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Nikola Vucevic and the Chicago Bulls re-emphasize offensive rebounding

Will Gottlieb Avatar
January 26, 2024

Nikola Vucevic is having one of his best offensive rebounding seasons ever.

Pulling in three offensive rebounds in Thursday night’s 141-132 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers (the league’s fourth best defensive rebounding team), Vucevic now has 15 offensive boards in his last four games. On the season, his 2.7 offensive rebounds per game are the most since the 2018-19 season.

“Just trying to be a little more aggressive,” Vucevic recently told CHGO. “Trying to get a second chance opportunities for us. The way we’ve been playing, trying to get more downhill, it opens up opportunities for me when the big goes and helps, I can get some tip ins.”

Vucevic finished with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting, with eight rebounds.

The one area where the Bulls had success against the Lakers was on the offensive glass. They had 12. The Bulls are 13th in offensive rebounding, up from 28th last year. It has been a focus of the group, and though they have dropped off a bit in recent weeks (26th during the first two weeks January), it remains an emphasis for the group.

“Early on, we had been really putting an emphasis on trying to do that, and I think early on, I was doing a good job,” Vucevic said. “I think, last maybe 10 games not as well. And then the last couple games, I’ve been trying to get back to being a little more aggressive. I think it does help us a lot in creating those second-chance opportunities.”

Vucevic credited assistant coach John Bryant, with whom he works and watches film every day, for re-emphasizing the importance of offensive rebounding.

The Bulls have improved their three-point volume, from 29th to 24th this season in total frequency of threes and 22nd to 11th from the corners. They’re never going to be a team that relies on three-point shooting to carry them, so instead they have to focus on the other four factors: shooting efficiency (effective field goal percentage), foul drawing, turnovers and of course, offensive rebounding.

Offensive rebounding is strategic — sending guys to the offensive glass comes with a tradeoff of getting back in transition defense. The Bulls are towing a dangerous line, but doing it well, as they are still in the top half of the league in the amount of time they give up transition.

“I think that the emphasis for everybody was just to get back in transition. Very, very rarely did you send more than maybe a player to offensive rebound,” Billy Donovan recently said of offensive rebounding strategy in seasons past. “For a guy that’s around the basket a lot, (Vucevic’s) defensive numbers are going to be really good and he’s always been an elite rebounder. I think the one thing that’s he’s done a good job this year, you take the Toronto game, he had five offensive rebounds. Those possessions were really, really critical for us.”

For Vucevic, who is responsible for being the last line of defense, crashing the glass is a calculated risk he must weigh in real time.

“I’ve got to judge where I’m at,” Vucevic explained. “If I’m around basket and I’ll go. If I’m at the top, most likely I’m balancing it out, so we don’t overload. We’ve got to balance it out. A lot of it is effort and you also kind of try to read to see if there’s a guy boxing you out there, you might not go. If they’re in rotation or you get a smaller guy or nobody’s really boxing you out, you can go.”

In addition to second-chance point opportunities, offensive rebounding can be a huge momentum swing. Gaining points for your team while stealing them from the other can be demoralizing. So it’s worth the risk in many cases.

“You’re gonna get it every time, but times that you get it, a lot of times you can help a lot,” Vucevic claimed. “If we’re struggling offensively and get easy one. And we know when teams rebounding the ball offensively against us and score, it’s really deflating. So when you’re able to do that, it gets your team going and for the other team, it really sucks to give up second chance opportunities.”

The Bulls are far from perfect as an offensive team, but it’s hard to argue they aren’t trying new ways to give themselves chances. Despite being ranked 22nd in offensive rating this season, just two spots in the rankings and 1.3 points per 100 possessions better than last season, since December 1, they’re 18th, and in their last six games, they’re 14th.

They’re climbing because they’re focused on the right things, and they know those will pay off in the long run.

Other notes:

  • A week into Zach LaVine’s (ankle) 1-2 week timetable, LaVine will now be re-evaluated in another week. Re-evaluation does not equal return date, so it’s possible if not likely he will be out until the February 8 deadline. Donovan told reporters in Los Angeles he has “no idea” whether LaVine will be back before the deadline.
  • Lonzo Ball was in attendance, sitting alongside his teammates on the bench.
  • D’Angelo Russell went nuclear for the Lakers, scoring 29 points and making 8-of-13 three-pointers.
  • The Lakers, who are last in the league in three-point attempts per game and 20th in the NBA in three-point percentage, went 20-of-31 from deep. They made their second most threes in a game this season and shot the highest percentage of any game this season. Make or miss league.
  • DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls in scoring with 32 points on 10-of-14 shooting with 10 assists.

Up Next: The Bulls road trip comes to a conclusion against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night

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