Bulls mediocre offense, scheme or personnel?

The Chicago Bulls had a championship caliber defense last season. They finished #1 in defensive rating and were solid even against the elite offenses of the league. Unfortunately, their 11th rated offensive rating simply wasn’t championship caliber.

Personnel or scheme?

Looking at the Bulls offensive personnel, they had a wide variety of talent, but they lacked two things to put consistently deadly offensive units on the floor:
1: A stretch big man
2: A higher caliber SG (really we could use ball handling, shooting, or shot creation, any of the three would have helped tremendously)

The lack of a stretch big man was apparent when Noah and Boozer were on the floor together, both bumbling into each others way in the low post. Since Boozer spent a lot of time down low, and no one respected Noah’s jumper, it left a lot of defenders in the paint.

Outside of Korver, the Bulls lacked a player who could really punish them for this, and even with Korver, they opponent could still play one man on him and crowd the paint with everyone else.

Rose, Deng, and Bogans could all shoot the three passably, but none of them well enough to pose a real threat or truly punish a team for leaving it open repeatedly.

The lack of a secondary offensive threat at the SG position equally hurt the team. When a team crowds the paint and makes Rose’s most efficient style of offense difficult, they had no option to swing the ball to the other side of the court and reverse the attack.

Deng could take an open jumper and occasionally beat a man with a pump fake and dribble in, but he wasn’t going to create his own shot. Bogans would frequently pass up open shots or was only good for catch and shoots. Neither was so deadly with the three to make it a true threat to the opponent.

If the Bulls had anyone with very good offensive skills next to Rose, particularly someone who could shoot and handle the ball decently, the crowding of the paint defense would fall apart pretty quickly. Someone like JR Smith properly reigned in would cause havoc for opposing defenses.

However, all that said, can we purely blame the offensive personnel for the lack of offense? The above listed weaknesses were clearly problems, but even elite teams have flaws in them. The Miami Heat had very little offense after their top three players, but they made it work because their top three players demanded double teams.

When the Bulls went to a Rose, Korver, Deng, Boozer, and Noah lineup they should have been able to score at will against teams, but it didn’t work out that way against the better defenses. They could never get Korver open, wouldn’t run pick and rolls with Boozer, and Rose would frequently settle for mediocre shots.

Furthermore, the team would often fall into a “watch Derrick Rose” pattern. Much like Jordan’s teammates early on would just stand around and wait for Jordan to bail them out, Rose’s teammates are frequently guilty of the same thing. Phil Jackson noted that the triangle offense wasn’t for Jordan, but it was for everyone else.

There’s no scheme here for everyone else to get them comfortable and going in the offense. Carlos Boozer was a tremendous pick and roll player with Deron Williams, but we haven’t seen that same continuity built up with Derrick Rose.

Joakim Noah showed he can play offense while Boozer was out, but we haven’t figured out how to integrate him with Boozer.

The Bulls have a ton of interior passing talent between the two, but it’s rarely taken advantage of.

In short, the Bulls probably have a lot more on the table offensively than they showed last season. Part of the reason is likely Tom Thibodeau’s maniacal attention to defense at the expense of offense. Against Miami, the Bulls held them to 82, 85, 96, 101 (in OT), and 83 points.

None of those games were truly a terrible defensive outing against an elite offense. 103, 75, 85, 93 (in OT), and 80 points is what they scored. It was horrific offense, particularly at the end of games when Miami truly clamped down and tightened all the screws defensively.

Yet every post game did we would hear over and over about the defensive effort, intensity, bad defensive possessions, doing better on defense. When you average under 90 points for a series, it’s time to start thinking about what you can do offensively to mix things up.

This will be Tom Thibodeau’s greatest challenge in his second year as head coach. He’s proven he can coach defense. This team has proven it can play championship caliber defense. Can he get the offense to catch up?

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Tags: chicago bulls, nba, offense


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  • I think it's largely personnel, but when talking personnel the conversation has to start with Rose. When you're a one man show you only go as far as that one man takes you. The Bulls have a guy taking a high volume of shots at around league average efficiency so barring some sort of stellar play elsewhere they're going to end up mediocre.

    So I think it's a problem the Bulls will just have to live with as constructed ... the only way to really get the efficiency up would be to get more high efficiency specialists around Rose, but those sorts of guys are often poor in other areas (especially defense) so you'd just be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

    Unless Dwight Howard is the answer, but that seems a long shot. He is the ideal piece to this puzzle though if you want efficiency without giving up defense.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    I don't think it's simply just specialists, but if you get another shot creator and ball handler then it would help.

