From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Chicago Bulls, who are getting their star back.
5.1 - More points per 100 possessions that the Bulls’ defense allowed last season (100.3) than they did the season before (95.3).
Only two defenses — New Orleans (+5.3) and Philadelphia (+6.4) — regressed more. The Bulls also regressed more offensively (-4.1 points per 100 possessions) than every team but one (Phoenix). In total, the Bulls were 9.2 points per 100 possessions worse last season than they were in 2011-12. That was the biggest NetRtg drop-off in the league.
Bulls efficiency under Tom Thibodeau
The offensive regression is easily explained by the absence of Derrick Rose. And as long as he doesn’t take too many nights off this season, the Bulls should be back in the top 10 or 12 on that end of the floor. If Jimmy Butler shoots 3-pointers like he did in the playoffs, they’re definitely in good shape.
Being in the Top 10 on both ends of the floor qualifies you as a title contender. But if the Bulls are going to regain their standing as the best regular-season team in the Eastern Conference (as some predict they will), they will need to get a lot of that defense back. And the defense regressed more than the offense.
Better offense will certainly help the defense. More made baskets will allow the Bulls to set up their D more often. But there’s more to address. In particular, there were three areas where the Bulls regressed defensively last season.
Bulls defense under Tom Thibodeau
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
TransD = Opponent fast-break points / Opponent steals
First, their transition defense went from above average to below average, an area where better offense will definitely help. But they also went from third to 19th in opponent free throw rate, which translated into an extra three free throws per game for the opposition. Finally, the Bulls didn’t protect the rim as well, going from first in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area in ’11-12 to 10th last season.
Here are some clips from a Christmas game in which the Rockets racked up 31 fast break points, 24 trips to the line, and shot an incredible 30-for-40 in the restricted area.
This is where the absence of Omer Asik comes in. The Bulls still defended the rim decently with Joakim Noah on the floor, allowing their opponents to shoot 58.0 percent in the restricted area. But opponents shot 62.3 percent in the restricted area with Noah off the floor. With Asik anchoring the second unit, that number was a paltry 49.8 percent in 2010-11.
The defense as a whole regressed with Noah off the floor. And that’s something that didn’t happen in the first two seasons under Tom Thibodeau. One of the biggest keys to the Bulls’ No. 1 defense in 2010-11 and 2011-12 was how good their bench was on that end of the floor. This used to be a great defensive team from 1-15. Now, not so much.
Bulls defense with Noah on and off the floor
|Noah on floor||Noah off floor|
Asik, C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer are all gone. And unlike Rose, they’re not coming back. Kirk Hinrich is a solid defender on the perimeter, but the defensive depth is not there anymore. Taj Gibson is still around and is a great defensive player, but he’s not a center.
The Bulls were forced to lean on Noah much more last season. His minutes jumped from 30.4 per game in ’11-12 to 36.8 in ’12-13. And he didn’t hold up, missing 12 of the Bulls’ last 15 games of the regular season. Once again this season, his health and durability will determine how good the Bulls are defensively.
Maybe the Bulls don’t need to be the No. 1 defensive team in the league anymore. Maybe Rose’s return, the development of Butler and the addition of Mike Dunleavy will improve them enough offensively that they can make up for the defensive drop-off.
But as we wonder how good Rose is going to be this season, the Bulls’ defense is as much a question as the offense is.
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions