What’s a big man worth?


Basketball is a very simple game: put the ball through the hoop. A lot of strategy goes into accomplishing this simple task, just as much strategy goes into stopping the ball from going through the hoop. From the infancy of the sport to the present age, the players most likely to accomplish this simple act have generally been very tall. The bigger the player the more of an advantage they have scoring buckets. That is as true now (Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo) as it was 40, 50, hell even 60 years ago (George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell). Big men rule basketball.

George Mikan, the greatest basketball player to ever attend Archbishop Quigley High School Seminary in Chicago.

Basketball is in the midst of an apparent renaissance. Or maybe a revolution. Efficiency, true shooting, pace, these are the new stats that drive the game, it is a new way of understanding the fundamental truth of Basketball (putting the ball through the hoop), and because this mindset is so new, people misunderstand the story these stats tell. The common story making the rounds is that the numbers running the game of basketball favor 3 point field goals. The more 3 pointers shot the better, 3 point field goals are better than 2 pointers, don’tcha know, so shoot a lot of them. While it is true that it may be more advantageous to shoot a three pointer instead of long mid-range two, the three point field goal should not completely replace the 2 point shot.

The Bulls recent success (5 game win streak!!!) is a clear indication of the importance of 2 pointers, specifically, 2 pointers inside the paint-the natural habitat for NBA big men. Over the past 5 games, the Bulls have, on average, shot less three pointers and scored more points in the paint than the previous 23 games. In that same 5 game stretch, they have been more efficient, played at a quicker pace, and gotten to the free throw line more often than their average in the previous 23 games. The reason for all of these positive changes can be traced back to the improved play of the Bulls bigs.

Who have the top scorers been during this 5 game win streak? The big men. Lauri Markkenan led the Bulls with 24 points against Charlotte, Robin Lopez chipped in 19. Against the New York Knicks it was Niko Mirotic with 19 points, and Markkanen helped with 15. It took 24 points from Mirotic and 23 from Bobby Portis to upset the Boston Celtics, and Niko went off for 29 points against Utah while Lopez added 16. Finally, Portis, Mirotic, and Lopez destroyed the Milwaukee Bucks with 27, 22, and 18 points respectively. The Bulls big men have been playing a simple game, and they’ve been killing the opposition.

The name of the game is “points in the paint.”

Over the first 23 games of the season, the Bulls scored 39.2% of their baskets from inside the lane. These are the shots with the highest percentage chance of being made, yet the Bulls were getting less than 40% of their points from that area of the court. Meanwhile, the Bulls were attempting 64% of their field goals from inside the 3 point arc, 34% from beyond it. Great, that’s a lot of numbers, but what the hell do they mean? Simply put, the Bulls were settling for long jumpers and not attacking the basket.

Of course this is obvious to anyone who watched those 23 games. The Bulls were more than content to dribble weave and swing pass their way around the arc, wasting the shot clock, failing to pass the ball into the post, and taking long, ill-advised, low percentage shots all game long. This was the normal state of Bulls offense, and it left many of us fans wondering, “is this Hoiball?” Was this the vaunted attack that the so-called offensive guru Fred Hoiberg had come up with? If so, than Hoiberg was no more a basketball genius than yours truly.

This 5 game win streak is helping to change my mind about Hoiball. The Bulls are no longer as content shooting long range jumpers. The dribble weaving beyond the arc is leading to pick-and-roll opportunities for Kris Dunn and whichever big man is setting the screen. The team is starting to recognize mismatches in the post, and the swing passes are being utilized to find angles to get the ball to the big man in the post. What we fans are seeing in the games is translating to the numbers.

During the last 5 games, 43.3% of the Bulls scoring has come from points in the paint. That’s a 4% increase over the previous 23 games. 74.8% of the teams field goals attempted have been 2 pointers, 25.2% from 3 point land, that’s a 10% increase in two point field goals attempted. Great, that’s a lot of numbers, but what the hell do they mean? The Bulls are attempting higher percentage shots; they are using their big men in the pick-and-roll and out of the post to easily put the ball through the hoop.

While Robin, Niko and Bobby have been feasting on the offensive side of the court, a good portion of the credit needs to go to Kris Dunn and David Nwaba. Something has clicked within Dunn over the last week and a half. He seems to have a better understanding of the offense, and he has been attacking the basket with impunity. When the Bulls do shoot three pointers they tend to come after dribble penetration and a kick out pass, or some kind of double screen action along the perimeter, it’s no longer dribble weave into swing pass into contested 3 pointer. David Nwaba has also been instrumental in revitalizing the offense. His quick, penetrating drives to the basket open up all manner of offensive opportunities for the big men. Dump off passes for easy baskets, tip ins from missed lay ups, uncontested 3 pointers on kick out passes, Niko and Bobby have both benefited from Nwaba and Dunn attacking the basket.

And that’s the story of this 5 game win streak, the story of Hoiball and it’s recent success, the simple truth of basketball as a whole: Attack the basket, get the ball to the big men, get the easy points in the paint.

What’s a big man worth?

Niko is 5-0.

(All stats for this post were plumbed from nba.com)

The Worst Records in the NBA:

1. Atlanta Hawks: 6-23 .207

2. Dallas Mavericks: 8-22 .267

3. Chicago Bulls: 8-20 .286

4. Memphis Grizzlies: 9-21 .300

5. Sacramento Kings: 9-19 .321


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