Bulls Hit: vs Detroit 3/6 pre-game

Grab some beers, ’cause we’re pre-gaming.

The Bulls and the Pistons have faced off two times so far this season and each time has come away with a win and each win was like the face of a stroke victim: lopsided. (I’m not saying this to make fun of stroke victims. In fact, strokes are dangerous and scary and they’ve happened to people I know. Rather, I’m saying that both games were embarrassing enough that it could come out in the next few weeks that someone on either team actually suffered a stroke during the game and it wouldn’t especially surprise me. Sometimes when I see the Bulls’ “set” plays after timeouts I want to call the paramedics to check on Fred Hoiberg to make sure he’s still fully functional up top. Sorry everyone. Blame my editor.)

Game one between these two central division rivals occurred on December 6. The Bulls lost and the final score was 102–91. Despite a 32-point effort from Jimmy Butler, the Bulls shot only 44% from the field and 13.3% from deep on only 15 shots. The Bulls’ poor shooting was somewhat offset by the 32 free throws the Bulls were gifted, with Butler and Dwyane Wade shooting 10 each. The Pistons owed their victory to role players contributing: Tobias Harris was +8 on the night, shooting 56.3% from the field and two for four from deep; Marcus Morris (+3) going three for five from deep and 55.6% overall on nine shots. These two were the only starters with a positive plus-minus for the night. Four players from the Detroit bench recorded double-digit plus-minuses though: despite shooting 2-for-11 from the field, Ish Smith recorded a +14 and dished out 10 assists; Jon Leuer and Darrun Hilliard both recorded +17s; and Aron Baynes was +16 in just over 23 minutes.

Game two between these two fringe playoff non-championship contenders whose fans are (probably) happier just living in the past and watching championship DVDs from winning seasons instead of most games this season, was a little more lopsided than the first. In fact, the Pistons never held a lead during the game and the Bulls’ lead by 38 points at one point. So the Pistons were actually the Pist-ons tonight. (Pissed ons. Get it? I’m sorry.) The Bulls shot uncharacteristically and unsustainably well, shooting nearly 60% overall and 50% from deep (but on only 16 shots). The Pistons, on the other hand, shot 41% overall and an anemic 13% from behind the arc (on 23 shots). Pistons’ center Andre Drummond only snagged four rebounds overall in 23 minutes along with nine points, though he had the best plus-minus of the starting players this game at an appalling -27. The Bulls had seven players score in double digits but no players in triple digits. Rondo recorded 14 assists along with ten points and was only two rebounds shy of a triple double.

The first game was in Detroit and the second one was in Chicago. This game is in Detroit, so my guess is that the Pistons will have the advantage tonight. This isn’t lazy analysis. I’m a lazy person, sure, but by the time this post is over I’ll have written over 1000 words on this game. I’m not just saying something like, “the first one was at Detroit and Detroit won so that’s what’s going to happen this time.” In fact, I say that because it seems to be the only thing that could actually separate these two teams when all’s said and done.

In other words, the Pistons and the Bulls are more similar than other teams in the NBA. They share many of the same weaknesses and strengths on the court. (That is, I’m not considering the Pistons’ financial situation, attendance woes, or injury issues.)

To wit:

Both teams are floating right around .500 with average point differentials.


Bulls: 31–31

Pistons: 30–32

Margin of Victory:

Bulls: -0.55 (17th in the league)

Pistons: -0.18 (15th)

(Numbers from Basketball Reference)

Pythagorean Record: (Expected record based on margin of victory)

Bulls: 30–32

Pistons: 31–31

(Numbers from Basketball Reference)

While the Pistons are a superior defensive team compared to the Bulls, the Bulls trump the Pistons in offensive efficiency. Though, according to NBA.com, the two teams have the same net rating of -1.0. Net rating is the difference between a team’s offensive rating and defensive rating. Another way to think about it is that a team’s net rating is the difference between the points they score per 100 possessions and the points they allow per 100 possessions. So, in this case, both the Bulls and the Pistons are outscored by 1 point per 100 possessions.

Bulls: 104.5 ORTG (19th in NBA) 105.5 DRTG (13th) -1.0 Net (T-18th)

Pistons: 103.9 ORTG (24th) 104.9 DRTG (8th) -1.0 Net (T-18th)

(Numbers from NBA.com)

Here’s something to note: the Pistons are still a top-10 defense, but their offense is bottom-six. The Bulls are average in both categories: 19th in offense and 13th in defense. This is a shared trait: good defense with a sub-par offense that isn’t strong enough to keep them above .500.

While both teams are elite rebounding teams… :

Bulls: 46.3 RPG (third in NBA)

Pistons: 44.9 RPG (fifth in NBA)

…both teams are offensively-challenged, all things considered.

Assists per game:

Bulls: 21.7 (19th in NBA)

Pistons: 21.2 (23rd)

3-point attempts per game:

Bulls: 20.7 (30th in NBA, as in dead last)

Pistons: 23.2 (24th)

Three-point percentage

Bulls: 32.4% (29th in NBA, as in, no longer last baby!!!)

