Bulls waited too long to join NBA’s 3-point frenzy

After standing pat during the NBA trade deadline, the Bulls' next two moves were minor, but seem to be geared toward the 3-point shooting.

The Bulls converted Turkish wing Onuralp Bitim to an NBA contract, then signed former Penn State shooting guard Andrew Funk to fill the two-way vacancy. Both players were high-volume 3-point shooters in the G-League.

The Bulls have been painfully slow to embrace 3-point shooting, even though the trend has been obvious for more than a decade.

How bad has it been? As a team, the Bulls' deficit in 3-pointers made is currently minus-155. Last season it was minus-232.

Maybe the one positive is last year the Bulls finished last in the NBA in 3-point makes. This season, they've at least improved to 23rd as Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu, Alex Caruso and DeMar DeRozan are all on pace to set career-highs.

But the problem was once again painfully obvious when the Bulls returned from the all-star break. First, they watched Boston bury 23 of 47 shots from long range in a loss at the United Center. The Bulls managed to shorten the deficit and beat New Orleans on Sunday, but the Pelicans have done a nice job of identifying role players with 3-point prowess such as Herbert Jones, Trey Murphy, Matt Ryan and Jordan Hawkins.

The Celtics are on another level, though. The first team in NBA history to sink 1,000 3-pointers in a season was the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, the group that finished 73-9 in the regular season. Last year, 13 teams made 1,000 3-pointers.

The 15-16 Warriors knocked down 13.1 3s per game. Boston is knocking down 16.3 per contest this season.

The Bulls' franchise record for total 3-pointers made was set in 2017-18. That was the year they stumbled onto a winning formula of multiple big men who could shoot from long range with Lauri Markkanen, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. While opponents struggled to match up, the Bulls went 14-7 in December. That was too much winning for a rebuilding team hoping for lottery luck, so they didn't stick with it and eventually traded all three players.

How important is 3-point shooting in today's NBA? There are some high-volume teams with losing records, like Atlanta. The key is efficient offense. The league leaders in effective field-goal percentage pretty much match the standings, with a top five of Indiana, Oklahoma City, Boston, Milwaukee and the Clippers. The Pacers are one of the worst defensive teams, but still eight games above .500 because their offense works so well.

Of course, Bitim and Funk aren't likely to help much this season and may never be rotation players in the NBA. The Bulls might as well assign Bitim to Windy City if he's just going to sit on the bench for the big-league team.

That's another complaint from Sunday's game. Rookie forward Julian Phillips played well against Boston, then logged just 2 minutes against the Pelicans. Dalen Terry got 15 minutes, while DeRozan played 40 and Dosunmu 39.

There's no reason Terry and Phillips shouldn't be getting 20 minutes per game. The best thing that could happen to the Bulls from now until the end of the regular season is those two developing into reliable rotation players or popular trade targets.

DeRozan didn't complain about his workload or the frantic pace of the game in New Orleans.

“It’s not a boxing match, it’s a brawl,” DeRozan said after the game. “In a brawl, anything goes. Whether you have to bite, scratch, or pull, whatever you have to do to win a game is the mindset we have to have.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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