The Chicago Bulls are mired in their slowest start of the last three years, dropping to 2-5 in the first two weeks of the season.
Early losses dropped the Bulls to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, where they only sit ahead of the 1-4 Washington Wizards. Only three other teams in the league have five or more losses — the Memphis Grizzlies, Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz, who the Bulls play Monday night.
A quick glance at league statistics makes it clear why the Bulls have struggled in the early weeks of the season. Here are five numbers defining the team’s first two weeks:
Assists per game: 21
The Bulls offense has been stagnant to start the season, averaging the second-lowest volume of assists in the league. Their assist-to-field goal ratio is the third-lowest in the league (15.7) as the offense continues to sink into isolation ball, which has been a comfort blanket for at-will scorers like Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan.
This was the main area of focus for coach Billy Donovan and the offense this season. The Bulls wanted to move the ball, distribute more fervently through the paint and get secondary players like Coby White and Patrick Williams involved in almost every play. But that hasn’t been the reality for the Bulls in the opening weeks of the season.
The saving grace for the Bulls’ ball distribution is their ability to protect the rock. The offense averages 12.1 turnovers per game, the lowest in the league. As a result, their assist-to-turnover ratio (1.73) sits precisely in the middle of the league.
Defensive rating: 115.0
The Bulls defense isn’t on the absolute bottom rung of the league. But with a 115.0 defensive rating (23rd in the league), the Bulls aren’t challenging opposing teams with the same overwhelming force they managed to create last season.
The Bulls have struggled on the defensive boards, allowing opponents to average 14.1 points off second-chance opportunities (18th). They have succeeded in keeping opponents out of the paint, allowing the fifth-lowest volume of paint points per game (44.3). But they also cede the fourth-highest amount of 3-pointers (15.1) which offsets this control of the paint.
Growing into defense isn’t a new phenomenon for the Bulls. This time last season, the defense was 15th in the league with a 111.1 rating. That number stayed the same — the Bulls finished the 2022-23 season with a 111.5 defensive rating — but the rest of the league shifted around it. The Bulls finished fifth overall in defensive rating as they built consistency in Donovan’s system.
This year, the Bulls are folding two high-caliber defenders — Torrey Craig and Jevon Carter — into their defensive system. Unsurprisingly, this has led to growing pains. But the next two months will prove if the Bulls can gel into a defense-first team again.
The Bulls are currently making the second-lowest volume of 3-pointers in the league, averaging 9.4 per game. That’s not exactly surprising — this team has finished dead last in 3-point attempts for two seasons in a row. But that was supposed to change this season as part of the team’s effort to create a more balanced offense.
The most concerning trend for the Bulls is their plummeting accuracy. They actually aren’t taking the lowest volume in the league for once — averaging 30.4 attempts (26th) — but the Bulls are shooting only 31% from behind the arc. This is a 5.1 percentage point drop from last season.
The Bulls have been confident that their shooting accuracy — which is down from every point on the court — will eventually even out. Until it does, however, this offense will struggle to keep pace.
Free-throw attempts: 20.1
The Bulls are 21st in free-throw attempts, averaging 20.1 per game. This isn’t a world-ending statistic for the Bulls. But it does reflect the offense’s relative inability to create contact despite finishing well, shooting 33.9% (13th overall) at the rim.
The Bulls offense averages 20.2 paint touches. The majority of those touches in the paint run through Nikola Vučević, who scores 8.2 of the team’s 14.2 paint points per game. But getting into the paint isn’t resulting in drawn fouls. Only three players on the Bulls roster average more than two trips to the line per game — DeMar DeRozan (6.6), Zach LaVine (5.4) and Coby White (2.4).
After a preseason fixated on playing up-tempo basketball, this is perhaps the most disappointing statistic for the Bulls. The offense is second-to-last in pace, averaging only 97.4 offensive possessions per game. This goes directly against the Bulls’ goals for this season, in which they aimed to move the ball quickly and decisively.
For a third consecutive year, the Bulls just don’t look comfortable in their half-court offense. Strong defense and athleticism allow players to score well in the open court, averaging 18.1% of their total scoring off turnovers (fifth in the league). But once the Bulls sink into the half court, their creativity is stymied.
If the Bulls can’t break out of isolation ball early in this season, they will re-create the same patterns of the past two years — sluggish scoring with high numbers from their central stars and paltry contributions from the rest of the roster.