If Tom Thibodeau was the insidious disease that was eating away at the soul of the Bulls' offensive creativity, Fred Hoiberg and his ethos on offense was to be the timely antidote that would revive the flat lining championship aspirations for this current core of players.
Well, that may not be exactly true, but the hyperbole filled narratives of the offseason certainly made it feel as if it were so.
The slow, grind-it-out possessions that Tom Thibodeau had become famous for, were to be a vague and distant memory. Under Hoiberg, transition baskets would flow, the three's would rain and the system would bionically connect every player.
All of this sounds like the beautiful reprieve many had hoped for, including myself. So far, unfortunately, we haven't seen it. In fact, we’ve seen the exact opposite.
Unexpectedly, the Bulls have somehow regained their defensive identity, ranking 7th in defensive rating by holding teams to 97.7 points per 100 possessions. Equally as puzzling, is the offenses inability to live up its vaunted expectations. Only mustering up 98.9 points per 100 possessions, Chicago find themselves as the 24th ranked offense, leaving themselves with a net rating of only 1.2 points. That's not good. If anything, it's middle-of-road stuff, even if their 8-4 record suggests otherwise.
Why Is The Offense Broken?
Either by design or circumstance, put simply, Chicago aren't scoring from efficient spots on the floor. Too many of the Bulls points are coming from mid-range areas of the floor. They're not getting free and easy buckets from the free throw line and the offensive rebounding has disappeared completely, taking the second chance points with them. The improvements made in points from three-pointers is simply not enough to outweigh the decline in many facets of the game.
Now knowing where the Bulls are sourcing their buckets from, it's starting to make a lot of sense as to why both the offensive rating and true shooting percentage have deteriorated so swiftly. With more threes and mid-range shots and less points at the rim, the Bulls have exclusively become a jump shooting team. Whilst this has become all the range in modern basketball, unfortunately, Derrick Rose isn't Steph Curry.
Gasol:"To me right now there is not much balance to getting the ball inside and what we do outside. I think that’s something we can improve"
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) November 21, 2015
I'm sure it can be twisted in a way to suggest that Pau is only looking out for himself and his post entries in this quote, and whilst there maybe an element of that, is he really wrong?
Inefficient Players Are Shooting Too Much
After a fast start in his new role within the starting unit, Nikola Mirotic has been mostly poor. His erratic shooting has matched his poor selection and the defensive lapses he can be prone to are difficult to overlook when he is struggling with the consistency in his game.
Scoring 19.7 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in his first 3 games, Mirotic has since fallen off mightily, averaging 9.3 points, 5.9 rebounds on 30.2 and 22.7 percent from the field and three, respectively. Despite his personal numbers severely trending down, the team is still 6.9 points better when Nikola is on the floor. Clearly, the power forward has value as a floor spacer on this team (even if he is bricking shots), but how much longer will teams respect his shot if his form and production remain inconsistent?
The early struggles of Nikola Mirotic have been so discouraging that it has largely masked the inefficient play of his frontcourt partner. Like Mirotic, Pau Gasol, too, has been highly erratic and inefficient.
Averaging 13.8 points and 9.7 rebounds in 29.3 minutes per game is sound for any big man at age 35. The totals aren't the problem for Gasol, the efficiency is. For a gifted low post scorer with an underrated catch and shoot jumper, a 49.1 true shooting percentage is simply unacceptable.
Unlike the faltering Mirotic, however, the Bulls' offense has actually performed better without Gasol. When the giant Spaniard checks into the game, the offense has stagnated, only managing to score 96.4 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the offense will increase to 102.9 points per 100 possessions. Given Gasol's value to this team is predominantly weighted on the offensive side of the ball, serious questions need to be asked about the production and role of Gasol to this team as its starting center.
That leaves Derrick Rose.
Trying to comprehend Rose's numbers is becoming increasingly difficult. Still burdened with double vision from his orbital fracture, the point guard also has succumb to an ankle injury that has seen him miss the last two games. The injury excuse is ever prevalent, and though they maybe valid, so too is the fact that his inefficient shooting on such high volumes, is hurting the team.
Rose has publicly expressed the need to get others more involved as he struggles with his own form. Whilst his comments are poignant, his actions have been anything but.
In his 32.4 minutes a game, Rose has hoisted up 14.6 shots a night. Though this number is down on the volumes witnessed during his peak seasons, it's virtually an identical amount to the teams best and most efficient scorer, Jimmy Butler (15.3 shots in 36.4 minutes).
Using 25.7 percent of the teams possessions when on the court, Derrick has been horribly inefficient, shooting 37.7 percent from the field and 15.0 percent from three. Even worse, only three players in the league with a usage greater than 25 percent have a lower true shooting percentage than Rose, and one of those players is a rookie. That's...not good.
