After discussing how all of the player’s fit along side Derrick Rose, the most obvious follow up question is to evaluate how well the head coach fits the team. Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to steal a copy of the Bulls playbook yet, so this is largely based on how his offense works when watching the games.
The Bulls most common base formation starts with the SF in the corner, the PG and SG on the wing outside the three point line. One big man at the top of the key, and the other big man near the hoop on the opposite side of the basket as the SF. The ball starts in the hands of Derrick Rose with either a player in the corner on his side or a big man in the post on his side.
Much like any NBA base formation, this one provides spacing and various opportunities. The first pass option in this formation is typically to pass the ball to the big man at the top of the key who typically will swing the ball to the other guard on the opposite wing forcing the defense to change the weak side and strong side. The big man could also pass back.
When the ball changes sides, the Bulls have several motions that can happen. The SF can make a baseline cut, and if unsuccessful moves to the opposite corner resetting his base position. The point guard can make a cut towards the basket and move to the strong side corner if he isn’t delivered the ball, in which case the SF moves out to the weakside wing to take his position.
The big men may pull a switch where the post big man moves up to the top of the key possibly setting a pick for the key big man who can roll to the basket and then take the strong side or weak side post, or the post big man can make a basket cut himself switching sides of the post. He might also step up to set a back pick for the PG/SF if they’re one of them is switching sides of the floor and hope to find himself open after the pick as well.
In any case, the concept is that after switching sides of the ball, there are several cutting motions that can happen to put the Bulls in a similar set as they started if the cuts are unsuccessful, or they can hope to deliver the all to a cutting player if freed and get a cheap basket.
It’s common in this offense that whenever there is a pass, motion follows and perimeter players rotate often taking up the same spots as there were players before with each player holding a new spot but hoping to get freed on the simultaneous motion.
While all of this sounds great in theory, one problem is that when the ball switched sides, the Bulls frequently would opt not to run any motion, or motions that weren’t run hard enough to put real pressure on the defenders when attacking the basket. Too often they just switched sides without pressuring the defense.
Now that I’ve discussed some of the primary motions in the offense, I’ll hit up what actually happens most frequently. Back in our base set with a guard handling the ball on one of the wings. He has either a big man in the post, a shooter in the corner, or both with him.
He could feed the post if the big man is there, which the Bulls did fairly rarely compared to most teams, he could run an isolation play, or the most frequent option, he can all from a pick and roll typically getting the pick from the big man at the top of the key.
The Bulls would run this pick and roll to death, except that they rarely had a pick setter who was a threat. Thus the pick and roll would put to defenders on the ball handler and free up a big man who typically wasn’t in position to score given his skillset.
The other option was to run an isolation play for the ball handler which Gordon and Salmons frequently did and excelled with, but running the isolation from the wing typically had other players near by to help if the player were to drive to the basket making the isolation most effective on a player who was likely to attempt a three point shot.
So how do all of these things fit the personnel. First, Derrick Rose didn’t fair great in this situation. When he ran isolations there are plenty of defenders in the area to help on penetration, his strength. When he ran pick and roll, he just got double teamed without a good pass target. When he switched the ball to the opposite end of the floor, he was left in the position where he’s behind the three point line as a spot up shooter which isn’t his strength.
Ben Gordon and John Salmons excelled in this situation. It created less pressure on them on the perimeter often allowing them to get off three point shots which they’re quite capable of hitting. They also are frequently left in position to be spot up shooters off of any action as well, roles they fit well.
Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng faired so-so in this system. Hinrich could do well in the actions that left him as a shooter, but can’t really create a three point shot with a man in front of him. Deng started to play well in January when he ran the motions in the offense hard, but struggled mightily when he had the ball delivered to him outside the three point line.
Tyrus Thomas was encouraged to be a jump shooter in this system. He was typically the big man setting the pick at the high post and would roll out to an open spot to have a pass delivered. Opponents would cover the roll hard and give him the jumper. This didn’t really fit his strengths that well.
Joakim Noah faired okay. He was typically left around the basket to set back picks, occassionally handle the ball in the post, and freed to chase after offensive rebounds and garbage points.
James Johnson will be an interesting fit in this offense. He’ll struggle getting the ball outside the three point line without an NBA three point shot if he plays the SF role. In the PF role he has the opportunity to excel more, but there isn’t a lot of room for him to take advantage of his ball handling.
The real question is what adjustments will Vinny make to the offense this season. The base plan isn’t bad, and I think one of the primary problems is the players weren’t naturally making all the cuts they should quick enough and sharp enough to get the full benefit of the plan in place. However, the Bulls need to focus on adapting to some of their players strengths.
One thing that needs to take place though is to get Derrick Rose the ball in isolation at the top of the key where he can’t easily be double teamed and has the full floor to work with. Rose should be our most dangerous asset this season and wasn’t often handling the ball in the way which would maximize his deadliness.
Luol Deng needs to find spots inside the three point line to get the ball, and focus on making sharper stronger cuts to the baskets on the motions to get his points off the move. Rose needs to be more aware of how to hit Deng on those cuts as well.
Tyrus’s role this offense seems somewhat doomed unless he can hit that mid range jumper consistently or play the low post role. That’s going to be true in virtually any offense though, Tyrus is in a tough spot as a PF without a jumper given that most teams don’t have centers who can play off the basket.
Joakim’s role could be improved if the Bulls ran more action out of the post that took advantage of his passing ability, but given his lack of scoring instincts the Bulls don’t want the ball in his hands too frequently. Quick post ups followed by cuts he can hit players on, followed by kicking the ball out would be most effective.
After going through a season the thing to watch will be to see what, if anything, Vinny changes about his offensive philosophy. Given that he was a first year coach, he should be more willing to change the system than veteran coaches with long standing faith in what they do.