Wednesday, November 11th
by Mark Schanowski
What can Vinny Del Negro and his staff do with the gang that can't shoot straight? We knew the Bulls would miss Ben Gordon, but this is ridiculous! They gave away winnable games against Denver and Toronto because of terrible shooting from the perimeter. How bad was it you ask? Well, the Bulls' 2 best outside shooters, John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich combined to go 10-for-44 from the field. And when Salmons and Hinrich aren't hitting, the Bulls' offense is in deep trouble.
Wednesday night in Toronto, the Bulls didn't score a single point from the 6:24 mark of the 4th quarter until Hinrich made 1 of 2 free throws with 10 seconds left. All this against a Raptors team that is among the worst in the league defensively. Toronto began the night giving up an average of 111 points a game, and they lived up to their reputation in the first half, allowing the Bulls to get numerous easy baskets inside on the way to 52 percent shooting from the field and a 60-53 lead. But the Bulls' shooting went into the deep freeze after intermission, they hit only 25 percent of their shots, and managed to score only 29 points for the entire half! Granted, the players were probably a little fatigued playing on back-to-back nights with a short rotation, and not arriving in Toronto until early this morning. But the larger issue is shot selection. The Bulls missed 11 straight shots down the stretch and almost all of them were perimeter jump shots. When the outside shot isn't falling, you have to take the ball to the basket, especially against a bad defensive team like Toronto.
Okay, so we know Ben Gordon isn't walking through that door (to paraphrase the infamous Rick Pitino rant from his days as head coach of the Celtics), but what are the Bulls going to do about their offensive deficiencies? The easiest solution would be better shooting from Salmons and Hinrich, but maybe they're not cut out to be big-time scorers. The Bulls also need Derrick Rose to be more offensive minded, and he's shown signs of that with 36 points in his last 2 games. Look for Derrick to be involved in a lot more high screen and roll situations to get him more chances to attack the basket once his ankle is 100 again. The reality is the Bulls just don't get enough easy baskets. It seems like every possession is a struggle to try to free an open shooter for a mid-range jump shot. Luol Deng is off to a nice start, but he's more of a spot-up shooter, and is turnover prone when he drives to the basket. And, the Bulls aren't going to look for Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to post-up their defenders in the paint. That's not really the strength of either player.
So again, what is the coaching staff going to do? They might need to take a longer look at Jannero Pargo, who was brought in for his 3 point shooting, but has only played limited minutes so far because of a bad back. Once he's completely healthy again, the coaches might need to get him more court time. Same with rookie James Johnson, who showed some promise during the pre-season, but has been the forgotten man in regular season play. But those are just band-aid solutions. John Paxson and Gar Forman may have to think about exploring a trade for another scorer. We know they want to maintain salary cap flexibility for next summer's free agent class, but this Bulls' team has the potential to win 45 to 50 games......all they really need is one more scorer.
Would you roll the dice on a player with behavioral issues in the past like Allen Iverson or Stephen Jackson? We know those 2 guys are available. Or is there a young shooting guard out there who could be acquired at a reasonable price, and not destroy the Bulls salary cap flexibility? Ideally, the Bulls would like to acquire someone who is on the last year of an expiring contract, but those players are normally in high demand around the league.
Maybe the offensive issues will sort themselves out, and Salmons and Hinrich will shoot their way out of the early slumps. But it's never too early to start preparing for the possibility this team needs to go outside for scoring help. Especially with the dreaded Circus road trip looming next week.
What do you think? We invite you to share your suggestions in the comments section below or drop me an e-mail.
I'll see you Saturday from the United Center before the Bulls-76ers game during SportsNite at 6:30.
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre and post game studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.