4 Stats That Explain the Surreal Experience of Watching the Chicago Bulls
The 2017-18 Chicago Bulls are only a basketball team by the loosest of definitions.
After trading superstar Jimmy Butler for defense-oriented point guard Kris Dunn, injured dunk contest legend Zach LaVine, and the seventh pick in the 2017 NBA Draft which they used to draft Finnish breakout big Lauri Markkanen, they are left with less veteran NBA talent than we have ever seen on an NBA roster.
Compare them to last year’s Brooklyn Nets, who ended the year with a measly 20 wins. As bad as Brooklyn was, they at least had Jeremy Lin, a legitimate starting point guard, and Brook Lopez, a go-to scorer who has improved his defense every year.
The Bulls are like the bizarro Nets, spearheaded by the bizarro Lopez brother — Robin — Justin Holiday, and a randomly assorted cast of guys in their first or second year.
Somehow, the Bulls have managed to win two of their first eight games, with one win coming over a Dennis Schroder-less Atlanta Hawks team, and one coming against the red hot Orlando Magic, who may be on the brink of a tailspin.
The Bulls incredibly unique roster makeup has given their games a bit of a….surreal quality. Coach Fred Hoiberg has them moving the ball and running some nice offense, but their motions constantly result in turnovers because the guys running them should probably be doing so in the G-League.
They’re a team of outcasts and misfits who are now being allowed to do whatever they want, because what other choice does Hoiberg have?
In order to understand the experience of watching these Bulls without actually having to, you know, watch them, check out these four incredible stats.
Chicago net rating with Robin Lopez on the court: +4.2.
Chicago net rating with Robin Lopez off the court: -35.6
Somehow, someway, the Bulls have outscored opponents by 4.2 points per 100 possessions with Lopez on the court. That number isn’t likely to sustain, as the Bulls have had the second easiest schedule in the league thus far, and are bound for a 15 game losing streak any day now.
But the number that is more likely to sustain is the much more incredible one: the Bulls have been outscored by 35.6 points per 100 possessions in the 131 minutes RoLo has been on the bench.
It comes as no surprise to anyone who has watched this team play. Lopez is this team’s rock. The offense runs through him, and he anchors the defense. When a possession is breaking down, the ball finds RoLo like he is ‘06 Kobe Bryant.
The issue is: he’s just Robin Lopez.
2. Justin Holiday’s Stoplight is Stuck on Green
Justin Holiday, 2016-17: FGA/Game, 6.6. Usage, 16.9 percent.
Justin Holiday, 2017-18: FGA/Game, 15.6. Usage, 22.3 percent.
Three years ago, the oldest Holiday brother was at the end of the Golden State Warriors bench, looking for a chance to get minutes. He had a breakout year last year with the New York Knicks that went relatively unnoticed. He ended up signing with Bulls next-to-nothing.
This year, his numbers will definitely get noticed, for better or for worse. Hoiberg has, for some reason, designated Holiday as the squad’s official chucker. Instead of giving these shots to young guys with potential like Denzel Valentine or Paul Zipser, they’re all going to Holiday — a 28 year old career journeyman. Justin’s usage rate is even three percentage points higher than his brother Jrue, a former All-Star who is now on a max contract.
The Holiday signing made little sense in the first place; he’s a huge help to a good team, but the Bulls are not that. But it does give the Bulls a chance to deal him to a contender at the deadline for a pick. Unfortunately, if he keeps shooting 34 percent from the field, his value may be completely tanked by February.
3. The Worst Offense of All-Time
The lowest offensive rating since 1973: 92.2
The Chicago Bulls offensive rating: 91.7
Just in the last decade, we have been blessed to watch the greatest regular season team ever in the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, the guy who may go down as the greatest player ever in LeBron James, and the greatest farewell game ever in Kobe Bryant’s 60 point magnum opus.
Now, we have a new blessing: we may be witnessing the worst offensive team ever in Chicago. They’re currently a half point behind the two teams tied for the worst mark in the history of the stat, according to Basketball Reference: the 1976-77 New York Knicks and the 2002-03 Denver Nuggets.
The scariest part? They may already have their best offensive game of the season behind them, when they put up an offensive rating of 114.6 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Bulls are a young team that could get better as the season goes on, but they also might just be this bad.
4. Let’s See What Sticks
The Bulls’ most played lineup: J.Grant, D.Nwaba, J.Holiday, L.Markkanen, R.Lopez. Games: 6, Minutes: 67.
The Bulls do not have one lineup that has played in every game. They have no lineups that have played 100 minutes together, and they only have three lineups that have played more than 15 minutes together.
It’s impossible to keep track of what Hoiberg is trying to do, who has what role, and frankly, who is even on the court. Even the Phoenix Suns — the only team even competing with Chicago for “Weirdest Team in the League,” has a few core lineups they go to. The Bulls are just throwing lineups at the wall.
It feeds into the surreal performance-art-vibe Chicago has going, but it’s a real problem. Hoiberg has some interesting talents to work with on this team, and he needs to focus on developing them, instead of setting his rotations to random.