After a bad shooting start, Keith Bogans' work has paid off, scoring from long-range with high efficiency for over the last two months.
Keith Bogans was signed by the Bulls in the offseason to come off the bench to relieve Ronnie Brewer on the wing. Brewer had hamstring problems that sat him out most of the preseason and limited his abilities in the opening weeks of the season. In that time, Bogans was asked to do nothing on offense, but shoot threes when opponents' defensive spacing was disrupted to the point where he was left wide open.
He remained in the starting lineup when Brewer showed himself as healthy and effective, though playing less minutes than Brewer and Kyle Korver off the bench. Most of his minutes have arguably been the least crucial minutes -- the opening seven-to-eight minutes of games -- but fans fixated on the bricks to the point where Bogans' makes are simply exceptions to the rule of a bad shooter wasting space.
The criticism of Bogans isn't that he doesn't score enough, but that
when he shoots, he bricks too often. This hasn't been the case for the
majority of the season and remains trending upward.
The truth is that Bogans has a history of chucking threes. And that bothered me to see him starting every game. But something has changed since Carlos Boozer returned and sent the message that he'll score at will if he doesn't get enough attention. The space given to Bogans and his extensive work the Bulls "shot doctor" -- Ron Adams, Tom Thibodeau's "top lieutenant" on the coaching staff, Sam Smith reported Wednesday at Bulls.com -- has had him shooting threes at a high rate for about the last 32 games.
Bogans has scored slightly less per game since that the Bulls' 22nd game of the season on Dec. 11 -- 3.7 PPG since, compared to 4.1 before. But no one in their right mind is going to get on a guy's per game scoring totals when the guy's on the floor with Derrick Rose and Luol Deng with Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah on the inside. Also, everyone's scoring totals have slipped since Boozer's return.
Bogans' 3P% has risen from that abysmal .259 start to .369, thanks to hitting a highly efficient .458 rate over the last 32 games. Because such an enormous percentage of his attempts are threes, his .424 FG% is a bad way to gauge his shooting. His eFG% is a better indicator of how many points he converts per shot and that's a staggering .603 over the same stretch.
For comparison, no eligible Bull is shooting over a .550 eFG% on the season (Korver's .546 is tops on the team) and Rose is shooting a .484 eFG%.
Since Jan. 5, the shooting's been even better. Bogans has hit 25-of-50 threes (.500 3P%) in the 20 games since my birthday.
I regrettably admit that I carried on the "Bogans sucks" meme for far too long, though I stopped seeing the significant harm in him starting. His defense has looked off to the naked eye in recent weeks, but that's largely due to his assignment being stretched to commit more help to aid Boozer's terrible defense. Unfortunately, Boozer's defensive inefficiency has produced better looks for opposing wing players in the corners. "When Joakim Noah returns, we'll see the better Bogans D that we saw in November," I noted in my recap of Tuesday's win over the Bobcats.
Remember these numbers as the Bulls shop around for a shooting guard. Is Bogans' rate completely sustainable? A 32-game stretch after a lot of work is the best indicator we can get right now.
Overall, Bogans is still third-worst among all eligible guards in PER at 8.0. That rating is dead last among all starters, regardless of position, across the league. Of course, there are very few players who can defend the wings as tightly as Brewer, while being so aggressive for loose balls and avoiding stupid fouls. So, within the help scheme employed by Thibs, how Bogans contributes to executing the scheme well doesn't show up in the metrics.
The Bulls are better off improving the position. Brewer and Korver are better assets to get more minutes than Bogans, as they have all season. But it's hard to say that Bogans is doing significant damage to the Bulls chances of winning games on a nightly basis in the foreseeable future.
Advanced Stats via Basketball-Reference.
EDIT: Bogans' 17.6 MPG is the fewest of any starter since 1980, Rob Mahoney noted Wednesday in his post at The New York Times' "Off the Dribble" blog, titled "The Illusory Importance of Starting." This was in support of the statement that starting is largely ceremonial, whereas playing time is the true currency of value in the NBA:
Being on the court for the first seconds of a game does not hold much
meaning, but starters are typically the recipients of more (and more
consistent) minutes than their bench counterparts. They are often
simplistically regarded as the five best players on a team, or the most
natural lineup to both start and finish a game, even if that is not
necessarily true. The best players in the league typically play from the
opening tip, and thus I'm sure many players take it as an insult when
they are not allowed to be in that same company.
But there are plenty of cases in which starting does not function as a
statement of worth at all. It's a classic correlation/causation error;
starting is just one of the many perks that usually come with being a
good player, not some all-powerful honor that leads to greater things
and a grand career. A team's starters are not their five best players or
even their most effective lineup, necessarily. They are just one
configuration put on the court at a particular time. Nothing more.
Minutes are the real currency of N.B.A. players; only by having them
can players produce in volume, or meaningfully impact the outcome of a
game in more than short bursts.
Specifically, he used Bogans as a example because his playing time is so limited -- 22 of 53 games with less than 15 minutes played. He makes the point: "He is a starter of convenience, if not necessity."
"Thibodeau essentially needed to buy time in his rotation, particularly at the shooting guard position," Mahoney wrote, later adding:
So, Thibodeau hid Bogans among his otherwise most capable players. By
making Bogans a part of a lineup that will eventually include Derrick
Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, Thibodeau put a limited
offensive player in the best possible position to contribute. In that
setting, Bogans's one effective offensive skill - shooting the corner 3 -
can come into play. If forced to play with a unit of Bulls reserves,
those open corner 3s would be far fewer.
And, hey, those threes are falling.