Bullish is an attempt to parse the narrative of the Chicago Bulls season. In most seasons, it’s pretty obvious (recently the narrative centered on the health and ability of Derrick Rose), this season is much more complicated. I used to write about NBA for the New York Sun and The Root. I found then that distance was often an asset, so while I’d rather patrol the sideline and press box of the United Center, there’s insight to be had from the vantage point of my tiny Manhattan apartment too.
If, by a bizarre twist of fate, your life depended on choosing the winning side of a three point shooting contest, it’s unlikely that you would ever choose three players from the current Chicago Bulls team over their counterparts for the Golden State Warriors. In fact, even if you were an avid Bulls fan, you probably wouldn’t consider it. Yet, there is a universe where the Bulls shot better from deep, and it isn’t a parallel one. After the all star break, the Bulls were a better team shooting from behind the arc.
After the beak, the Warriors shot 37.3% per game from distance; the Bulls averaged 38.2.
The point isn’t that the D-Wade, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic et al. are better than Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant et al, but rather that a conversation can credibly exist on this point. For the first two thirds of the season, the Bulls were an abomination of a three point shooting team. Through 57 games, the team was suffering the rare trifecta of being last in the NBA in three point attempts, makes and of course percentage. After the break, they were sixth. The change occurred despite a trade that dealt away their best long range shooter, Doug McDermott too!
The Bulls improvement can be tied to that trade, though as it also sent away starting power forward Taj Gibson. His minutes were taken by Mirotic and Bobby Portis, both of whom are enthusiastic three point shooters. Also Wade suffered an elbow injury that sidelined him for most of March and April; he was replaced for the most part by Paul Zipser, a rookie who also shot often from deep. Lastly, Bulls point guards, Grant and Rajon Rondo (!) shot well from behind the arc. And to paraphrase Senator Dirksen, a little downtown here and a little downtown there and sooner or later you have a real threat from deep.
That the Bulls improvement in 3 point shooting was almost entirely coincidental, makes it a sort of stealth weapon. Overall the Bulls ranked 24th in the NBA in long distance shooting percentage, which would seem that it’s a defensive category that would take care of itself. Yet in the Chicagoans game one win against Boston, the Bulls shooting from deep paralleled their season. They missed their first 11 shots from behind the arc and went into halftime shooting 2 of 14 from three point range. Yet, in the second half they made six of their 11 attempts as they took control of the game. Eight of 25 doesn’t feel prepossessing, which is why the Bulls long distance shooting may be their secret weapon approaching game two. That’s something that the Warriors could never say.