PORTLAND, Ore. — Bulls coach Jim Boylen faces the topic almost daily and recognizes it before the question is halfway asked, snickering when a reporter gets to the words “offense” and “three-point shooting.”
He heard it again Wednesday before the Bulls’ 124-112 loss to the Trail Blazers to start a five-city road trip: how the Bulls have moved away from the long-range shot since Boylen replaced Fred Hoiberg as coach last month.
“What we haven’t done is finished very well at those plays at the rim,” Boylen said. “That’s where we have to grow. Then it’s finishing at the rim, maybe the defense takes it away, and now you spray out [to the three-point line].
“Who are we spraying out to? Well, we’re going to keep working at that.”
The Bulls were efficient with the three-pointer through three quarters against the Trail Blazers, shooting 7-for-14, but a 2-for-8 fourth quarter exposed it again as weakness.
Who are they spraying out to? It’s the question that gets overlooked by critics of Boylen’s style. Asking the Bulls to shoot more threes, as is the trend in the NBA, is like asking Cody Parkey to make more field goals for the Bears. Neither is considered particularly good at it.
Entering Wednesday, the Bulls’ most accurate three-point shooter was Lauri Markkanen, with just over 40 percent, which put him at 25th in the NBA. He went 0-for-3 from long range Wednesday, finishing with just 10 points. As a team, the Bulls ranked 19th out of 30 teams in three-point percentage (.346) but were 26th in three-point attempts per game, as Boylen is trying to get them to focus on shooting fewer threes, but higher-quality ones.
“We’re not [good at contested threes],” Boylen said. “We have some solid in-the-paint numbers, but our [efficiency] rating on those possessions isn’t great because we don’t finish or we don’t spray out, or we do spray out and we don’t make it. So it looks like it’s empty, but to me it’s not. I see growth, and I see development.”
As a reminder of what happens when these Bulls shoot a lot more from outside, jump back to last season, when they were sixth in attempts (31.1 per game) but 21st in percentage (.355). Denzel Valentine (.386) was the most accurate three-point shooter on the roster, finishing 50th in the league.
The players, too, are aware they lack true outside shooters.
“Sometimes you don’t have the personnel to become a team that’s in the top 10 in three-point attempts, and makes, and field-goal percentage,” guard Zach LaVine said. “I think we can take more, but we’d have to be hunting them, and certain guys have to hunt them.”
Not all was bad coming out of Wednesday’s loss. Rookie Wendell Carter Jr. finished with 22 points on 7-for-9 shooting, hit a three and went 7-for-7 from the free-throw line.
“I felt good. My shots were just going down,” Carter said. “I just feel more comfortable.
“My teammates know I’m a very unselfish player. I don’t have to put it up towards the rim at all. Me touching the ball on the possession, it just feels good.”