How the Chicago Bulls can salvage the season despite early struggles

With yet another defeat on Sunday, an end to the Chicago Bulls’ struggle for dominance is not in sight, even as the season progresses.

Before the start of this year’s regular season, the Chicago Bulls were hit with the unfortunate news that Lonzo Ball would miss at least a few months following his off-season knee surgery. Inspite of that, fans remained optimistic about the team’s chances heading into the season.

However, the optimism in Chicago is turning to skepticism from fans who are worried that last year’s return to the playoffs was not a return to relevance but an apparition instead.

The team is one game under .500 after 14 games and has not shown the defensive intensity or offensive consistency that helped them end a five-year playoff drought last season. The team’s three best players, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic, are all putting up solid numbers, but it has not translated into consistent winning.

#Bulls lose 126-103 to the Nuggets. It was a night for Chicago to forget, as Denver was in control all evening.
Bulls drop to 6-8, which is currently 12th in a very, very bunched-up East.
Chicago visits New Orleans on Wednesday.

But the good news is the season is still young, and there is still time for the team to turn the season around. Let’s take a closer look at the areas the franchise need improve upon to return to their winning ways

Score More Points

Currently, the Bulls are averaging 111.4 points per game. That is the 18th-highest average in the NBA. There are only 16 teams that officially qualify for the postseason, so the fact that they are flirting with being on the outside of the playoff picture should come as no surprise.

On the surface, it would seem that Chicago doesn’t struggle to put points on the board. They currently have five players averaging double digits per game. In addition to their well-known “Big 3,” Ayo Dosunmu and Goran Dragić are averaging more than 10 points per game as well. However, a closer look at the team’s shooting splits sheds light on their offensive problems.

Chicago has three of the most reliable offensive weapons in the league:DeRozan, LaVine, and Vučević. The fact that the team is in the bottom half of shooting percentages in the NBA means that they are not creating easy opportunities for their best players.

The Big 3 will always lead the team in shot attempts, as they rightfully should, but if the team created easy scoring opportunities for them, it would force defenses to collapse, create open shots out of double teams, and increase the overall percentage of made shots.

Rebound the Ball

Chicago are 20th in the NBA in rebounds per game with 43.6 boards per contest. There’s an old adage in basketball that the team that wins the battle of the boards will most likely win the game.

In Chicago Bulls’ case, this is proving to be true. It is no coincidence that the team averaging a league-best 51.1 rebounds per game, the Milwaukee Bucks, also has the best record in the league with ten wins and one loss. This trend has plagued the team all season. On Wednesday, the team lost a very close game at home to the upstart New Orleans Pelicans.

While Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson deserve the bulk of the credit for handing the Bulls a loss, Chicago should also reevaluate their commitment to the boards; they were outpaced 50 to 35 in overall rebounds that night. A 15-rebound deficit has a direct correlation to a four-point loss in front of the hometown fans. If the Bulls want to be a playoff team, they cannot continue to be grossly outperformed on the glass on a nightly basis.

Ball Movement and SpacingTo say that the Chicago Bulls rely too heavily on isolation basketball would be an understatement. While DeRozan and LaVine are both elite scorers, they are not as effective as they could be without a facilitator on the court with them. This is where the team misses Lonzo Ball’s presence the most.

Ball is a pass-first player who could make sure his teammates got the ball in scoring position while staying within the flow of the offense. The Bulls are still looking for a player who will fill this void.

Ayo Dosunmu has been receiving Ball’s minutes, and while he certainly has a bright future in the NBA, he is not a true point guard. The Bulls’ top two leaders in assists are currently DeMar DeRozan at 4.2 assists per game and Zach LaVine at 4.1. As a team, they are averaging 24.2 assists per contest, which ranks 18th in the league.

The Chicago Bulls must find a facilitator within the organization or make a trade for a pass-first point guard before the trade deadline. Otherwise, their chances of making the playoffs will decrease, and the odds of them advancing past the first round will be slim to none.

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