‘They Don’t Know How’: Analyst Points to Red Flag Amid 4-0 Bulls Start

Zach LaVine, Bulls

Getty Zach LaVine, Bulls

There is much cause for joy in Bulls-ville these days. The team is 4-0, with the best record in the NBA. It’s the first time Chicago has been 4-0 since 1996 and the first time guard Zach LaVine has won four straight games in his entire career. It is also the first time the Bulls have been over .500 during a season since March 2, 2017.

That’s a lot of good news, and while we are not looking to rain on Chicago’s parade, there is one point that was raised by veteran analyst Ric Bucher: The Bulls have had a hard time finishing off games, even as they’ve played some generally bad teams.

The four wins are nice, but, Bucher said on his podcast, On the Ball, “The way those wins were ultimately accomplished shows that there is work to be done, roles to be sorted out, execution to be fine-tuned and confidence to be grown. The biggest issue so far, the most obvious issue, is that they don’t know how to close games, in part because they don’t know how they want to close them, or with whom. Which is understandable.”

Zach LaVine’s 4th-Quarter Role Has Been Reduced

Bucher points out that, last season, the Bulls did not need much of a formula to handle the late-game crunch. They had LaVine as the focal point of the offense, and they need only get him the ball and hope he could score. LaVine averaged 7.2 points in the fourth quarter, most on the team and sixth in the NBA, and took an average of 5.2 shots. Everything flowed through him.

But that’s changed so far in this early part of the season. LaVine is averaging 3.3 shots in the fourth quarter, while Lonzo Ball is taking 3.3 and DeMar DeRozan is taking 4.3, per NBA.com/stats.

“Ultimately, I’d like to see Zach in that role,” Bucher said. “What I’m a little surprised by, maybe I shouldn’t be but I am, is the fact that Zach has deferred to DeMar, or that Billy Donovan has decided that DeMar should be their go-to-guy in these situations. There is not a problem with that—yet. But it goes to show that Zach is still growing into being the team leader he needs to be.”

Bulls Have Had Significant 4th-Quarter Leads in 3 Straight Games

Now, it is worth noting that the Bulls have entered the fourth quarter in their last three games with significant leads, up 17 against the Pelicans, 25 against the Pistons and 12 against Toronto. It’s not easy to play with a significant lead in the NBA, and the Bulls clearly need work on their killer instinct.

Perhaps LaVine reclaiming a bigger role for the Bulls down the stretch is the answer. DeRozan is an efficient scorer, but he is not much of a 3-point shooter and that is where LaVine gives the Bulls’ fourth-quarter offense an added dimension. He is making 44.4% of his 3s this season.

But the numbers are not good in the fourth for Chicago. In fact, their net rating in the final quarter is minus-15.2 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 24th in the NBA. It is early in the year, and the Bulls have generated real excitement with their play so far. But Bucher has a point—this is one area the Bulls have in which they will need to improve.

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