When Reggie Bullock was signed last summer, the expectation was that he would bring a new level of defense to this team, while simultaneously opening up the floor with his knock-down shooting capability. Bullock has neither been a lock-down defender nor a knock-down shooter, but things may be turning around for the latter.
Before the season started, I analyzed the effects of Luka Doncic’s gravity and how it would impact the Mavericks’ new additions. I envisioned a scenario where Bullock improved on his 41 percent from three last year, and ranked in the top 10 with respect to three point percentage this season. Right now, Bullock is shooting 33.7 percent from deep, which leaves him in 139th place for players that have attempted at least 100 threes, per NBA.com. At just 6.8 points per game, he has been disappointing thus far.
Despite his struggles in the first three months, things have looked better in January, and right now they look the best they have this season. Bullock is coming off of his best game (by far) as a Maverick Saturday night, where he posted 23 points on 6-of-8 shooting from downtown against the Pacers. His shot looked pure, he didn’t hesitate, and the ball found the bottom of the net more often than not. He has now made 10 of his last 15 shots from beyond the arc, and with his recent uptick in efficiency, he begs us to ask the question: why now?
For starters, Tim Hardaway Jr. has not played the previous two games because of injury, which inherently forces other players to take more shots. Bullock has seemed to be the major beneficiary of this, as he has taken eight and 11 shots in the last two contests, respectively, which is up from his average of six for the year. When a player has the freedom to shoot more because the team needs them to, it builds confidence and allows them to settle more into the flow of the game. Bullock’s first two shots against Indiana were a layup and a wide-open three, and when Marquese Chriss tossed him a handoff for his third shot, he did not hesitate, even with a hand in his face:
Another reason for his recent success is quite literally that he has just started making open shots. In my pre-season analysis I explained that Bullock was a player who had nearly 90 percent of his shots come with one dribble or less, making him a perfect recipient of Doncic’s pin-point passing. This year, that percentage is north of 90. Building on that, I showed that players like Bullock benefit greatly from playing with a “high volume superstar”, as seen through their increase in sufficiently open shots (a shot with four or more feet of separation). While Bullock’s “sufficiently open” looks have only slightly increased, he is shooting the ball with 6 or more feet of separation almost 46 percent of the time this year, way up from under 42 percent last year. The reason he is not having a career year is not because he isn't getting the looks, it’s because he just hasn’t made them. Bullock is only hitting 39.1 percent of such shots this season compared to 50.2 percent in 2020-21. In January he is up to 44.7 percent on those looks, and is averaging 8.4 points on almost 43 percent from three during the month because of it.
The emergence of Jalen Brunson as a legitimate playmaker has also contributed to Bullock’s success as well. Brunson has assisted Bullock the most, setting him up successfully 30 times, including thrice against Indiana. Doncic is second with 21 assists to Bullock. With Bullock’s role likely to increase from here on out, and some momentum behind him, he should see the fruits of Doncic’s labor quite frequently and cash out more consistently. Finishing plays like this will become the norm, rather than an outlier: