Win over Celtics showed Bulls will go as far as their 3-point shooting can take them
On most nights, the Bulls seem to have a delicate chemistry.
They're trying to be a scrappy, up-tempo team, but the subs play that style better than the starters. They want to get stops, create turnovers and run the fast break, but there aren't many great defensive players on the roster.
They've got a couple of young players in the starting lineup in Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmu. It's easy to say they need to be more aggressive when, in reality, Williams' role is often to stand in the corner and wait for a pass that never arrives.
It's also easy to say the Bulls rely too much on DeMar DeRozan and the ball doesn't move when he gets into his rhythm. But since the start of last season, they've been at their best when DeRozan gets cooking and it's not even close.
Zach LaVine is still working his way back from offseason knee surgery. They're dealing with opponents that try to pull centers Nikola Vucevic and Andre Drummond away from the basket and get them playing pick-and-roll defense, which is obviously not a strength.
The Bulls also have a deep supporting cast with similar skills. In the loss to Orlando last Friday, coach Billy Donovan said he used Derrick Jones Jr. in the first half because he thought he'd earned playing time -- and that's a very fair assessment. But when the rotation changed in the second half, Javonte Green went plus-17 and led a 19-point comeback.
In a nutshell, there are a long list of reason why the Bulls got off to a 6-10 start and might face a struggle to get back to the playoffs, or even the play-in tournament.
But then the Bulls rolled over Boston on Monday -- for the second time this season -- and another storyline blossomed: The Bulls will go as far as their 3-point shooting can take them.
The modern, 3-pointer-happy NBA has been around for more than a decade now. The best teams typically rank high in 3-pointers made per game.
The Bulls don't. As of Tuesday morning, the Bulls ranked 28th in the league with 10.3 made 3s per game, ahead of only the Lakers and Atlanta. In 3-point percentage, they rank 13th at .361.
When the Bulls shoot at least 35% from 3-point range, they're 6-3 this season. When they shoot 40%, they're 5-0. Monday's game was the Bulls' second-best performance of the season from 3-point range, sinking 14 of 29.
Long-range success does seem feasible. The Bulls have six regulars shooting at least 37% from 3-point range. The best are Goran Dragic at 44% and Williams at 42%. LaVine is at 37.5%, slightly below his career-average.
Donovan sees this. A few weeks ago, he talked about wanting LaVine to do more catch-and-shoot. The Bulls coach knows LaVine could be one of those guys who regularly heats up and hits 6 or more in a game.
LaVine sees himself as an all-around player who can handle the ball and attack the basket. He can still do both, but with a stronger emphasis on 3-point shots. LaVine averaged seven 3-point attempts in October and is up to 8.4 this month.
The Bulls also need to keep feeding Williams and build his confidence. He missed his first 3-point shot against the Celtics, then got a second look, hesitated and drove toward the basket. You can see Williams' teammates talking to him during games. If he's open, let it fly.
Another component that helped Monday is they made an effort to get the ball to Vucevic in the paint. The Celtics have a smaller front line, so he was able to score down low. But Vucevic is usually better from 3-point range when he gets some shots from in-close early.
All of this can be accomplished. But the Bulls need to improve their 3-point shooting to have much chance of rising in the East.
"Games like this we realize we can compete with anybody," DeMar DeRozan said after Monday's game. "I really believe once we catch that rhythm and confidence and are playing at a high level, it's going to be consistent."
The Bulls will face the other top team in the East in Milwaukee on Wednesday, which begins a challenging six-game road trip that includes three of the top five teams in the Western Conference standings.