Do Vinny Del Negro's schemes fit the Bulls personnel?

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.


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  • First, I just want to say how much I appreciate these posts on the fit of the Bulls personnel. My first post on Blogabull was about good fits at the SF position for Rose, and it was basically a piece of crap stream of consciousness that I hoped would generate some interest in the subject by people who knew what they were talking about.

    Your description of the Bulls offense leaves me feeling that really the players just need to execute movement and cuts better, and that they should never run the pick and roll without Brad Miller. Brad's pretty much limited to shooting the jumper or passing out of the pick, since he can't drive or cut at a reasonable speed, but I guess that's better than the alternatives we have; Joakim isn't always going to cross over the opposing center for a dunk.

    Is there any way to utilize Tyrus to get him around the basket more often on cuts? He can't finish so well, but at least he can draw fouls at a good rate. Is his tendency to shoot more jumpers a function of his will, his position, or the system?

  • Thanks Doug...

    I enjoyed the article. Clearly you know more about basketball sets than I do (that's a good thing, I can learn a few things here).

    I'd enjoy knowing what (if any) summer assignments VDN gave to his team. How does the Chicago Bulls manage the off season of team members? Are they given assignments or recommendations for the next year? Just wondering.

    What do you think each player needs to improve his game?

    Thanks for your articles.

  • Good article!!! I gather you think Vinny has to change his scheme or if he is going to run the same scheme than his primary lineup should include Rose, Pargo at SG, Salmons at SF, Tyrus at PF (although Boozer of Utah would be better as his game is similar to B. Miller) and either Noah or B. Miller at center. This is based on what I interpret here and my opinions that Pargo can shoot the 3 or dribble penetrate. Hinrich is not a god penetrator, so he does not fit well. Salmons will struggle to perform as well as last year if he is moved to the 2 position. He needs to play against slightly slower SF's. That will allow fim to shoot 3's or dribble penetrate as well. That puts Deng on the bench, ouch! Tyrus really is needed to step up his outside shooting. Noah and Brad each bring their own strength to the center and either is ok. I think the Bulls really need to find a SG (much like Ben G.), ouch2!
    Better size and a better defender than Ben G. would be nice.

  • It will be interesting to see what happens with Tyrus. We all know the contract situation and the likelihood he is not in the Bulls long term plans. So will we see more of a Brad and Noah lineup like we did in the playoffs? Like you described above that really seems the best fit, with Brad's ability to shoot. Plus, I love watching him drive to the hoop. He might be the slowest man ever, but opponents still fall for that little jump fake and he drives right by them. Hilarious.

  • i think that the system works well for derrick, but doesn't work well for deng who we're stuck with, and tyrus unless he runs the pick and role and uses his jump shot.

    i don't think that keeping VDN will do much good for the players that we have though.

  • VDN couldn't answer your direct question?

    Vinnie gave you vague answers when you asked what players needed to do to improve their game? Disturbing.

    VDN has such a good gift of gab he could probably talk forever on this topic on most days, if he knew the answer.

    I'm worried VDN probably didn't even discuss summer assignments with players. I never thought of it before but I think coaching is 1/3 player development, 1/3 team development, and 1/3 game management.

    When VDN is gone during or after the 2009-2010 season, there will be a hidden cost. We'll never know how much faster Derrick Rose and our youngest Bulls could have developed with an experienced coach.

  • Hinrich is not by far, better than anyone in the NBA. He is too slow and can't finish. The only player in the league Hinrich can keep up with is Paul Pierce, and we both know Pierce can't catch Joakim Noah in a length of the court dribble. Saw it in the playoffs. Hinrich also leads the league, by far, in dribbling to the basket and either not being able to get a shot off or having it blocked, sometimes even when nobody is guarding him. Saw that again in the playoffs too. I will wait patiently for him to be traded.

  • Great analysis, however, the entire post presupposes that VDN actually has any schemes, either offensive or defensive.

    Frankly, given the billions of years of NBA experience on the Bulls bench last season, we still looked like a bunch of rookies most of last season.

    I really expected more vision or creativity from Vinnie. Maybe we will see it this season, but I'll believe it when I see it.

    At this point VDN does not seem like a visionary type coach, and could really benefit from specialist assitants like Thibideau in Boston, or like Tex Winter was for Phil Jackson.

    In coaching you are either a charismatic leader, or you are a tactical genious, rarely you can be both, Vinnie appears to be niether.

  • Agree, but only for limited minutes, given Millers age and lack of stamina.

  • Obviously, or maybe not so, I was using a bit of hyperbole.

    However, I was refering too all the graybeards on the bench "assisting" Vinnie, I believe the top 3 assitants had nearly 100 years of NBA coaching experience.

    I was actually hopefully optimistic at the time of the Vinnie signing. I thought that with all the good coaches(D'Antoni, Popovich) and organizations(Suns, Spurs, Italian league) that he had been around, he might bring something fresh and exciting to the Bulls.

    So far I haven't seen anything more than plain vanilla.

    Especially, with a talent like Rose, plain vanilla is unacceptable. Vinnie needs to step it up this year as much or more than any of the players do.

  • Very good review Doug!

    Two problems;

    Hinrich does not penetrate, he dribbles in circles and eats the clock. He is too slow and/or afraid to go to the rim. He is a career streak shooter and as the third guard, he won't win any 6th man awards. His net assists minus his turnovers last year were 2.2 per game. The NBA has his number as in how many circles per minute!

    Noah does not have any skills and is a weakling who is toooooo lazy to get stronger. Joakim gained 5-6 pounds from eating Fannie Mae. The Bulls could not afford to keep the strong Ben Wallace on the floor and they surely can't afford to keep the candy -ss Noah on the floor.

    Luckily Gibson and Johnson look like they can play and hopefully Thomas finally puts it together! If they get more minutes along with Miller, No-Shot will be a bigger role on the end of the bench!

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