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If the Bulls want to win games in 2022-23, they have to build a more sustainable offense.
Last year, despite shooting the fewest threes in the league, they did just that. At least in the first half of the season. The Bulls were fourth in the NBA with a 113.4 offensive rating before the All-Star Break. Afterward, they fell to 25th at 110.7. It was a dramatic decline, worsened by the fact that league average increased by nearly 4.5 points per 100 possessions over that timeframe.
As a result, the Bulls looked stagnant, predictable, and hero-ball dependent.
“No question there were times where DeMar [DeRozan] got it rolling and we kept going to it,” Billy Donovan said. “And I’m not saying that that was the wrong thing. But my thing is if you’re gonna look at the big picture, is that going to be sustainable and successful for us against those really elite teams, both in the East and the West? I think it would be really, really hard to live like that.”
The Bulls’ goal from training camp is to build something more sustainable. By finding a reliable source easier baskets, they won’t be as easy to defend.
So how do they get unstuck?
Training camp buzzword: Randomness
You thought continuity was the Bulls secret weapon. It’s actually “randomness”.
“We’ve got to play a lot more randomly,” Donovan said. “DeMar [DeRozan] has got great feet, he’s always been a tempo player, he’s really efficient. How do you blend that with ball movement and player movement? Can we keep the ball moving so the floor’s not as loaded up for Zach [LaVine] and DeMar [DeRozan] in those situations? Can we create that pace of play in the half court?”
By adding more motion to the offense, the Bulls hope to get more offense by cutting and attacking closeouts. It’s easier said than done, and even more so without Lonzo Ball, their best shooter and ball mover. But the process is right for the Bulls and having training camp to come up with a plan will make it an easier adjustment than having to figure things out on the fly in the middle of the year.
“Free flowing, quick reads,” LaVine said. “For isolation and one-on-one players, we’re gonna get a couple of those shots up, that’s part of our game. But quick reads, fast decisions, the ball popping side to side. Being able to use different players in different spots. We’re not just going to be stuck on the sideline doing a pick-and-roll or rolling it into the post, ball at the top of the key with me isolation while everyone is staring.”
The Bulls have the luxury of having two of the best ‘go get you a bucket’ players in the league. Now they just need to make life easier for them.
More space without more threes
The Bulls were last in the league in three-point attempts per game last season. Even with Ball in the lineup, they were the lowest volume three-point shooting team.
It’s very difficult to catch up to the rest of the league shooting three fewer long balls than the next closest team. Not only are you sacrificing offensive variance, you’re cramping the floor for DeRozan.
Better spacing, however, does not necessarily mean more threes. The Bucks taught them the hard way, shooting for the sake of shooting doesn’t always solve the problem.
“For guys who can shoot ‘em!,” LaVine joked. “We do need to be a little more prolific on the three-point line and if we need to make up any gaps, I think I can try to help that.”
It will be on LaVine and Nikola Vucevic to be the rising tide when it comes to three-point volume. The Bulls should shoot more, but for the team as a whole, they’ll instead rely on movement and motion. If they can do that successfully, they’ll have more room in the paint for DeRozan and LaVine, effectively compensating for the lack of spacing without necessarily going wild with long balls.
At least, that’s the idea.
Fast, but not in a hurry
The Bulls need to establish a better, more reliable transition game. At their best, the Bulls were hitting go-ahead passes and catching defenses before they could get set. And they’re trying to get back to that.
“We want to be fast, but we don’t want to be in a hurry,” LaVine said. “We want to pick up the tempo and get out in transition, use our athleticism and weapons out there. But we’re not trying to rush ourselves to not make the right play or the right read.”
But here’s the Mandela Effect twist: even before Ball got hurt, they were only 14th in transition frequency. Of course, they fell to 28th without him.
More transition scoring breaks up the monotony and makes the Bulls more dynamic. Hopefully that provides them with a more sustainable source of offense that is less iso-dependant.
Attacking the offensive glass
The aforementioned changes are minor tweaks rather than global revisions. But offensive rebounding could be an area where the Bulls make an intentional effort to altering that part of their identity.
The Bulls were 28th in offensive rebounding last season, but crashing the glass is a strategic trade-off.
As many bodies as you send to the offensive glass, you lose getting back in transition defense. Bringing in one of the greatest offensive rebounders in the history of the game certainly helps.
Drummond has seven of the top-85 seasons of all time in offensive rebounding percentage. Last year was the second-best rate of his career and ranked 15th all-time.
“Not only Andre [Drummond],” Donovan said, “but even trying to send different guys to try to go generate some extra possessions, maybe some putbacks, with the responsibility of still being to get back in transition.”
The Bulls have spent the first week of training camp working on implementing these alterations and trying to fold them into their identity. Continuity is the bow that ties all of this together.
Understanding each others tendencies can help maximize areas of strength and avoid areas of weakness within a more random, motion-heavy offense.
A year of understanding positioning within the defensive scheme can help them be more disruptive and create transition opportunities.
“That has to go with knowing your teammates. And knowing who you can talk to and how to talk to them in certain ways,” LaVine said. “Being accountable and receiving constructive criticism. I think that’s what we needed to do a better job with, from top to bottom. Coaching staff included. I think we’ve gotten better at that. Being able to hear and see adjustments and trying to take it all in stride and being able to put it into game form.”
After a year of playing together, the Bulls are betting that more information on their group will make building a more sustainable offense possible. Starting tomorrow, we’ll see if they’re right.
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