NBA.com defines crunch time as “five minutes left in the game with a score differential of five points or less.”
The Chicago Bulls were a winning team in crunch time last season, but two players on this year’s roster should make the squad even better.
The Bulls had the fifth-worst record in crunch time last season at 14-21. The team produced a 40 percent win percentage with a -7.4 net rating on the floor, which was good for the 24th in the league.
However, better days are ahead for Bulls fans in the clutch. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine were, statistically, two of the best players last season.
Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan should have the ball in their hands down the stretch.
In crunch time, the pair tied for sixth place in the league last season in points per game, both averaging 4.4 points per game in the clutch.
That figure may not sound like a lot, but the company around them is appeasing. They have Steph Curry, Nikola Jokic, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and more beat in that category.
To help better visualize how good the two are down the stretch, I created a table of key statistics from the clutch last season.
|Zach LaVine||DeMar DeRozan|
|PPG = 4.4 (t-sixth in NBA)||PPG = 4.4 (t-sixth in NBA)|
|FG% = 39.1%||FG% = 45.2%|
|FGA = 3.2 (third in NBA)||FGA = 2.9 (12th in NBA)|
|FT% = 88.9%||FT% = 88.5%|
|FTA = 1.7 (20th in NBA)||FTA = 1.9 (19th in NBA)|
Some key things to point out include the fact that their respected teams heavily relied on the two to take shots in the last five minutes. LaVine and DeRozan’s 3.2 and 2.9 field goal attempts per game, respectively, in that space, prove that.
Their ability to cash in free throws is majorly important. The Bulls ranked 14th in free throw percentage in the clutch last season at 82 percent. The pair put in nearly 90 percent each from the line down the stretch last season.
The two also got to the line frequently, both ranking in the top 20 for free throw attempts in the clutch to further the importance of that. The Bulls averaged 2.9 free throw attempts in the clutch, good for 14th in the league.
The Bulls are continuing to prove they can mesh well together.
This offseason, the Bulls’ front office added some interesting pieces to the equation. The conversation surrounding the “fit” of the team has swirled endlessly around the implication that they might not make it work.
Especially in the starting five, each of the starters has different playing styles.
LaVine is a well-rounded player with an emphasis on slashing. Patrick Williams is set up to be a primary defender. DeRozan is a small-ball power forward with an aptitude for mid-range play. Nikola Vucevic is a catch-and-shoot master (averaged the most catch-and-shoot points last season with 10.7 per game) and a low-post hero. To oppose them all, Lonzo Ball loves to run the floor and play the full-court game.
So, how does this all add up?
In short, the diversity of their offense makes them unpredictable. But, in terms of needing to mesh down the stretch, Billy Donovan should center his game plan around putting the ball in the hands of LaVine and DeRozan.
Adding DeRozan to the equation down the stretch should ultimately free up LaVine from having to carry most of the weight in that area — considering LaVine averaged 50 percent of the team’s points in clutch games.
It’s safe to say the Bulls will be in good hands with less than five minutes to go in any given game. However, the same question remains: will the “fit” of the team ever become a cause for concern?
My answer, for now, is no.