The Chicago Bulls should be dead in the water, their vaunted defense collapsed by the loss of so many crucial members from last year’s stingy “bench mob.” While stalwarts like Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and CJ Watson are off to other locations, the Bulls have maintained a top team defense. Much of this has to do with the effort coach Tom Thibodeau puts into defensive principles but a lot also has to do with analytical wisdom.
To frame such wisdom, allow me to reference esteemed NBA gambler Haralabos Voulgaris:
Basketball with regard to offense has pretty much been solved.Take 3s, get layups and avoid long 2s.
— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) November 6, 2012
The Bulls represent the inverse of this practice, from the defensive perspective. Take away threes, stymie layups, encourage long twos. Check out this shot chart of what opponents manage against Chicago:
With the exception of the right three-point corner (the best shot in hoops, aside from a layup or dunk), the Bulls are hounding opponents into a low three-point percentage. Also, according to numbers via HoopData, Chicago allows the 23rd-fewest three-pointers in the league. As of today, the Bulls are also ceding the lowest opponent three-point percentage of any NBA squad.
The Bulls are fine with you taking long two-pointers, though, as it’s incredibly difficult to be efficient while living on such shots. The occasional long-two savant like Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash or Stephen Curry can make a team pay with the midrange J, but most NBA players simply can’t.
A long two-pointer isn’t likely to draw a foul, and the guy who launches is will miss more than half his attempts. Right now, the Bulls are giving up the third-most long twos in basketball. So long as opponents aren’t shooting from the center-right floor spot, the strategy has benefitted Chicago mightily.
Joakim Noah’s mobility, combined with overall team defense, has also allowed the Bulls to dissuade opponents from getting to the rim. Chicago is 24th in opponent attempts at the basket.
On Wednesday night, Chicago-style defense was on full display.
Dallas, a team that has been in a long love affair with three pointers, was hounded above the arc. In the end, they shot four of 18 from three-point land and 34.6 percent from the field altogether. At the basket, the Mavs converted a mere nine attempts. Granted, Dallas isn’t exactly a juggernaut, but they presented a fine object lesson in how Thibodeau turns offenses into sausage.
Forcing teams into statistically worse shots is easier said than done, but it’s important to at least know what the correct strategy should be. Some coaches, quite frankly, are clueless. To them, defense is about contesting tries, wherever they occur. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the savvy defense not only contests shots, but also funnels players to less desirable floor spaces.
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