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The Bulls plan to turn offensive rebounding into a strength

Will Gottlieb Avatar
October 13, 2023

Preseason games are less about results and more about process. So in spite of Thursday’s 133-124 win against the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets, it’s more interesting to note stylistic changes.

Among the Bulls various maladies on the offensive end last season, offensive rebounding was towards the top of the list. They were 28th in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage.

This year, the Bulls have changed their mind.

Last year, the Bulls season high in offensive rebounds was 15. They hit that mark five times. On Thursday night, they corralled 26 offensive boards, 21 of which came in regulation.

This, by the way, follows a 15 offensive board performance against the Bucks in their preseason opener last Sunday.

“We need guys to have that kind of mentality,” Billy Donovan said after the win.

Andre Drummond led the way with nine (!!) offensive rebounds (in just 12 minutes), but even aside from him, the Bulls would have exceeded last year’s season high. Ayo Dosunmu was fantastic, collecting three. Terry Taylor grabbed five. Zach LaVine and Dalen Terry each had two. Torrey Craig, Julian Phillips, Alex Caruso, DeMar DeRozan, Coby White each grabbed one as well.

The Bulls finished the game with a 50 offensive rebound rate. Their rate last year? 22.6 percent.

“Just being a little more aggressive about it,” Nikola Vucevic told reporters. “[Donovan] is putting more of an emphasis on it and trying to figure out who the ‘go-guys’ are, they guys that go to the glass, and who the ‘get back guys’ are.”

“If you’re a ‘go guy’ you can go from anywhere,” Donovan told reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “But there are going to be situations where it just doesn’t allow itself. Like if you shoot it, you’re not going to shoot and chase it. There could be a situation where they’re well behind the three point line or top of the key, where it doesn’t make sense to go, it makes sense to get back and balance the floor.”

The Bulls aren’t selling out and sending all five guys to the glass after every shot goes up. Typically there are two or three ‘go guys’ on the court who are supposed to crash the glass, while the others get back on defense.

“Most of the wings [are ‘go guys’],” Torrey Craig told CHGO. “‘Get back’ guys are JC [Carter], Coby, the point guards. Zach, Deebo. Everyone else is pretty much a ‘go guy’.”

Typically, if you’re in the corner, dunker spot or really anywhere below the free throw line, you can go. But the Bulls have now implemented year-round ‘go guys’ that are supposed to attack the glass no matter what.

“If you’re a ‘go guy’ you’re supposed to always go,” Dosunmu told CHGO. “Even if you’re above the break. You’re supposed to go when the shot leaves their hand, when you see them shooting it.”

Dosunmu is one of those ‘go guys’. Even before Thursday’s game, Donovan noted his savviness and excellent nose for the ball that makes him a prime candidate to be a ‘go guy’ this season.

“We talked about go guys going! Did he go tonight or what?! I give him a lot of credit, he generated a lot of extra possessions for us,” Donovan said of Dosunmu. “And that kind of offset their three-point shooting, was us getting offensive rebounds and extra possessions. It’s easy to offensive rebound when teams are in rotation. When the defense is set and you’re caught playing in the mid-range, generally it’s man-on-man and it’s really hard to rebound.”

Whether to crash the offensive glass is an intentional strategy that comes with a tradeoff: if you’re attacking the glass on offense, you’re not getting back on defense. We know the Bulls hung their hat on the defensive end last year, and prioritized forcing opponents to face their defense while it was set. It worked — the Bulls were 6th in the league in preventing transition offense.

There is some concern about the effect that might have on the transition defense, but the Bulls are willing to make that bet since the alternative is going back to what they did last year and finishing 24th in offense.

“You have to read the right moments to go and balance the floor so we don’t all go and give up easy baskets,” Vucevic told reporters. “But there were opportunities last year where we could have gone and maybe tried to get some easy baskets or second chance opportunities and we didn’t go as much. Certain times you might not get it, but if you tip the ball and it goes in an area of the court and someone has to go get it from the other team, it slows them down and gives up an opportunity to get back too.”

If the Bulls can turn their aggression on the offensive boards from a major weakness into a strength, or even league average, without sacrificing much on the defensive end, it could be a sneaky crucial element towards improving their offense from the bottom 20 percent.

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