They put forth an admirable effort without their leader, but the results were neither pretty nor effective. Rose's return puts an elite weapon back in the Bulls offensive arsenal but they've also made some moves this summer that should help the offense in other ways.
One of their biggest, but least heralded moves, was adding Mike Dunleavy.
He's very much a complimentary player—it's been five seasons since he averaged more than 30 minutes per game and four since he had a Usage Rate above 20.0 percent. But he's a versatile offensive player with a consistent record of improving the fortunes of those around him. Last season the Bucks' offense was 5.9 points better per 100 possession with Dunleavy on the floor. The year before that it was +9.1. The year before that, his last with the Pacers, the mark was +5.5.
Dunleavy is not a central offensive focus, but he's the kind of cog that makes the entire system function better.
Dunleavy is a terrific shooter, but it's his versatility that really brings value. He can be a secondary ball-handler, initiating the offense and running the pick-and-roll. But he also does tremendous work off-the-ball, utilizing screens and cuts to help breakdown a defense. The Bulls used plenty of off-the-ball action last season to try and compensate for Rose's absence last year, but it didn't always work well.
Here's an example of what happened for the Bulls when it didn't work. In this set they're running a free throw line curl for Richard Hamilton. Joakim Noah doesn't make contact on the screen but it appears that him slipping to the baseline may have been partially by design. The problem is that Hamilton, both because of Noah's whiff and his own declining athleticism, doesn't create any separation on the curl. The Heat, defending the play, know that Hamilton isn't a passing threat so Chris Bosh leaves Noah and traps Hamilton at the elbow. The result is a forced pass which becomes a turnover and a transition opportunity for the Heat.
The thing is there are actually a lot of options created by the initial action.
Take a look at what's available to Hamilton as he turns the corner. Noah is wide-open on the baseline. Carlos Boozer, who Hamilton ultimately attempts to pass to, is actually open as well if a careful bounce pass can be made. In addition, if Hamilton kept dribbling laterally, handling the pressure of the trap, there's the possibility of sucking in LeBron James and creating a wide-open three for Marco Belinelli or opening up a baseline cutting lane for Jimmy Butler.
The problem is that the ball is in the hands of Hamilton at this point and these are all plays he really isn't comfortable making.
Although Dunleavy isn't an overwhelming individual offensive talent, his proficiency as a dribbler, passer and shooter mean he is the perfect type of player to take advantage of these sorts of situations.
Look at this play from his time with the Bucks last season. Although the initial action is slightly different, the end result is roughly the same with Dunleavy curling around and receiving the pass at the elbow. The Bucks have spaced the floor slightly better with Larry Sanders parked on the low block instead of the opposite elbow. However, the Celtics defend this set in almost the same way with Jared Sullinger hopping out to double-team Dunleavy on the catch. He sees this coming, catching the ball and dumping it down to his screener in one fluid motion.
Here's another example of Dunleavy finding the screener off a curl, only this time he extends his dribble and pulls both defenders in order to create the passing angle.
That ability to extend his dribble and finish in traffic makes these actions incredibly difficult to defend.
It distorts the interior of the defense, creating lanes for cutters and sucking in perimeter defenders which can leave shooters open on the perimeter. But sometimes the most obvious path is the one right in front of Dunleavy. Here he uses the screen and slices down the lane for the layup.
Dunleavy's ability to create a quality shot out of well-defended sets will be a huge benefit to the Bulls. Here he's running another free throw line curl that's completely blanketed by Paul George and the Pacers.
But Dunleavy calmly keeps his pivot foot and beats him with an up-and-under.
I'm sure some Bulls fans are watching Dunleavy work in these sets and thinking it looks an awful lot like what they got from Marco Belinelli last season. It's true that there's a lot of overlap in their skill sets and Belinelli was able to make a lot of the same plays I'm showing here. But the difference is that Belinelli shot just 39.5 percent from the field last season and 35.7 percent on three-pointers.
Dunleavy was at 44.2 percent and 42.8 percent. That means more efficient scoring and much more pressure on the defense not to make a mistake.
All of this is well and good, but as I mentioned above the most important thing for the Bulls is how this is going to work with the return of Rose. Below are five images taken from the sets we just looked at. In each I've highlighted where Rose would theoretically have been.
The common element in all these images is space to kick the ball back out leaving an opportunity to attack a defense that has already been distorted. That opportunity is a lot more tantalizing with Derrick Rose at the top of the key than it is with Beno Udrih or Belinelli.
Derrick Rose is a sensational individual offensive player, but he also carries a huge load for the Bulls in terms of using his own abilities to create shots for himself and others. Over the past three seasons, the Bulls have used cutters and off-ball screening as much as anyone in the league.
It's often been used parallel to what Rose does, or to frame the offense when he's not on the floor. Since the 2011 season they've never ranked higher than 11th in points per possession coming off screens (also finishing 30th in 2012) and never ranked higher than 15th in points per possession on cuts.
Having a player with Dunleavy's ability to not just shoot, but utilize movement to create shots from all different areas of the floor gives the Bulls the freedom to remake their offense. This season it doesn't have to be a balancing act between off-the-ball action and on-ball creation. Those pieces can supplement each other, scaffolding each other and making each part work better.