4 ways the Chicago Bulls can jump-start their offense this season, including moving the ball through Nikola Vučević – Boston Herald
For the past two seasons, the Chicago Bulls were defined by a smothering defense but a sluggish offense that has kept them from climbing into Eastern Conference contention.
The Bulls were 22nd in the league in scoring last season with 113.1 points per game despite finishing fourth in field-goal accuracy (49%). With creative, explosive players such as Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, it’s baffling that the Bulls still can’t get their offense off the ground.
When pressed for answers over the last two years, the Bulls have offered the same script for improving the offense: take more 3-pointers, reduce turnovers, get the ball to LaVine and DeRozan more often.
The front office attempted to address some of these issues in the offseason, bringing in Torrey Craig and Jevon Carter to improve the 3-point shooting and perimeter options. But there are plenty of other ways for the Bulls to play more interesting basketball this season. Here are four of them.
1. Don’t overrely on the pick-and-roll.
This is the big one. For two seasons Bulls fans have bemoaned the team’s tendency to fall into isolation ball, placing the ball in LaVine’s or DeRozan’s hands and letting the rest of the team fade into the background. But what looks like isolation ball is often actually an overreliance on the pick-and-roll, which was the bread and butter of the Bulls offense last year — at times to a fault.
The Bulls employed the pick-and-roll as a scoring mechanism more than any other team in the NBA, using it on 28.1% of offensive plays (20.8% feeding the ballhandler, 7.4% feeding the roller), according to Synergy Sports.
This came at the cost of other aspects of a robust offense. The Bulls were last in the league in handoffs. They hardly used cuts or off-screens. They were last in 3-point attempts not only because they didn’t have shooters — they also weren’t moving the ball to spray out for opportunities behind the arc.
Coach Billy Donovan belabored the same word as an ideal for his offense: “randomness.”
But the Bulls don’t need to be random. They need to be purposeful — ruthlessly so — in turning defenses inside out to maximize their offensive production.
Even the most creative players will fall back on their crutch plays when the game feels desperate or stagnant. It’s up to Donovan and his primary playmakers, LaVine and DeRozan, to compile a more balanced mix of actions to deploy in the offense this season, even if players are still encouraged to create off the cuff.
2. Use Nikola Vučević as a fulcrum.
So how does this offense get on its feet? One key to unlocking ball movement is to move the ball in and out of the paint — at speed — through center Nikola Vučević.
The Bulls already tried to prioritize paint touches last season over 3-point attempts for Vučević, who found a more comfortable rhythm after struggling with an awkward fit in his early months in Chicago. But the offense still could do more to create through Vučević.
Executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas pointed this out as a key area for improvement during an appearance Wednesday on WSCR-AM 670.
“The way you create 3s is that you run or you get to the paint,” Karnišovas said. “And we didn’t do a very good job last year of getting to the paint.”
“Getting to the paint” doesn’t just mean tossing the ball into Vučević for a post-up. The Bulls need to create movement around the axis of the paint, utilizing screens, cuts and other off-ball action to rotate the defense out of position.
As a capable passer and shooter, Vučević is a good fit to take on this distributive role at the nail — and it could open more scoring opportunities for himself, either on a repost or cleaning up the glass.
3. Activate multiple perimeter players at once.
The Bulls clearly need to make more 3-pointers — but that starts with taking them. This team won’t jump into the top 10 of 3-point production this season, but improving its margin at all would elevate the offense.
There is a solid slate of shooters in LaVine, Patrick Williams, Coby White and even Vučević. While Donovan said he doesn’t like to set a quota for shots behind the arc, the Bulls need to make a purposeful effort to increase their attempts this season.
One weakness of the pick-and-roll-dependent offense is when it utilizes only the two players in the action, keeping players along the perimeter from functionally contributing. As they attempt to break out of this mold, the Bulls would benefit from designing plays meant to free two players on the perimeter at once, whether through double screens, off-ball action or rescreening.
Creating more decent looks behind the arc is easier when multiple players are the target for an outlet pass, which would help the Bulls in their weakest area. And these looks also lean into the strengths of LaVine and White, who are just as dangerous ripping to the rim as they are loading up for a 3.
4. Get Patrick Williams involved.
This is a critical year in Williams’ development. Last season he became the Bulls’ most accurate 3-point shooter (41.5%) but barely increased his scoring average from his rookie season (from 9.2 to 10.2) — Williams missed all but 17 games of his second season — and saw a slight drop in assists (from 1.4 to 1.2).
That has to change in Year 4 for Williams, whose athleticism and shooting accuracy show promise for him to become an offensive catalyst. A good series for Williams doesn’t require him to take a shot, but he needs to be heavily involved in screening, rescreening and creating off-ball motion to free his teammates.
That would require Williams to make a significant jump in his ability to read the ball and make quick decisions, but if he’s able to make those improvements, the Bulls can create a much more explosive offense.
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