The Chicago Bulls struggled from beyond the arc last season, to put it lightly.
Tom Thibodeau's defensive-oriented group ranked 29th in 3-pointers made (5.4) and 21st in field-goal percentage (35.3), though they rarely shot themselves out of games -- a few Nate Robinson hero-ball efforts notwithstanding -- attempting just 15.4 shots from beyond the arc per game, second fewest in the league.
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Their total 3-pointers made may not improve much in 2013, seeing as their top two shooters Marco Belinelli (San Antonio) and the aforementioned Robinson (Denver) both departed via free agency this offseason. Those two accounted for nearly half of the Bulls' 3-point makes (220 of 443, or 49.6 percent) and only missed nine combined games, all Belinelli. They were the two most reliable outside shooters the Bulls had, on a team that wasn't all that great from beyond the arc to begin with.
But totals don't tell the whole story.
Robinson did shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc to lead the team in that category, and Belinelli's 35.7 percent mark was almost identical to the league of average (35.9 percent) and better than the Bulls' team average. But there's optimism that the return of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler's improvement and the addition of Mike Dunleavy can make the Bulls a more efficient group from the perimeter.
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Rose will inject an immediate scoring punch into the lineup. After making 32 combined 3-pointers his first two seasons in the league (at a paltry 24.2 percent clip) his outside shooting exploded in 2010-11, as the MVP made 128 triples on better than 33 percent shooting. The next season injuries crippled most of his regular season, but he still managed to make 21 percent of his outside looks, giving him a two-year average of 32.6 percent. With a year off and a likely improved jumper, Rose could improve those numbers further. As a volume shooter with a complete arsenal of offensive moves he likely won't approach the 39-to-40-percent mark (think Wes Matthews or Klay Thompson), but his numbers should go up.
Then there's Butler, who made significant strides in his sophomore season, making better than 38 percent of his outside attempts. That number was good for top-50 last season, but consider that in 30 games after the All-Star Break he made 47.5 percent of his 3's and there's cautious optimism that he could approach the 40-percent mark this upcoming season. He'll never be considered a 3-point specialist -- his offensive skills around the basket are too good -- but his efficiency can give the Bulls an added spark from outside.
Dunleavy won't receive as much attention as Rose's return and Butler's progression will, but he may be the missing piece to a bench that desperately needed an outside spark outside of Robinson. A career 37.5 percent shooter from deep, Dunleavy lately has enjoyed some of his best seasons from beyond the arc. Over the last three years Dunleavy has made a sparkling 41.1 percent of his 3-point attempts (and 1.6 made threes per game).
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That's what it comes down to for the Bulls. Even though Rose will help pick up the pace, Thibodeau's style isn't trading twos for threes and turning half-court games into up-and-down 3-point competitions. They simply don't have the personnel, and their half-court defense is too good to get into track meets. They know how they want to play, and no team in the league does a better job of forcing opponents to play their brand of basketball than Chicago.
What they can do is improve their efficiency. Being 21st in 3-point field-goal percentage last season wasn't a bad mark, and the Grizzlies (24th in 3-point percentage) proved last season that stout defense and timely makes from beyond the arc can make a team a championship contender.
Over the last five seasons, the Top 10 teams, by record (50 teams), have included 18 that ranked in the Top 5 in 3-point field goal percentage. Compare that with 3-point makes, and only 10 teams have ranked in the Top 5 and had a Top 10 record. It's not a shocking statistic, but it shows that what the Bulls lose in 3-point makes (Robinson, Belinelli) can be made up for by smart, efficient shooting.