The NBA game has changed from just a decade ago. Stuck-in-the-tar teams, such as the Bulls, need to notice.
For example, defensive players largely disregard picks these days. ”Fight through it” has become ”Ignore it.” Maybe you notice the way defenders whine in disbelief to refs after getting called for splattering into stationary foes.
Conversely, hooking with an arm — while setting a pick, when rolling, when rebounding, when dribbling to the basket — makes the game look, at times, like a square dance full of swing-your-partners and do-si-dos.
There is the dubious Euro step. There is the head-whipping flop. There is, perhaps above all, the step-back three-pointer.
James Harden and Steph Curry showed everybody that a shuffle back to 24 feet for a three is far more potent than setting up for an 18-foot deuce.
Euro-step expert Luka Doncic can cover 10 feet or so while backing up. And Curry’s multiple tiny baby steps are so swift and smooth that no ref would dare call traveling on the sashaying Warriors star in reverse.
Then, too, Curry and a few others can shoot three-pointers in rhythm from half-court, making old defenses obsolete. Players have figured this out. They start jacking up long shots starting in grade school and don’t stop. Some are gifted, changing the game.
Warriors breakout star Jordan Poole, who averaged only 12 points in his one modest starting season at Michigan, is now a Curry wannabe. He was 5-for-7 on three-pointers — some from way outside — in the Warriors’ playoff victory Saturday against the Nuggets.
Which brings us to the Bulls. Their 7-for-37 stat line on threes Sunday against the Bucks spelled doom.
It took years for the league to figure out that shooting 33.3% on threes was the same as shooting 50% on twos. So teams need super-marksmen on the roster.
Who would that be on the Bulls? The Big Three of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic went 4-for-22 on threes in the loss Sunday. That’s 18.2%.
You don’t get do-overs in the playoffs. Continue to shoot like that, and the Bulls might as well fold and head to the beach.
Another big change in the game: Remember when centers dominated from down low? Nobody cares much about centers these days — unless their names are Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid. And those guys shoot threes (Jokic hit 33.7% this season and Embiid 37.1%).
You might notice that 7-foot Bucks center Brook Lopez now often hangs outside and fires up threes, making a decent amount. Lopez attempted almost no threes in his first eight NBA seasons until a light bulb apparently went off in his noggin heading into the 2016-17 season. He now is closing in on 2,000 regular-season threes launched, making almost 36% this season.
Bulls center Vucevic is a good shooter, but he can’t go 2-for-10 on threes, as he did Sunday, and expect to help his team advance.
He’s clever around the basket, has a nice stroke and takes up a lot of space, but he’s not swift — and that hurts.
The Bulls’ defense was good against the Bucks, fighting through picks and harassing them into turnovers, but it came once the Bucks had roared to a 34-21 lead after the first quarter.
I mentioned the change in the center position. How about 6-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo, a center in height with a 7-3 wingspan and mad hops, who sometimes plays point guard? That’s a crazy development in the game, one that was hinted at when the transcendent Magic Johnson played point for the Lakers years ago.
The Bulls have nobody like Magic or the ”Greek Freak.” Who does? But the Bulls must stop Giannis or die. In truth, they did a good defensive job on him at the end, but it was too late.
I like DeRozan’s offensive game. It is pure, old-school, mid-range beauty. But, sadly, old-school is withering.
DeRozan has no deadly three-point shot, and that’s the way teams get back into games. There are critics who would like to see the three-point arc moved back another 10 inches or more to end the 22-foot corner three — which is a basic bunny — entirely.
Who knows? Maybe it’ll happen. The game evolves. It always has. Survival of the fittest, folks. But have the Bulls evolved with it?
Right now, it doesn’t seem so.