Bulls Hit: vs Memphis 3/15

Bulls 91 Grizzlies 98

Here are some stats from five of the last six Bulls games:

Loss to Memphis.

Mike Conley: 27 points, 8–12 FG (66%), 5–8 3PT (62%), 7 AST, +19 plus-minus

Mike Conley vs. Bulls

Mike Conley season average: 20 points, 45.3% FG, 2.5–6 3PT (40%), 6.2 AST, +2.3 plus-minus

Win over Charlotte.

Kemba Walker: 21 points. 9–24 FG, 3–12 3PT, 10 AST, +14 plus-minus

Kemba Walker vs Bulls

Kemba Walker season average: 22.9 points, 8–18 FG (45%), 2.0–7.2 3PT (40.2%), 5.5 AST, +2.5 plus-minus

Loss to Boston.

Isaiah Thomas: 22 Points, 9–14 FG, 4–8 3PT, 2 AST, +13 plus-minus, 24 min.

Isaiah Thomas vs. Bulls

Isaiah Thomas season average: 34 min, 29.2 points, 9–19.6 FG (46.2%), 3.2–8.4 3PT (38.3%), +2.9

Loss to Orlando.

Elfrid Payton: 22 points, 8–12 FG, 12 REB, 12 AST, +12 plus-minus

Elfrid Payton vs. Bulls

Elfrid Payton season average: 12.4 points, 5.1–11 FG (46.5%), 6 AST, 4.4 REB, -2.4 plus-minus

Loss to Detroit.

Reggie Jackson: 26 points, 11–16 FG, 6 AST, +10 plus-minus

Reggie Jackson vs. Bulls

Reggie Jackson season average: 14.8 points, 5.6–13.1 FG (42.6%), 5.4 AST, -3.9 plus-minus.

All of these players are the starting point guard for their respective teams. Two of them are All Star point guards, in fact, which is impressive because point guard is the deepest position in the NBA. That is, there are more good players at point guard than there are good players at other positions. To illustrate, there are maybe 10 great small forwards in the league, for instance, and 20 to 25 great point guards. This is a good thing because point guards are the quarterbacks of a team’s offense.

There are some exceptions to this rule, but generally they’re the ones running things: dribbling the ball up the court and finding open shots for their teammates.

If your team has a good point guard or ball handler, then your offense is usually pretty good. It’s good that there are so many point guards because that means the offenses around the league are pretty good, which is good because good offense is more exciting than good defense.

In short, if you want to be a good team with a good offense, you need a good point guard. Thankfully, the Bulls have five point guards on their roster.

Here’s a list of them:

Rajon Rondo

Cameron “Causes me” Payne

Michael Sharter-Williams

Jerian “Start-or-DNP” Grant

Isaiah Canaan

One of them has to be good, right? I mean, it’s the position with the deepest pool of talent in the league!

Wrong. I wouldn’t even consider any of them average. As proof, here are thirty other point guards from around the league that are better. This list excludes the five from the beginning of this post:

Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, John Wall, Dennis Schroder, Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Steph Curry, Shaun Livingston, Tony Parker, Patty Mills, Patrick Beverley, George Hill, Chris Paul, Jeremy Lin, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jamal Murray, Russell Westbrook, Ricky Rubio, Jrue Holiday, Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Jeff Teague, Malcolm Brogdon, Matthew Dellavedova, Jameer Nelson, Ish Smith, Seth Curry, Derrick Rose (THAT’S RIGHT, I SAID IT), and HERE COMES AUSTIN RIVERS.

That’s at least one point guard for every team in the NBA, including the Nets, Lakers, and Sixers. Some of them aren’t even starters. Actually, wait, there’s not one from the Kings. Too late now. I think they might be in the same boat as the Bulls. That puts it in perspective, doesn’t it? Damn.

I’ll be the first to admit: the Bulls have had plenty of problems this season, but I think the point guard problem in particular has caused the most damage, both to the team’s success and to my brain from drinking during games.

In short, the Bulls lack quality point guards on the roster.

Sure, they have plenty of alleged “point guards” (five, in fact), but none of them are actually any good. This is an enormous problem and it compounds the fact that starting center Robin Lopez isn’t a particularly mobile defender anymore.

(Note: I don’t like using the term “point guard” to describe any of the players on the Bulls roster because none of them can simultaneously guard and create points, so using a term with the words “point” and “guard” to describe these guys is preposterous.)

Point guards have two real responsibilities in the NBA: create efficient shots for themselves or teammates, and defend the other team’s point guard. If your team has another primary ball handler, like Milwaukee, Houston, or Cleveland, and the Bulls to some extent, then the point guard’s role shifts, but only a little. They still need to guard the other team’s point guard (and do a damn good job because they aren’t working as hard offense as a normal point guard) and hit open shots when the ball handler passes it to you. Ideally, an off-ball point guard can still run the offense a little.

Three examples of quality off-ball point guards in the NBA are Patrick Beverley (tenacious defender, 39% on 3s), Kyrie Irving (killer on offense), and George Hill (solid, versatile defender, 41% on 3s). All of these guys are still crucial contributors on their teams, even if they aren’t the primary ball handlers.

The Bulls need guards like this, especially with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade doing a lot of the ball handling. Instead, they have five guys who can hardly do one of these things.

Rondo can create shots, but his defense is so bad and his shooting is so bad that he’s been a net negative for the team when he’s been on the floor this season.

Michael Sharter-Williams has defensive versatility because of his size and arm length, but his ball handling is terrible (he’s never reached a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in his career) and he can’t shoot (38.5% overall, 20.8% from deep this season).

Jerian Grant is shooting almost 37% from deep this season, but he’s a bad defender. Career backup at best.

Cameron “Causes me” Payne is bad on defense. Likes to shoot bad shots.

