11.5 offensive rebounds per game (ninth in the NBA).
With that said, the Bulls are a good offensive team and not a great one. They tend to struggle in the half court when they are unable to get the ball to either Rose or Boozer because they do not have anyone else on the roster that can consistently create shots for himself. Also, this Chicago team will at times cough up the ball to opponents as we can see from their 14.5 turnovers per game (18th in the NBA).
On defense, the Bulls surrender 91.9 points per game (third in the league) on 42.4% field goal shooting (best in the league). Their defense is predicated on keeping the ball out of the paint. As mentioned previously, they have the bodies on the roster to bang with post players and keep them away from the basket but they also do a terrific job of always shading defenders towards the painted area. The end result is a team that yields 21.9 shots at the rim (14th in the association) but only allows a conversion rate of 59.6% on those shots (fifth best mark in the NBA). Consequently, this Bulls team only allows 37.2 points in the paint per game (fifth in the NBA) and because they do such a terrific job of defending without fouling, they only surrender 23.5 free throws per game (seventh best mark in the league).
Also, when watching Chicago play, one might notice the terrific amount of trust that players have in the defensive system and their teammates. No one truly stands out defensively on the team from an individual standpoint; however if we look at what each and every player does within the scheme of the defense, it’s quite impressive. Bulls players are aggressive in their man to man defense and challenge offensive players instead of merely allowing them to do as they please. For instance, Luol Deng might get beaten off the dribble by his man but he will fight to get back in the picture and his help man will come provide some assistance until he is able to come back and pick up his defensive assignment.
Consequently, it’s awfully tough for teams to get an open look against this Bulls team. As good as they are defending the paint, one could argue that they are even better at rotating out to shooters to contest shots and force misses as evidenced by their 33.2% three point shooting allowed (third best in the league).
If there is one weakness in the Bulls defense, it’s their ability to defend pick and pop situations. And granted, it’s not a glaring a weakness, but it is at times problematic nonetheless. Chicago surrenders 21.7 shots from 16 to 23 feet per game (eighth most in the NBA) because they allow the screener to rotate to the top of the key for a jump shot. One would think that they do a great job of rotating back to the screener judging from their 34.7% field goal shooting allowed from that distance (best in the league) but the stat is somewhat misleading. A lot of those shots actually come in the form of contested jumpers from perimeter players and also they rarely play against big men that are good shooters from that distance. However, when they do, the results from 16 to 23 feet can look like this (data from Hoopdata):
|4/11/2010||New York||Amar’e Stoudemire||2||5||.400|
|19/11/2010||at Dallas||Dirk Nowitzki||7||14||.500|
|3/12/2010||at Boston||Kevin Garnett||2||5||.500|
|25/12/2010||at New York||Amar’e Stoudemire||2||5||.400|
Other than Disco Dirk, none of the players took more than five long two points shots. The reason being that the made baskets from that distance helped them set up the defense with pump fakes where they were able to get to the basket. As a result, if David Lee and Vladimir Radmanovic are put into a few pick and pop situations and make their jumpers, it could potentially open up the court for the rest of their teammates.
Chicago game notes: The Bulls are an impressive 9-1 in their last 10 games.
Golden State game notes: The Dubs are 6-4 in their last 10 games and have been at home for all but one of the games.