Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Four Factors: 2005 Bulls

After Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and Luc Longley left following the Bulls' 1998 championship run, Chicago fell on hard times. From 1999 through 2004, they won more than 23 games only once, a 30-52 season in 2003. During those years, plenty of talent cycled through Chicago, but it was usually traded away or injured before it had a chance to do much. For example, in a series of trades, the Bulls managed to turn Ron Artest, Brad Miller, Ron Mercer, and Donyell Marshall into two years of Jalen Rose and an old Antonio Davis. Then in 2005, a very young Bulls team broke through with 47 wins, looking to have a bright future. That bright future never quite materialized, but let's take a look at what that 2005 Bulls team team did well (and poorly) using Four Factors.

1.) Shooting. The Bulls were a weak shooting squad, finishing 24th in eFG%. Big men Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler were the only Bulls with more than 20 minutes a game to shoot better than the league average, and that was only because they rarely attempted shots outside of point blank range. Backup forward Othella Harrington was perhaps the team's most effective shooter, with a .512 eFG% despite two thirds of his shots being jumpers (compared to less than one third for Chandler and Curry). Among the regulars, Chris Duhon and Andres Nocioni were especially bad in this category. However, the Bulls were near the top of the league on defense, behind only the San Antonio Spurs. The credit should go to the whole team for good team defense, although Tyson Chandler and Kirk Hinrich had the best defensive reputations on the team (on which they were number one and number two in minutes played), and led the Bulls in blocks and steals.

2.) Rebounding. The Bulls were 19th in offensive rebounding and 7th in defensive rebounding. Chandler deserves most of the credit here, finishing third in the NBA in rebound percentage behind only Kevin Garnett and Ben Wallace. Forwards Nocioni, 19 year old Luol Deng, Antonio Davis, and Harrington also did decent work on the glass. Eddy Curry was particularly bad in this category, finishing with less than 7 rebounds per 36 minutes despite playing center.

3.) Turnovers. The Bulls were 8th in the league at forcing turnovers thanks to the quick hands of Kirk Hinrich and Chris Duhon, along with that team defense I mentioned earlier. The Bulls played at a faster than average pace, finished 8th in the league at forcing turnovers, and yet as a team finished only 21st in steals. This meant that Chicago forced a lot of pressure turnovers that ended possessions without any one player getting credit for the steal. That is a sign of good team defense. On the other side of the ball, the Bulls turned the ball over more than any other team in the league, which is not a sign of good team offense. Part of the problem was inexperience, with rookies Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni turning the ball over much more than they ever would again. Another part of the problem was big men with little ball handling skills (Chandler and Curry). Surprisingly*, the only one of the Bulls' top 9 players (in terms of total minutes) to post an above average turnover rate was Kirk Hinrich.

*Surprisingly because TOV% measures turnovers against shots taken, which means players with a lot of assists, who have the ball in their hands a lot, but aren't shooting, tend to look worse than they actually are by this measure.

4.) Free Throws. The Bulls were decidedly below average in this category, ranking 22nd in getting to the line and at sending opponents to the line. Once again, these were team wide problems. Tyson Chandler (especially) and Eddy Curry were the only Bulls that were very good at getting to the line. On the other end, Luol Deng was the only Bull particularly good at playing defense without fouling.

Why were the Bulls good? The most important reason seems to have been the team defense, which the stats can only tell us about indirectly. Going by traditional boxscore statistics, Tyson Chandler was really their only good player, providing excellent rebounding, blocks, and efficient scoring. The Bulls also got decent seasons from Kirk Hinrich, Eddy Curry, and a career year from reserve Othella Harrington. That does not seem like a recipe for success, and offensively it wasn't, as the Bulls finished 27th in the league in Offensive Rating. However, fantastic team defense anchored by one of the best defenders in the NBA was enough to get the Bulls the number 4 seed in the East.

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