How Chicago Bulls Must Play to Build Title Contender Around Derrick Rose
On the one hand, if the Bulls take a look back at what made them so successful in the two seasons before Rose's injury, they'll have a pretty good blueprint for how to get the job done. On the other, the current roster isn't necessarily going to be able to duplicate every strength of those teams.
A couple of personnel-driven tweaks will be necessary.
Rest assured, though; if the Bulls draw from the past and embrace the future, they'll set themselves up as one of the NBA's most terrifying teams.
Stick with the Program
Let's just get this out of the way now: There's nothing that needs to change about the Bulls defense next season.
Making suggestions to Tom Thibodeau about how to put together a plan to shut down opponents is like trying to tell William Shakespeare how to write a play. He's got a pretty good idea of how the process is supposed to work.
And if you need a numerical breakdown to prove that Thibs has been the author of a defensive masterpiece that needs no editing, check out the Bulls' defensive efficiency figures over the past few years.
|Defensive Rating||NBA Rank|
The Bulls will continue to completely shut down the middle, overload the strong side and force pick-and-rolls to the baseline. They'll also dare teams to beat them with mid-range fool's gold and leave help defenders in the lane for a full 2.9 seconds as much as possible.
It'll be an absolute stunner if the Bulls don't wind up among the league's top three teams in defensive efficiency next season. So let's just move on, shall we?
The Other End
Chicago didn't lead the NBA in wins during Rose's past two full seasons by playing defense alone. It also managed to put together a couple of excellent offensive campaigns.
During the 2010-11 season, the Bulls ranked 12th in the NBA in offensive efficiency. The next year, they climbed all the way up to fifth place, per NBA.com. That's right, folks; the Bulls used to score the ball.
But as anyone who watched Chicago struggle to score last year knows, the absence of Rose left the Bulls without a consistent way to generate easy buckets. A lack of penetration reduced looks at the rim and made it much harder for spot-up shooters to find open looks on kickouts.
Basically, all of the awesome stuff in the following clip (including Kyle Korver) were gone last season.
When healthy, Rose dominates his team's offensive scheme like few other players in the league. Everything starts and ends with him, so it's reasonable to assume that his mere presence on the court will lift Chicago's offensive efficiency from last season's No. 24 ranking.
Thinking Rose will magically restore the Bulls to elite status all by himself, though, is a dangerous presumption for a couple of reasons.
First, we don't yet know whether or not he's going to be capable of immediate dominance. That repaired ACL may never be ready to withstand the brutal cuts and vicious jump stops that made Rose such a devastating attacker.
He may have to tone his game down a bit.
Second, the Bulls will be faced with the reality that the rest of the NBA has gradually incorporated most elements of Thibodeau's defense. So even if Rose is healthy enough to knife into the paint like he used to, he's going to return to a league that has collectively embraced the idea of shutting down drives to the middle at all costs.
Things are going to be tougher for the Bulls than they were just two years ago.
Blasts from the Past
The Bulls will need to draw on what they did well at their offensive peak during the 2011-12 season to ensure they generate enough buckets to be legitimate contenders.
In fact, because the NBA as a whole has become so committed to denying chances at the rim, Chicago will have to incorporate even heavier doses of the two offensive play types with which it was most successful two years ago: spot-ups and post-ups.
Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), the Bulls were the league's fourth-best post-up team two years ago. On spot-ups, they checked in at No. 3 with an average of 1.01 points per play.
Chicago devoted a greater share of its offensive possessions to spot-ups (18 percent) than any other play type in the 2011-12 season, which makes sense because Rose's penetration drew so much attention away from shooters on the perimeter.
It will be key for Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy to knock down their shots from long range, as those two will be tasked with spreading the floor in Chicago's offense. Ideally, both of those players will hit triples at something around the 40 percent mark.
Neither Butler nor Dunleavy is a shooter of Korver's caliber, but with the Bulls likely devoting something like 20 percent of their offensive sets to spot-ups, there's a chance that this year's team will make up in volume what the 2011-12 club generated in efficiency.
Post-ups will be a trickier proposition, mostly because Carlos Boozer isn't the player he was two years ago. His field-goal percentage has dropped by six percentage points over the past two years, and his PER is down more than two full points (19.8 in 2011-12 vs. 17.2 last season, per ESPN).
It's possible that Rose's absence had something to do with Boozer's decline, but as an individual post-up threat, it's pretty clear from watching the tape that Boozer has lost a step.
Still, it's going to be crucial for the Bulls to create as many post touches as possible next season, if only to assure that they develop a solid inside-out game that forces defenders to double down and then scramble back at their perimeter assignments.
That kind of help-and-recover motion makes it easier for offensive players to penetrate, as defenders whose momentum has them off balance are much easier to blow by.
The Next Wave
The Bulls won't have to rely solely on what worked for them in the past. In addition to incorporating a heavy dose of spot-ups and post-ups, Chicago knows it can now rely on Joakim Noah to facilitate a huge amount of the offense.
That'll allow Rose to work off the ball more than ever, which is a proposition that should absolutely terrify opposing defenses.
Noah's assist rate (22.3) and usage rate (17.2) both reached career highs last season, per NBA.com, and his work as a facilitator at the elbow was probably the only reason the Bulls weren't the worst offensive team in the league.
With Noah dicing up defenses from the foul line, both Rose and Butler can fly into the middle on cuts, curl around screens and generally run amok as defenses try to decide how to keep both athletic freaks from creating chaos off the ball.
Get ready for a dangerous new addition to Chicago's offensive arsenal.
(Re)Building a Championship Team
There's nothing more important to the Bulls than Rose, but his year away allowed the hastened development of both Noah and Butler. With all three entering what should be their prime years, the Bulls will have to make only minor tweaks to produce enough offense to contend.
The East is only getting tougher, and LeBron James' Miami Heat don't figure to give up the crown without a fight. But Rose and the Bulls have the tools to go toe-to-toe with anyone.
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