3 lessons learned from the 2020-21 season

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Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

In the aftermath of the Jim Boylen and Gar Forman/John Paxson eras, most Chicago Bulls fans hoped that the start of the next chapter in the franchise’s now-55-year history would set the tone for a brighter future.

Whether or not they cleared that benchmark depends on how you viewed this season.

Finishing with a 31-41 record in the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign, the Bulls finished under .500 and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, a fact that’s all the more disappointing when factoring in the significant mid-season trade they made to at least reach the play-in tournament. On the other end, that the Bulls played well enough to remain in the playoff hunt (and to necessitate that trade) can be seen as progress for a franchise that needed to see a speck of it.

This past season was an uneven one for the Chicago Bulls, as the team gave fans equal reason for hope and concern heading into next year.

Again, when discussing a team that finished where the Bulls did, there’s plenty of good and bad to dissect. For now, let’s focus on the top three.

3. The Chicago Bulls’ defense…..somehow wasn’t terrible?

Given who was on this roster this year, it wouldn’t have shocked anyone if the Bulls had ranked near the bottom in defense. With wings and guards that range from “huh, not as bad as I thought” to “yikes” defensively and no real rim protector, this is usually the recipe for opponents to feast.

But, astonishingly, that didn’t happen; the Bulls ranked 11th in defensive rating, and the 112.0 points they allowed per 100 possessions sat 0.3 points below the league average for 2020-21. Sure, that’s probably more of an indicator of how sophisticated and hard to stop NBA offenses have become more than any sort of stinginess on defense, but hey, there were 19 other teams who had a harder time figuring things out on the less glamorous end, so that should count for something.

So, how did the Bulls achieve this? Well, for starters, they didn’t give up a bunch of 3-point attempts, allowing just 32.2 attempts per 100 possessions (fifth-best in the league), which is considered a better indicator of good defense than mere shooting percentage.

Consequently, this meant that they allowed the bulk of opponents’ attempts at the rim and from mid-range. Surprisingly, Chicago handled the close shots well (ninth in opponent’s field goal percentage inside the restricted area) but struggled with ones from further out (27th in defending the non-RA paint and second to last in defending the mid-range, percentage-wise). Hey, they finished 11th, not first; clearly, this defense still had its flaws.

Overall, though, it wasn’t as bad as many would’ve thought.

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