Dec 6, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) brings the ball up court against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Over their four-game win streak (dating back to November 29), the Chicago Bulls are 13th in offense, seventh in defense and sixth in net rating. They have sped up their game, moving from last in the league in pace up to 22nd. The ball isn’t sticking, everyone is involved and it’s a wholly more aesthetic product than the first 19 games of the season.
A different team entirely.
DeMar DeRozan has been the driving force, but he’s doing in in slightly different ways than usual. He has two 10-assist games over his last three, and has been critical in setting the tempo in the offense, both in half court and transition.
“Just trying to create advantages for guys, more so than anything,” DeRozan said. “Reading the defense quicker, faster just trying to get (the ball) out. I try to create double teams draw as much attention as I can and just find the guys and let them let them do the rest.”
Part of the reason the Bulls are playing zippier of late is that there is a focus on getting DeRozan ahead of the ball — making sure he gets up the court to where the Bulls can enter it to him and get actions started earlier in the clock.
“If we can get him ahead of the ball, no that he needs to run to the corner, but just ahead of the ball where we can throw it to him in open space, now we can really get his playmaking and his IQ into the game and now he can generate for himself and for others,” Billy Donovan explained.
Getting DeRozan the ball up the floor lets the Bulls get into their actions, ideally against mismatches or a tilted defense where he can take advantage, whether that’s scoring himself, or finding open looks for his teammates.
“That’s why we’re to success is coming from and it was just not one person,” DeRozan said. “I shot the ball terrible (against the San Antonio Spurs), but it didn’t matter. Because everybody else is ready, stepped up, did what they were supposed to do, and helped us pull out the win. If we was just depending on me making shots, it wouldn’t have happened.”
There are points in every game where things bog down, and it’s important to have a half-court bucket getter in those situations. But for the Bulls to maintain this style of play, they need to integrate everyone into the offense.
“It’s just fun being able to find guys give me guys confidence and it makes it makes my job easier,” DeRozan said.
One of the guys who has made DeRozan’s job easier is Patrick Williams, who is finally starting to look like the best version of himself. He’s averaging 13.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.1 steals and a block on 55 percent shooting from the field and 44.8 percent from three over his past seven games.
“It’s all emotional for him,” DeRozan said. “Pat has always been a quiet type of person, on the court demeanor. I forgot what game it was, you kind of seen him get pissed off and you know, with that type of energy and that vibe that come out, everything else gonna follow with it.”
DeRozan thinks that newfound fiery attitude bleeds into Williams’ game. He’s seen a more willing driver, a more aggressive transition player, a more heady cutter.
We’ve been winning,” Williams said. “So whatever I’m doing or whatever we’re doing as a team, I guess it’s working.”
Those “role player” tendencies are things Williams can and should be doing whenever he’s on the court. Not just when he has to step up because the team is vacant 25 points per game in LaVine’s absence. But the fact that the ball is pinging around with more energy makes life easier on players and much harder on defenses.
“In the game when the ball finds you or you’re running the floor, you’ve got to just instinctively play,” Donovan said. “I think there is a perfectionist part of Patrick that he wants to do everything at an elite level. But when you get so consumed with doing that and you overthink it, you miss out the opportunities to be aggressive.”
“He’s been more aggressive in terms of picking those spots, and going when the opportunities are there,” he continued.
With the ball moving more smoothly, the on-court connections are growing.
“I think everybody kind of has a feel now of how to play off with each other,” Williams said. “We’re kind of getting that chemistry going. I think backdoor cuts are a direct correlation to chemistry.”
The Bulls aren’t going to be a seven-seconds-or-less offense, but they’re learning to strike a balance where they have more opportunities to create an easier and more dynamic offensive environment.
“I think makes it easier, it the sense of, there’s a lot more actions,” Williams said. “It’s not just one action, and the ball gets stagnant, which is a challenge for us…It makes it easier when the ball is moving. It’s a lot harder for the defense to scout that and guard that.”
The Bulls are finally starting to find some offensive success, and it stems from the faster pace.
And they’re planning to ride that wave as long as they can.
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