The Bulls offense is struggling.
Currently ranked 20th in the NBA, Chicago needs to find a way to generate easy points of the non-DeMar DeRozan variety. One way to do that is to go to the big man in the post and take advantage of his scoring ability down low.
Stacey King calls for a Nikola Vucevic post-up during what feels like every possession on the broadcast, and a lot of the time, the Bulls need to get him more involved doing the things he does best.
But the Bulls become predictable and easily defended when they spam DeRozan mid-range jumpers. The same is true with Vucevic post-ups.
At the time of writing this, Vucevic is 14th in the NBA in points per possession on post ups (min. 50 possessions), and fifth in the NBA in frequency of post up possessions. He’s posting up on 21.9 percent of his total possessions, a percent below pick-and-roll roll man for his highest frequency play type. It’s also nearly five percent more than his post up rate from last year (17.8 percent)
When you look at his production relative to the rest of the post up bigs around the league, he falls about where you’d expect.
There are plenty of opportunities where the Bulls should look to Vucevic on the block, but forcing the issue isn’t worth the return on investment. Instead, the Bulls have to be opportunistic with their approach, and Vucevic would be the first to tell you.
“It’s finding the right balance and not trying to force it inside and slow down the game,” he told CHGO. “We’re trying to get me quick.”
“I know sometimes it looks like a smaller guy, I can just go,” Vucevic continued. “But sometimes those smaller guys are pests. It’s a little harder because they’re poking the ball, they’re going at you, they have a lower base, so it’s not always easy to do that.
Even more important than hunting mismatches is the tempo. The window for an entry pass is often fleeting, so Vucevic has to work to get position in the flow of the offense if it’s going to work.
Because when they do it right, it’s one of the best shots the Bulls can generate.
These quick-hitting designed post-ups work great. The Bulls don’t waste time trying to identify whether there is a mismatch to exploit. They know what to do, what to look for and how quickly they need to act. Because even with switches, Vucevic still needs to be in position to make his move.
“The hardest thing about posting up a [smaller] guy that’s strong and physical is that he really works around you,” he said. “He’s quicker than you so he’s making it hard for you to get good position. A lot of times, you’re going to get him on the angle for a second or two where you’ve got him. If you don’t get the ball there and he’s fighting around you, it’s difficult then to make that pass, especially when you have the weak side coming in.”
“But I think when I’m able to catch good, deep position, obviously it’s much easier because I can use one or two dribbles, and turn and finish,” he continued. “Where if I have to work it from further outside, it’s much harder for me to get to the basket and also it’s easier for them to defend it.”
Although he makes a great move to score here, you can see how much more work he needs to do. Vucevic initially has great positioning on the block, but Jaylen Brown fights him nearly to the three-point line before he can catch the ball.
Even on the make, the rest of the offense is standing around the perimeter watching. There needs to be more action and motion involved, if not to prevent the defense from loading up on Vucevic, to allow him to create advantages with his passing.
“You don’t want to get it to where you get a switch and stare,” Billy Donovan said. “Because what ends up happening with teams that switch like that, their guards are used to playing against their bigs and so is their teams, and they bring a lot of help. And it kind of takes away the advantage you have.”
While Vucevic’s post scoring is strong, scoring 1.025 points per possession, when you factor in his passing, the Bulls offense as a whole becomes much more threatening. On possessions where Vucevic post ups include passing, the Bulls score 1.083 points per possession.
“Even if I don’t get it, if guys get a good shot, it’s a good opportunity for me to be in there and try to grab rebounds with my size advantage.”
The Bulls aren’t missing some low-hanging fruit, where, if they post up Vucevic 25 times per game, they’ll start to win more. There’s a time and place for Vucevic to do his thing, and when he does it opportunistically, he is quite good. But there’s more to it than “big man has small man, feed big man.” Such tropes are long dated.