Isaiah Canaan is hardly worth mentioning. Can’t remember the last time he played. I like that his last name is Canon though.

The worst part about this whole thing is that we know just as much about these five guys as we did at the beginning of the season: no one has risen and seized the starting job because, well, none of them are good enough to start. We brought them all in as backups and guess what? They’re still backups. If the front office was expecting development this season, they haven’t gotten it.

The other worst part about this is that the coaching staff doesn’t seem to know anything either. It’s always a surprise who’s going to get the start, who’s going to get minutes, and who’s going to sit.

It’s bad. They just can’t defend. Opposing point guards get into the paint at will because they just can’t stay in front of them or get around picks in time to chase them down to recover. Neuro-flatulence abounds. Sloppy mistakes all the time. The audience knows the scouting report better than they do a lot of the time.

What compounds the problem of poor perimeter defense on opposing point guards is that center Robin Lopez isn’t a good enough defender to clean up after them. If Dwight Howard in his prime were behind them, then this wouldn’t be too much of an issue.

But since Lopez isn’t nimble enough to come up on pick-and-rolls to guard opposing point guards at the arc he has to stay tethered to the paint and try to keep them from driving to the hole. Sometimes they can just dance around him to score or throw a lob to the man Lopez should have been guarding.

The swaths of space in front of them also gives them time and space to find a cutter or shooter on the floor. It’s not just that these opposing point guards are lighting the Bulls up by scoring, but their passing has been higher than their averages too.

Let’s look at some examples of point guard defense from the losses listed at the beginning.

Here’s Rondo guarding Mike Conley, who’s about to catch the ball for an open jumper down next to the ref at the bottom of the court. He’s just come off an off-ball screen by Marc Gasol, number 33. Rondo went under the screen, which means that he went around Gasol closer to center court as opposed to closer to the sideline, which gave Conley an open shot from closer to the three point line. If he had gone around on Gasol’s left side near the sideline he would have forced Conley into the paint for a two-pointer. He has to know that there are plenty of defenders in the lane to defend a potential drive. Luckily it was an open two as opposed to an open three. The Bulls gave Conley open threes all night.

Here’s another one of Rondo not sticking to Conley and going under the screen again (away from the three point line, forcing Conley up to the arc for an open shot):

Here’s a shot of Michael Sharter-Williams double-teaming Marc Gasol with the ball up near the free-throw line. He over-helps, leaving Conley free to sneak down the arc a bit for an open shot. Gasol passes to Conley for an open three:

Here are some of Isaiah Thomas. The first is a brain-fart by Cameron “Causes me immense” Payne in transition. Payne is the red blur at the top of the court in front of where it says “@celtics” on the court. Jimmy Butler is the next Bull to his left and he’s guarding Jae Crowder, who has the ball. Notice that the Bulls have two guys down near the paint already. So Payne really doesn’t need to be helping Butler, the Bulls’ best one-on-one defender, guard Crowder, who isn’t really much of a dribbling threat anyway. Payne’s man is Isaiah Thomas, the small white blur near Jimmy Butler’s legs. Payne should be on Thomas because he’s the best three-point shooter on the floor and he’ll probably get the ball back soon.

In the next screencap you can see that Crowder passed to Thomas, who has the ball near the top of the key. You can also see Payne scrambling to get back to him. There are two Celtics, Avery Bradley and Al Horford, to Isaiah’s right. Both of them can shoot threes. Their defenders, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis, are the two lowest Bulls closest to the bottom of the screen. Denzel Valentine, the one closer to the ball, has to guard two men now. Thomas can either start to drive and pass to the open man, drive and hope Robin Lopez (the tall Bull with the crazy hair) comes over to defend him so Thomas can throw a lob to the man Lopez was originally on, or drive and score over Lopez.

He decides to drive, Payne firmly behind him in a helpless position (and flopping). Lopez stays on his man in the paint, Valentine and Portis stay on their men on the perimeter. Thomas drives and gets an open floater in the lane.

Having perimeter defenders get blown by so often is hard, especially when the starting center for the Bulls is as immobile in space as Robin Lopez. Here, Thomas blew by Valentine and puts Lopez on roller skates. In situations like these, Thomas can either drive and dance around Lopez for a shot in the paint, pull up for a short two or floater in the lane, or kick to an open man.

Here’s Rondo leaving Lopez high and dry. Lopez just isn’t nimble or quick enough on his feet to come and guard the ball handler on the three-point line. In this play Thomas sinks an open three:

Here are some crime scenes from the Elfrid Payton triple-double.

Jerian Grant getting blown by. Lopez is forced to guard in space:

There are three main parts about being a good on-ball point guard defender: defensive stance, active hands, and physical play. In this play Jerian Grant does none of these. He isn’t even in a defensive stance and he’s like five feet from his man, giving him clear line of sight to potential shooters. His hands are near his sides instead of agitating Payton:

Here’s one with Rondo getting surprised by a pick near the free throw line. The defense should call these out so that the defender on the ball can react well and not be surprised. Lopez is sagging and immobile, giving the ball handler the freedom to shoot or pass unimpeded:

And lastly, Jackson’s massacre in Detroit:

Here’s another one of Grant sagging way off his man Reggie Jackson (number one in white):

Here’s him taking forever to get around a screen and Lopez, as always, isn’t nimble enough to come and contest anything Jackson does with the ball. He hits a floater around the free throw line on this play:

Jackson blowing by Grant in his first step. He’s in maybe half of a defensive stance.

Another of getting blown by and the offense exploiting Lopez’s lead feet:

The Bulls’ defense is especially vulnerable to point guards who like to drive or launch open threes. Unfortunately, most good point guards in the league love to do this.

Here’s who the Bulls play next:

Washington and John Wall: oh God…

Thanks for reading, mom and dad.