  • The defense also was average without Asik/Brewer/Deng being there. Bogans did a good job on Wade but he is a liability with his offense allowing Wade to roam around.
    For all the praise Noah gets on his defense, he screwed up a lot during some crucial defensive stances and he is not a big body like Howard to compensate if he screws up. Bosh repeatedly burned Noah(forget Boozer). Noah is my favorite player but he has to stop trying to do too much. He needs to play within the offense and defensive sets. His passes are risky and his finishing is bad on the rim(maybe because of his injury).

    We need two more players who can shoot and handle the ball with one of them able to create his own shot. It is impossible for this team to win against elite teams(Dallas, Miami, OKC) in a series. Even highly offensive teams like Knicks might give them trouble this year because even against a great defense they will score almost 50% of the time while the Bulls will be struggling to keep at that rate unless they play shutdown defense.

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    I thought Bogans did a nice job overall on defense.

    I wasn't upset with Noah's defense on Bosh too often, most of the time he was burnt by Bosh it was because he was busy trying to corral LeBron or Wade and then had to try and recover on Bosh.

    When you're 12 feet away and Bosh gets the ball you can either close hard to block the shot and give up a potential drive or close soft and give up the shot. Bosh did a nice job of reacting and taking what Noah gave him, but I don't blame Noah for that.

  • I've seen too many instances where Rose created open looks for his teammates that they just flat-out missed for me to blame the coaching. When the Bulls knocked down open jumpers they were unstoppable, a completely different team. A popular misconception is that LeBron stifled Rose in the 4th quarters of the ECF. LeBron played Rose tough, no doubt, but Rose was likely more worried about Miami's defense converging on him once he got past LeBron. I think he lost a little trust in his teammates because they were missing so much.

    Doc Rivers and Van Gundy have said the view of Thibs as strictly a defensive coach doesn't do justice to his offensive coaching acumen. I've heard Rivers say Thibs drew up a lot of he Celtics' offensive plays as well as the defensive ones. Boston had one of the most efficient offenses in the league during their runs to consecutive ECFs, and a big part of that is because they had multiple guys who could consistently knock down open shots and/or create their own shots.

    When opposing defenses pack the lane to stop Rose's penetration they also take away good angles for interior passing as well as the necessary spacing for effective pick-and-rolls. When they dare the Bulls to beat them from the outside there's not a whole a coach can do other than hope guys knock down outside shots to spread the defense. The shots don't even have to be from 3pt range. They just have to be far enough out to make defenses pay for clogging the paint.

  • In reply to magestew:

    Though I agree with many of your points, I think it's still fair to point out the lack of creativity the Bulls had in their offensive sets.

    It wasn't just Miami who defended them well, but they frequently had a hard time scoring on Atlanta and Indiana.

  • I think it was as much Thib's focus on defense as anything else. The team had great confidence in themselves and each other defensively, but not a lot of sense of organization offensively. Thib's O can't be that bad, or they wouldn't have hired him. I think he devoted the first season to establishing his defensive principles, and they did go a long way... But Doug, I think there's going to be more room for him to focus on Offense next time (let's hope they get a training camp before whatever regular season starts!), especially since there won't be too much personnel turnover. And lpray that Boozer and Noah are healthy and have a productive camp! I think even without new players, this team can get a LOT better. That's not to say I wouldn't welcome a genuine two-way S.G...

  • The Bulls need another legit scoring option which led to their mediocre offense during the playoffs. The team over achieved and they won't be surprising teams whenever the season starts, if there is a season. It is so easy to see exactly what the Bulls needs are, I just hope they don't do what the bears did and sign washed up players and try to make them seem like they're the answer. It should be interesting to see what happens when this lock out crap comes to an end and teams start to scramble to sign free agents.

  • The Rose-Boozer pick n role was not good. Boozer doesn't set good picks and Rose's timing/passing on the PnR could be better. Noah's inability to hit the freethrow line jumper and Kyle Korver's inability to shoot over a contested hand. The Bulls definitely need to shake some things up......bring in JRich to take Korver's role as the 6th man/Ben Gordon role and use Korver as part of a trade with memphis since they are looking for more perimeter shooting. Another thing with the offense was the Bulls got late into the shot clock, forcing Rose to shoot those excessive threes under pressure. Part of the blame is the players passing the ball back to Rose when they should of shot the ball.

