With the Bulls fighting hard for that final playoff spot, it feels a little mean to write what feels like a season wrap-up post. But that max capspace is burning a hole in my pocket, spring is in the air, and the birds outside are chirping "Amare! Bosh! David Lee!"
This year's Bulls are currently 26th in offensive efficiency-the worst of all playoff contenders this year. An offseason priority has to be getting better at scoring the ball, but given that, what can we glean from this year's performance?
First, let's take a look at what the team is doing wrong. At Hoopdata.com, they have all sorts of great data, including team shot locations. The Bulls data, compared to the league average, is at the link.
The numbers that jumped out most at me were these:
Chicago at Rim 57% League Average 60.9%
Chicago 16-23 Feet 10.8/27.9 38.7% League Average 8.0/20.4 39.4%
Chicago Threes 4.2/12.7 eFG 49.7% League Average 6.4/18.0 eFG 52.9%
The immediate takeaway from these numbers is the one most observers have been screaming for all year-stop taking so many jumpers from 16-23 feet and take 3 pointers instead. Along with that, the Bulls also have to get much better at finishing at the basket: their 57% FG in close is the league's fourth worst.
Given these failings, how much blame belongs to the coaching and how much to the personnel? My own opinion is that most of the blame lies with the players, not Vinny-it's hard to draw up plays for 3 point shots when you don't have players to take the shots. His offensive philosophy, however, exacerbates the problem, because it encourages players to hunt for shots they are comfortable with, and not necessarily those with the most efficiency or expected value, and too many players on the current team reach for long jumpers like Linus going for his blue blanket.
Unfortunately for this season, though, a lot of the current players don't fit the system. The better portion of the Bulls core players (Noah, Gibson, Deng) are better at finishing what someone else has created than creating for themselves. This in itself isn't a problem, if you have good creators on your team, but beyond Rose (who is bearing the primary scoring and creating burdens simultaneously) Hinrich and Miller leave much to be desired as secondary creators-Kirk, for all his hustle and grit, has never had great improvisational instincts and doesn't score enough to really put pressure on the defense, and Miller's body has already started to betray him. But despite Brad's decrepitude, he handles the ball a lot in this offense, more than he probably should, because he knows how to create for himself and his teammates-the ball gravitates towards Brad because he one of the few a players unafraid to use it.
Can this system be salvaged/adapted going forward? When the team has clicked, it has been very good, but when it's been bad it's been horrid. More than anything else, what the Bulls team needs are 3 elements-a true back to the basket player, more 3-point shooters, and another true playmaker to pair with Rose. The first two are rather self-evident and have been discussed throughout the season, so I will take up the question of the third.
I went to basketball-reference.com and took a look at Kirk's win/loss splits:
Kirk has a wider win/loss performance swing than every other Bulls player getting major minutes. While everyone else seems to play a little better in wins than losses (which should be expected), Kirk is essentially two separate players. When he is a credible offensive threat, hitting threes, the team wins, but when he doesn't score, the team loses. His playmaking is about the same in wins and losses. That makes me wonder whether Kirk is a "fault line" in this offense-that his play is determining the outcome of games beyond his stats, that when he plays well, he makes the offense "work". Given that Kirk is a notoriously streaky offensive player, that's a scary notion, but what if the Bulls replaced Kirk with a steadier performer, one who could knock down threes and be more of a consistent scoring threat while continuing to distribute the ball and play defense?
Yes, I am making a backhanded argument for adding a Wade, Joe Johnson, or Ginobili over the second tier of power forwards like Boozer and David Lee. It's counterintuitive, but from a systemic perspective, replacing Kirk with a more consistent scorer/playmaker could do more than any single move to unlock the potential of this offense.
Tomorrow, Part 2: Comparing the Bulls to the Celtics with potential offseason scenarios