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The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Throughout this tumultuous season, the Bulls have competed hard against some teams, but come out completely flat against others. At times, Derrick Rose has shown flashes of being a good player again, Joakim Noah has shown spurts, and Tony Snell has a decent game once a month. But in spite of the inconsistencies that plague this Bulls team, one thing has remained constant. The Jimmy Butler Alley-Oop.
He’s 18/19 on the year with alley-oop plays, missing only one on a tough pass, but for the most part, this play is the only automatic aspect of this team.
Early on in the season, Butler got a lot of action by simply cutting backdoor, or spinning off a smaller and/or limited defender.
Here, Butler, uses his length and ability to post up smaller guards, to spin back door off of Eric Gordon for an easy lob from Joakim Noah.
It pays to have two of the best passing big men in the league to set him up.
Coach Hoiberg saw an opportunity to turn this action into more of a set play, however, adding different idiosyncrasies to free Butler a lane for the oop.
Though the end result is largely the same, this is slightly more complex. Here, Butler sets a screen for Rose in a 2-1 PnR that the two occasionally run throughout games. After setting the screen, Butler immediately takes off for the basket. But against the best perimeter defender in the league, Kawhi Leonard, it takes more than just a direct basket-cut to get this free.
What makes this work is the help defense. Leonard hedges the screen to cut off the ball handler’s drive to the basket -- and the Bulls expect this. When running the Rose, Butler PnR, this is incredibly important because Rose is most effective when he gets into the lane. To stop him from doing so, Leonard needs to hedge on the screen to cut off the drive. Although he only reaches his arm out in this scenario, it is just enough space Butler needs to explode to the hoop. It works as Rose picks up his dribble, dishes to Pau, who lobs it up for Butler.
The set play works even better when the 1, initially guarding Rose switches onto Butler. Then, he has the size, speed, strength and step on the defender.
Poor Steve Blake.
These acrobatic plays aren’t just an ode to Butler’s athleticism and knack for scoring. The pass has to be pinpoint, but the lane also has to be open. So, the other reason this works so well each time is the fact that Gasol is such a weapon from the mid-range/high post area.
"People have to guard Pau.” Butler told KC Johnson. “If Pau’s open, he’s going to shoot it. And not only is he going to shoot it, he’s probably going to make it."
Butler is right. Gasol is money from that area on the court, shooting above league average from almost every mid-range zone. If the opposing big leaves Gasol to stay and protect the paint, it’s likely a easy two points for the Bulls -- according to NBA.com SportVU data, 35.7 percent of his points come from the mid-range anyway.
The Bulls seemed to have run this play successfully at least once a game, but have begun to show some variation. Teams will soon begin to expect this and prepare. To counter that, Coach Hoiberg has introduced yet another wrinkle against the Oklahoma City on the Christmas Day Game.
Here, Butler starts in the corner, while Nikola Mirotic sets a backscreen on Gasol’s man. Gasol then screens Butler, who receives a staggered screen from Mirotic. As Butler rolls off the screen, Rose enters the ball to Gasol, who immediately finds Butler rolling to the hoop. The timing is perfect. Better yet, the action overloads four players on the strong side, with a weak-side shooter in Hinrich, preventing DJ Augustin from stepping up too far and taking a charge before Butler gets to his spot. This involves everyone in the play, which makes it harder for the defense to read, while opening the entire weak side of the floor for Butler's runway.
This is a perfect example of Coach Hoiberg building a beautiful set around the personnel, and it’s a sign that the process of integrating a new coach and new system takes time.
This play has become quite central to the Bulls game plan, running some form of alley-oop to Butler in 12 games during the month of December, per SportVU data. The game winning tip-lob-alley-oop was proof that this play is going to continue to be a part of the offense, even in crunch-time situations.
By all accounts, that play didn't necessarily go as planned, but the lob has been open, so you can expect to see a lot more where that came from.