  • Want offense/scoring stars? Two words: spend money. OK, make that spend money Wisely. Lakers, Dallas, and Boston if I'm not mistaken all spent well into the luxury tax/over the cap to win. That said, if you make poor personnel choices/acquisitions ala Milton Bradley, Julius Peppers(debatable but the stats show at his age production will and is plummeting), Elton Brand(age/shot/achilles), Boozer(injury prone, lazy - D and Off. boards/rebounding) then spending money foolishly gets you nothing but headaches and dissapointments. Caveat on Boozer: in the right role could pan out as an overpayed yet effective player that in certain playoff series/macthups contributes significantly(if he gets rid of the excess body fat/keeps himself in shape).

    Aside from the new CBA possibly bringing in a hard cap/flex cap (whatever) hampering the ability to "buy a team"/spend liberally through stacked M.L.E's etc. then will Reinsdorf do it if allowed/possible? Answer: Highly doubt it. Jerry's demonstrated time and again that he prefers to save his allowance for his baseball card hobby on the south side.

    Lastly, I've harped on two things, but focus/vision gets you there/accomplishes targeted goals. Nothing says however that my vision of things is correct. But I'm sticking to it. Derrick as a PG is a good player. As a pure scorer he's potentially phenomenal. The times Michael played point(out of necessity) he received instant doubles/had to give the ball up. Being a dynamic scorer from the point guard position is handicapping your ability to score. Period. I'm not talking a Deron Williams 20ppg scorer I'm talking Wade/LeBron 25ppg and up scorer. As a SG without the predictable double teams, and energy absorbing gauntlett of guarding other PG's through picks he will be unleashed to be the consistently top five player/scoring force he should and has shown he can be. Only thing is Rose does need to add a little muscle to his upper body to contend with lane contact and guard other two's. And you rotate him to guarding other points when the elite SG's Kobe, Wade come to town though with added strength I think he can possibly match up with those guys at times as he did well on Wade in the regular season. If he's going to be a truly great player he's going to have to be effective defensively at some position(and it sure isn't guarding other points/handling PG pick and roll). Then you bring in a competent two way player/efficient scorer in Prince along with a good shooting/faux PG Afflalo or Joe Johsnon if you can get him in trade, and you have a team no longer offensively challenged/brutal to watch at times, but a dynamic offensive group that is entertaining to watch, and possibly can win a ring.

  • Actually the year that Jordan was forced to play point guard(doug collins last year as coach, I think) he averaged 35-8-8, and recorded the majority of his career triple doubles, so I think that if you are 6'6"(and Michael Jordan) you can score a ton and still be an effective point, maybe you can't if you are 6'2".

    Doug, can the Bulls win with their best player, and best offensive threat being only 6'2", I am not sure that they can. That might make a post to debate.

    The Bulls problems scoring are definately personnel based. They simply have no elite offensive players OTR(other than Rose), they don't even have all-star caliber offensive players OTR, in fact whatever the level below all-star caliber, they don't have any of those either OTR.

    The Bulls, OTR play much better as a team than the collection of average talents that each player brings to the table.
    Additionally OTR, they are all probably overpaid for what they bring to the table, which is why we can't trade any of them for talent that is worth bringing back.

    Offensively there is no one to fear OTR in any offensive aspect of the game(maybe Korver as a spot up 3 point shooter, and maybe Noah on the glass).

    As for Thibs, as I said before we signed him, you simply cannot be a great defensive coach without a thorough understanding of the offensive side of the ball. Maybe his stubborness cost us on offense, maybe he will figure it out in his second season as a head coach. Or maybe he would look like a better offensive coach if he had Michael and Scottie.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I agree that the OTR portion of the team needs to step up, but it's not without talent. I think the schemes were too vanilla.

    It is an interesting question whether you can ultimately rely on a 6'2 guard to become your primary player goto and clearly best player on a championship team.

    We haven't seen someone do that successfully in a long while. The closest was probably dwyane Wade in '06. Chauncy and Parker won finals MVPs but neither was a "clearly the best" type of guy.

  • Taj Gibson and others on the team said that Taj could always hit the open 3 in practice, but he never shot the 3 during games. He said he was gonna extend his range in games next season though, so maybe we could hope Taj starts shooting the 3 next season.

  • And Wade still had Shaq, even if it wasn't that Shaq.

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