Fundamentally, many of the issues Chicago face begin and end with Derrick Rose. It's something that is dispiriting to say, and I feel terrible for piling on, but it's the truth. If you want to fix the Bulls offense, you need to fix Derrick Rose.
His problems, in many ways, have become systemic. Until he improves significantly, the offense will remain below average. Sadly, though, the great irony for the Bulls is that they desperately need Rose to explore and experiment on the floor in hopes of finding his old self. He's their only chance of true contention. Everyone knows this, and until this reality changes, he will largely be relied upon. These facts may be true, but a balance is required. He needs to let his teammates control more of the ball, and equally, those around him need to step up.
Rose understands this, and has recognized this himself.
Yeah, trying to get him to shoot more, man, especially with what I’m dealing with. Certain games, I’m going to have it. Other games, I’m not. I know it’s part of the process.
It's nice to hear Derrick acknowledge this, but the numbers would suggest that it's not happening on the court.
In the below graph, the Bulls' five leading players based on their usage percentage have been plotted relative to their true shooting percentages.
To understand this graph, ideally, you want your best and most prolific scorers being in the “green zone”, which represents league average (and above) in true shooting percentage. Factoring in volume, if your most efficient scorers also have a high usage, you should be expecting some nice offensive production. Conversely, if your key offensive players are struggling with their shot and are continuously launching them in hope of finally making a bucket, the equation can get ugly quickly, with your players living deep in the red area.
As you can see, aside from Aaron Brooks and Jimmy Butler, three of the five players are in the “danger zone”, otherwise known as the inefficient area. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but Derrick Rose is clearly the main culprit here. He leads the team in usage, which typically wouldn't be an issue if he also wasn't so abysmal from the field. With his offense being as miserable as it is and his usage being so high, should we really be surprised that the teams offense has underperformed?
How Can The Offense Be Fixed?
What has been outlined isn’t earth shattering. If anything, it’s what we already know; The team needs less of this version of Derrick Rose, and it definitely needs more Jimmy Butler.
Like Rose, Gasol and Mirotic are of concern as well, but with the game being dominated by perimeter play - particularly in pick-and-roll - establishing a backcourt hierarchy that's focused on exploiting the talents of your best and most productive players is as obvious as it is essential.
Knowing this fact, it's bewildering to see Jimmy Butler, who leads the team with 21.0 points per game, being ranked 4th in usage for the Chicago Bulls, finding himself behind Rose, Brooks and Mirotic. Though early in the season, only 21 players in the league are averaging 20 points or more per contest. Butler is one of them. Comparing these top line scorers and their respective usage rates, Jimmy Butler ranks last among these players. He is scoring the ball so well, but the team isn't rewarding him with extra possessions like other franchises are with their stars. This needs to change.
To be objective, however, after breaking out last season and winning the Most Improved Player award, Butler has been using more of the Bulls' possessions. Only using 21.6 percent last season, to date, his volume has risen to 24.0 percent. It's a minor increase, but that numbers needs to go up towards 27-28 percent. If Eric Bledsoe, DeMar DeRozan and C.J. McCollum can handle that level of responsibility, Jimmy surely can, too.
So, my request is simple; Get the ball to your most efficient and productive players if you want to be a better offensive team. Realign the roles and responsibilities of the players, empower those who deserve to be and encourage those who are struggling that less is more.
Getting the ball to the right guys is paramount, but so is taking the right shots. Knowing your personal is essential, and with the team relying too heavily on wayward scorers who are taking shots they can only make on their best nights, the production will be inconsistent and unreliable if the formula remains unchanged.
Start attacking the rim more. Get back to the free throw line and earn those easy baskets, something we did very well last season. If your stroke is off, don't try and shoot your way out of it. Explore other avenues through ball and player movement. Do something different!
I admit, it's easy to ask, but much harder to implement. The real test is managing the egos and establishing a hierarchy that's best for the individual and team. Butler shouldn't be taking every shot, but he certainly needs more. Rose should be encouraged to score and look for his shot, but he also needs to be held accountable when things are going poorly and to know when to rein in his aggressiveness. Mirotic and Gasol must learn that this is not their team, and it will never be. They're support pieces that are here to compliment the elite potential of the Bulls' backcourt. These hard truths needs to be learned in order for progress to occur.
Integrating all of this will be a difficult task for a rookie head coach, but Fred Hoiberg should have been aware of this when he took the job of a team who has serious hopes of glory. Whilst no one should be looking at the offensive numbers with damning criticism this early into the season, they should be used as an initial guide of how things need to change. And boy, do they need to.
Filed under: Uncategorized