Tuesday, December 5, 2023

A whole new Bulls team? Why Chicago embracing the 3-pointer could create potent offense

CHICAGO — If you’ve watched a Chicago Bulls game over the last two years, a prevailing theme you may notice is how few 3s the team takes. In each of the last two seasons Chicago has been the only team in the league to not average at least 30 3-point attempts a night. What may have once been considered a badge of honor as battles in the paint and the mid-range game reigned supreme, now looks like a reluctance to evolve with the times.

But at media day on Monday, it sounded like the Bulls were ready to embrace the 3-ball fully, something that could help their goal of getting back to the postseason. Bulls president Arturas Karnisovas talked about how he wants to see the team’s shot profile change, with an emphasis on attempting more 3s compared to each of the last two seasons. Head coach Billy Donovan echoed the same sentiment, and harped on not just taking more 3s just for the sake of it, but generating better looks from beyond the perimeter.

“Like Arturas talked about our shot profile, to me it’s less about taking more 3s, as much as it’s about how you generate them,” Donovan said. “Our biggest challenge with this group is going to be we’ve got to get into the paint … We’ve got to do a better job spacing, we’ve got to do a better job attacking the paint, because about 85% of your fouls are taking place in the paint. It’s the best opportunity to offensive rebound, is on those shots. And then the third thing is those are where you get kick-out 3s, and I think that’s got to be a real focus for us.”

Already we’ve seen a commitment to that change with the offseason additions of Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig, two players who if they were on the Bulls roster a season ago would’ve ranked first and second in 3-point percentage, respectively. But it’s not enough to just add a couple players and hope that solves the issue. As Donovan said, it’s about how the Bulls are generating those shots. 

It’s about ball movement, something Chicago struggled with at times last season, ranking 20th in assists per game with 24.5. Too many times did we see the offense just give DeMar DeRozan the ball and let him cook from mid-range. That’s a useful tool to have in your back pocket, especially when he makes those shots at a 48% clip, but it’s also underutilizing the other standout aspects of DeRozan and Zach LaVine’s game. 

Both players are high-percentage finishers around the rim, and with the amount of attention they draw when they have the ball in their hands, it will surely create open corner 3s when they attack the paint. We’ve also seen from DeRozan’s San Antonio days how he can shine as a facilitator, dishing out 6.2 dimes a night over three seasons. Nikola Vucevic is also an underrated passer out of the post, something we saw a lot more of during his Orlando Magic days. 

This sudden self-awareness by the Bulls should give them the versatility and potency on offense they lacked a season ago. It won’t be an overnight success by any means, but there certainly seems to be buy-in from the players about how they plan to approach the offense this season.

“I know there’s a big deal of it, like, I don’t shoot enough [3s], but it’ll come, I’m not even going to think about it,” DeRozan said. “It’s something that I’ve definitely worked on, I know I can do, I just never made a conscious effort to do. But the style of play, understanding how we want to play, whatever is needed from me I’m going to be ready for it and do it, no problem.”

DeRozan has averaged 1.5 3-point attempts over his 14-year career, but he’s shown the ability to knock them down at a consistent rate, like he did two seasons ago shooting 35.2% on nearly two attempts a night. He doesn’t need to drastically increase that number, but if he could take at least three or four 3s a night, it would open up the spacing for the Bulls. That spacing allows for those drive and kick opportunities as Donovan mentioned. It also gives someone with the freakish athleticism like LaVine a green light to attack the rim.

If the Bulls manage to successfully shift their shot profile to take — and make — more 3s, then they should be in the hunt for a top-6 playoff spot this season. The talent is there, and now it sounds as though the gameplan will better highlight that.  

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