Bulls aim for success despite lack of true 3-point shooting threats

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

The Chicago Bulls have names. Dwyane Wade. Rajon Rondo. Jimmy Butler.

They have experience. Their starting lineup has played in almost as many combined playoff games (370) as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ starting lineup (388).

But do the Bulls have the shooting?

When the Bulls host the Boston Celtics on TNT Thursday (8 p.m. ET), it will be the start of one of the more interesting offensive experiments in the league. In today’s NBA, can a lineup score efficiently with no real 3-point threats?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune details the Bulls’ quest to win by going old-school …

Save for the clankfest that served as the exhibition finale, the Bulls actually scored fine during the preseason, averaging 104.3 points to rank 14th. And this team actually can play more in the style management touted upon Hoiberg’s hire because it features multiple ballhandlers and playmakers.

Screening will be essential for the multiple pick-and-rolls Hoiberg will want to utilize on most halfcourt possessions.

“We’re constantly in attack mode,” Butler said. “You have to get in transition. There’s pick-and-roll, free-throw line (jumpers). There’s a lot more to the game than just shooting 3s. But we just have to step up, take them, shoot them with confidence like we do every day in practice.”

Doug McDermott, Mirotic and Isaiah Canaan project to provide 3-point shooting in reserve roles. But according to the Elias Sports Bureau, NBA starting backcourts averaged 259 made 3-pointers last season. Rondo and Wade combined to sink 69. Add in Butler and the total rises to 133.

“We’ve done a really good job of getting into the paint,” Hoiberg said. “(Butler and Wade) play well off each other. Rondo has had some really good moments out there as well. The turnovers were much better at the end of the preseason. It’s about taking care of the ball, getting a good look, valuing the possession. If we do that, hopefully we’ll be able to take advantage of some matchups with different guys and play to our players strengths.”

Combined, the Bulls’ starters — Rondo, Wade, Butler, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez — took 10.2 percent of their shots from 3-point range and made just 31.4 percent of their 3-pointers last season.

Meanwhile, there were 33 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together and scored better than the league average of 103.9 points per 100 possessions.

Four of those lineups took less than 20 percent of their shots from 3-point range. Two of them had good, high-volume 3-point shooters on them: Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard on a San Antonio Spurs lineup that scored 104.7 points per 100 possessions; and Jerryd Bayless and Khris Middleton on a Milwaukee Bucks lineup that scored 110.7 points per 100 possessions. If those guys weren’t shooting a lot of 3-pointers in those lineups, they were at least spacing the floor for their teammates to attack or post-up.

The other two lineups are, in a way, a precedent for what the Bulls are trying to do. Milwaukee had another lineup — Michael Carter-Williams, Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe — that scored a solid 105.6 points per 100 possessions in 539 minutes. And the Minnesota Timberwolves had a lineup — Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Tayshaun Prince, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng — that scored 106.0 points per 100 possessions in 262 minutes.

Of course, both of those lineups were pretty bad defensively. The Bulls’ starting lineup, if Rondo and Wade play with more discipline than they have in the past, could be really good on defense. That could lead to some opportunities in transition, which would ease some of the pressure on the Bulls’ halfcourt offense.

One common ingredient in those four good offensive lineups that took a low number of threes was a low turnover rate. And if the Bulls are going to make the most of their possessions, they’ll need Rondo — who had the fourth highest turnover rate among 109 guards who played at least 20 minutes per game in at least 40 games last season — to take care of the ball.

Offensive rebounds were also critical to those four lineups, and the Bulls’ starters should be able to give themselves extra chances. Lopez (13.2 percent) and Gibson (11.6 percent) ranked eighth and 15th in offensive rebounding percentage among 219 players with at least 40 games and 20 minutes per game last season.

Of course, five guys who start together don’t necessarily have to play a lot of minutes or finish the game together. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has some shooters on the bench — Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Isaiah Canaan — that should complement his playmakers pretty well. The question is how quickly he goes to them and who’s on the floor down the stretch of a close game.

The experiment begins Thursday against the team that ranked fifth defensively last season. The Celtics forced a high number of turnovers, but were not a good defensive rebounding team last year. (And they began this season by allowing Brooklyn to grab 15 offensive rebounds and score 23 second-chance points on Wednesday.)

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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