The Chicago Bulls, the No. 11 seed in the Eastern Conference, have been one of the NBA’s greatest disappointments with a record of 26-33, which presently leaves them two games out of play-in contention. Many believed the squad would go further this season after the 46-36 record of the 2021–22 season, which saw them finish sixth in the East and earn their first playoff appearance since 2017.
But regrettably, it simply hasn’t occurred for a number of reasons. The Bulls’ downward trend hit a new low last Thursday when they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 112-100 on primetime television, ensuring they would enter the All-Star break with a season-high six consecutive defeats.
Even worse, the Bulls have no motivation to tank since the Orlando Magic would get the team’s 2023 first-round selection if they finish in the top four. They thus made the decision to try one last time in an attempt to save their season. They decided it was time to relocate the NBA’s resident pest to his former residence.
What does this purchase thus mean? Beverley may be another star who has to go for work on the buyout market, but can he genuinely assist this team? And can a player acquired thus late in the game really alter the season’s trajectory for a team?
It is never a good idea to evaluate a deal before the final product is on the field, but if you must engage in such an activity, the best course of action is to consider how X player strengthens X team’s deficiencies and highlights their virtues.
Chicago’s offence, which is rated 24th in the NBA, has a plethora of flaws, but their inability to shoot and handle the ball are the most significant.
Let’s begin with the last group. The Bulls only have a -0.3 Net Rating despite their 26-33 record, which equates to an anticipated win-loss record of 29-30. A team often performs worse than predicted in crucial situations, as seen by their win-loss record.
The Bulls have essentially relied on that strategy the whole season, going 10-20 in their 30 crucial games (games when the scoring margin is within five points with five or fewer minutes remaining in a game, per NBA.com).
They very literally keep fumbling the ball away, which is a major factor in why they keep losing these games. The point guard position has very few options since Ayo Dosunmu is still developing, Coby White and Alex Caruso are more like two guards, and Goran Dragic is too old to often be counted upon in crunch time.
Teams will thus often apply pressure to their ballhandlers in the last seconds, resulting in mistakes and unpredictable possessions. In their matchup against the Indiana Pacers in late January, that is precisely what took place. The Bulls had no defence against Indiana’s minimal pressure defence, which was led by backcourt bulldog T.J. McConnell.
In all, Chicago committed six turnovers in the fourth quarter as opposed to one for the Pacers. And it ultimately made all the difference, allowing Indiana to win by only six points (after trailing by as much as 21).
For this version of the Bulls, heartbreaking lapses like the one experienced against Indiana have become commonplace. In order to keep this crew from going into full-on self-implosion mode, Beverley offers a soothing, experienced presence.
Chicago presently attempts and hits the fewest three-pointers in the NBA, which is more significant than their late-game errors. This result is in part due to an antiquated halfcourt strategy, but most of it is the fault of their players. Six of their top-10 players overall this season have played less than three three-pointers per game on average.
The three-ball has been their true downfall throughout this six-game slide. The Bulls are 25th in attempts (28.3), 30th in percentage (26.5%), and 30th in makes per game (7.5) over that span. They are at a significant mathematical disadvantage since they struggle to make perimeter shots, which is obvious even to non-statisticians (you know, because three is greater than two).
Beverley aids in somewhat improving their chances. Following a poor start, he has been on a three-point shooting tear since December 1st, making 39.6% of his 3.7 attempts per game. On 4.1 tries per game during his career, he has a 37.6% three-point shooting percentage.
The Bulls’ defence has been among the few shining moments this season. They don’t have an exceptional middle anchor on their squad, but they presently have the seventh-best defensive rating. In our Miami Heat analysis, we discussed how something like this is feasible; but, in case you missed it, we’ll quickly repeat it here.
Without a good rim protector, you are ill-prepared to cope with intruders on the inside. Thus you must ensure that such trespassers are never allowed to enter the painted area in the first place. You must erect your barrier around the area’s edge.
Defensive ace Caruso is in the middle of Chicago’s perimeter shell. The Bulls have a 109.2 defensive rating with him on the court (94th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass).
Yet, even a great stopper like Caruso can’t do it all by themselves. He performs his finest theft while operating as a duo, as we’ve seen previously. Their matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers on New Year’s Eve serves as the ideal illustration of this.
The Lockdown Brothers, a team comprised of Caruso and Dosunmu, were in charge of utterly sabotaging Cleveland’s offensive flow that evening. Overall, the Bulls forced 20 turnovers out of Cleveland, with Dosunmu recording five thefts and Caruso recording two of his own.
For two reasons, the Bulls perform at their peak when they successfully force turnovers like this. One is that it allows them to hide their shortcomings in paint protection. In addition, it provides them with transitional chances that are simple, thus (which in turn allows them to hide their shooting and ball-handling weaknesses).
The issue is that Dosunmu seldom has defensive performances like the one against Cleveland. He has a season steal percentage for his position that is in the 19th percentile (per Cleaning the Glass). He can sometimes serve as Caruso’s perimeter companion, but he couldn’t assume the role of Lockdown Brother continuously.
Even worse, Lonzo Ball and Javonte Green, the two players on the roster most suited to support Caruso, are both now absent.
Beverley’s theft rate is down a little bit this season (51st percentile), but he has a history of making his team more likely to force turnovers when he’s on the floor. Cleaning the Glass claims that Beverley’s teams have produced more turnovers while he is on the court than when he is off in virtually every season of his career (the lone exception being 2014–15).
Beverley definitely doesn’t have the physical stamina at this point in her life to be Caruso’s full-time henchwoman. Yet he is more than capable of switching off with Dosunmu as the team’s secondary point of attack playmaker.
The combination of ball handling, outside shooting, and perimeter defence sounds a lot like the essential components of the dearly missing Ball, as we alluded to a little earlier. Hold your horses, however, because 2021–2022. Sadly, Lonzo Ball was one of the top 50 NBA players in 2022–2023. That is not how Patrick Beverley is. His presence won’t bring back the Chicago squad that stunned the world by opening the previous season 27-11.
Having said that, you shouldn’t allow that fact cloud your judgement of this offer. Behind the outrageous play-in celebrations, on-court theatrics, and disputes with Russell Westbrook is a player who consistently succeeds wherever he goes.
He played for the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, and both teams advanced to the Western Conference Finals. He assisted the nimble Minnesota Timberwolves in their first Game 7 in over 20 years. And maybe now that he has, he can give the pitiful Bulls the boost they need to rise from the dead and get back into the play-in picture.