Pistons: 33.5% (27th)

Team true shooting percentage:

Bulls: 52.7% (29th in NBA)

Pistons: 52.8% (28th)

Percentage of points from 2-pointers:

Bulls: 61.7% (second in NBA)

Pistons: 63.2% (first in NBA)

Both teams still take a whole lot of mid-range jumpers too, which has become anathema in the modern NBA. Here’s the percentage of points generated from mid-range 2-pointers for the NBA this season, according to nba.com:

Bulls: 19.1% (fourth in NBA)

Pistons: 20.9% (first)

Number of 2-pointers taken a game:

Bulls: 65.9 (highest in NBA)

Pistons: 64.7 (second-highest in NBA)

(note: the Pistons are also bottom-five in drives per game)

Number of shots taken from 10–14 feet per game:

Bulls: 8.6 (third-most in NBA)

Pistons: 9.1 (second-most)

(Ironically, the Pistons lead the NBA in FG% on these shots at 45.3%. The Bulls rank 19th at 38.8%)

Number of shots taken from 15–19 feet per game:

Bulls: 14.0 (sixth-most in NBA)

Pistons: 14.6 (second-most)

(The Pistons rank third in the league in FG% on these shots at 44.8%. The Bulls rank 26th at 38.6%)

Percentage of team points from 3-pointers:

Bulls: 19.6% (30th in NBA, as in, dead last again. Damn.)

Pistons: 22.9% (27th)

Thus, both of these team share a common characteristic: offensive inefficiency. This is the root of their issues. The Pistons have a good defense. The Bulls have a slightly-above-average defense. If either of these teams had a higher-than-average offense they’d be in the running for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Unfortunately neither team’s defense is good enough to completely counteract their pitiful, mid-90s style offenses. True, the Pistons are relatively efficient on their mid-range jumpers and the Bulls generate efficiency by offensive rebounding and baiting opponents into fouling, but neither of these teams play like modern NBA teams, nor were they constructed with the modern game in mind. So blame is diffuse in both of these situations, but with Detroit’s payroll being the third highest in the league, you really have to wonder what steps they’ll take to rectify this.

As it currently stands, neither team is even a lock for the playoffs yet, so games like these are especially important for both clubs. Here are a few specific things to look for tonight:

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot of pick n pop jumpers from Robin Lopez. The Bulls’ ball handlers this game should put Drummond and Reggie Jackson in the pick n roll. Since returning from injury Jackson has been a shell of himself, lacking the athleticism that seduced the Pistons when they first traded for him. Look for the ball handler to blow by him and force Drummond down into the lane to contest the shot. The ball handler will pass the ball back to Lopez for an open shot. We saw a lot of this in the Clippers game on Saturday.

As mentioned above, the Bulls should take advantage of 23 minutes or so where Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond share the floor. According to nba.com’s 2-man lineup tracker, the Pistons have had a -8.2 overall net rating during the 961 minutes they’ve played together this season. Their offensive rating has been 102.3 and their defensive rating has been 110.5 together this season. That’s really bad.

Conversely, when neither Drummond nor Jackson are on the floor, according to nbawowy, the Pistons score 1.097 points per possession (109.7 ORTG) and allow only 0.997 points per possession on defense (99.7 DRTG), coming out to a 10.0 net rating. NBA.com writer John Schuhmann tweeted the other day about how the Pistons are almost as bad as the Nets when the two share the floor and as good as the Spurs when they aren’t on the floor. That’s like saying that you’re terrible at life for two-thirds of days but great for one-third. I can relate, because I spend a third of my days sleeping, and in my dreams I’m Kawhi Leonard.

Don’t be surprised if Drummond gets frustrated as a result of the Bulls’ offensive rebounding.

Here’s my opinion on hacking (as in Hack-a-shaq, not Russian hacking or anything like that — which is definitely bad): if it’s not on your home floor, then you should pull the trigger on it faster than you would on your own floor. You shouldn’t put your fans through that. But if it’s someone else’s fans? Screw ’em. Make ’em watch and see if they still want to buy an Andre Drummond jersey. I’m not entirely sure hacking is in Hoiberg’s arsenal though. We’ll see.

Taj Gibson played well against the Pistons this year, shooting 5–10 and pulling down 10 rebounds in the loss and going 8–8 for 16 points in the victory. Bobby Portis has played a total of 7 minutes against the Pistons this year. It will be interesting to see how he guards Tobias Harris tonight. The only true “stretch four” he’s guarded as a starter has been Wilson Chandler, who didn’t shoot particularly well from three against Portis, but he went to the line eight times with Portis recording a team-high four fouls that night. Don’t be surprised if Harris attacks him off the dribble or tries to slip by him on back cuts.

Will Michael Sharter-Williams ever play again? Will the Bulls even consider extending a qualifying offer to him this offseason?

Thanks for reading, mom and dad.

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