NBA Season Preview 2017-18: Can the Bulls hit enough 3-pointers?


Everyone (except maybe management) say the writing on the wall after the Chicago Bulls’ summer of 2016. Adding Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo made them older, worse defensively and likely to suffer from an enormous lack of shooting and spacing on offense. Across the entire season, that issue pretty much played itself out.

Rondo shot a career-best 37.6 percent on 3-pointers but the Bulls still finished 29th in 3-point attempts per game and 25th in 3-point percentage. Given how bad they were in this one area it’s something of a miracle that the team finished 20th in offensive efficiency, scoring 107.4 points per 100 possessions.

The Bulls have undergone a fairly significant tear-down this summer. Jimmy Butler was traded to the Timberwolves. Rondo was not re-signed. Wade was bought-out just before training camps open. The team is more likely to focused on Draft Lottery odds than playoff standings this year but improving their shooting could help provide a structure for some of their young talent to grow into. With their older veterans shed, do the Bulls have the personnel to do that?

The Bulls did insert some shooting onto their roster this summer — drafting Lauri Markkanen, a 3-point shoot 7-footer with the No. 7 pick in the NBA Draft, signing Justin Holiday, bringing back Zach LaVine in the Butler trade, and re-signing Nikola Mirotic to a two-year deal. However, Markkanen may be brought along slowly and LaVine is still recovering from an ACL tear and won’t be ready to start the year. The rotation they have probably starts like this:

Before we start assessing the stretch potential of this year’s rotation, we should get a baseline by looking at what Chicago was working with last year. The graph below shows all lineups that played at least 100 minutes together during the 2016-17 season, marked by their 3-point attempts per 48 minutes and their 3-point percentage.

All three of the Bulls’ lineups are way below-average in terms of 3-point frequency. The Rondo-Butler-Zipser-Mirotic-Lopez group had some encouraging results on the accuracy front but it’s likely skewed by some outlier shooting from Rondo and Mirotic. Lopez, featured at center in all three lineups, is not a 3-point shooter. Taj Gibson, another big without 3-point range, drags down the numbers in the other two lineups, as does the presence of Wade.

Lopez will play plenty of minutes this season but having more power forward minutes go to Mirotic and Markkanen should help. Swapping in Holiday and LaVine will also lead to more attempts. The question is accuracy. The graph below shows the Bulls likely starting lineup for next year, along with a few variations including LaVine at shooting guard and Jerian Grant in place of Kris Dunn at point guard. The numbers used here are back-of-the-envelope calculations simply adding each players per 48 minute numbers from last season.

Planting Mirotic at power forward and replacing Wade with an actual shooter pushes all three lineups to above league average 3-point attempt rates. However, the shooters the Bulls are inserting don’t necessarily have great 3-point percentages.

Mirotic and Zipser were both below-average 3-point shooters last season, at 34.2 percent and 33.3 percent, respectively. Holiday was also slightly below the league-average, at 35.5 percent. Dunn was an abysmal 28.8 percent. Grant made a robust 36.6 percent but that was a huge and perhaps unsustainable leap from 22.0 percent he made as a rookie.

Markkanen projects to be a very good 3-point shooter, around 38.0 percent in Andrew Johnson’s rookie projections, and LaVine has strong percentages as well. However, the latter may not be ready to play until the winter and, as a rookie, Markkanen is much more of an unknown than some of the other players on the roster. And, of course, this doesn’t even account for the difficulty the team may have in creating good outside looks without Jimmy Butler creating offense in the pick-and-roll.

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In the end, the Bulls’ roster is probably more suited for the style they’ve said they’d like to play. They have more willing shooters and their rotations will include a stretch-4 much more often. However, as it has the past few years, the talent may not much up to the intentions and taking more 3-pointers may not actually lead to making that many more 3-pointers.