While the Chicago Bulls have won two in a row, they haven't impressed during the season's opening stages.
What adjustments must coach Tom Thibodeau make to stamp this squad as a legitimate contender?
They currently aren't living up to the hype that was stirring a few weeks ago, when they were a trendy pick to win the Eastern Conference. ESPN's Bill Simmons even selected them as the NBA's best, but they've thus far looked like a bunch who lack chemistry and offensive fluidity.
Derrick Rose's slow start should soon fade as he finds his old form, but even when this happens, the Bulls still possess concerns.
The following adjustments are necessary if the Bulls are to reach their potential.
More Clever Offensive Sets
There's no denying the fact that Tom Thibodeau is a defensive mastermind. While his defensive schemes are brilliant, his offensive strategy does not feature nearly the same ingenuity.
The Bulls overly rely on screen-and-rolls or dribble drives from Rose, and defenses are adequately prepared to contain him. Since opponents simply do not fear Chicago's other core members, Rose faces excessive pressure and often an extra defender.
The screenshots below provide examples of this.
In this instance, Rose came off a ball screen from Carlos Boozer, and David West slowed Rose down while Paul George recovered. Their pressure prompted an errant pass from Rose, which was tipped and led to a fast-break bucket on the other end for Indiana.
This example came late in a close game with the Philadelphia 76ers. Rose could not find a driving lane because Philly was content to sag off Rose's teammates. Rose tried to create something out of nothing before launching a pass across the floor that sailed into the stands.
These are the kinds of happenings that all too often occur in Chicago's offense. While the Bulls mix in occasional sets for Boozer and Luol Deng, they have become predictable and easy to defend in the half court.
This is a vivid problem, and the obvious cure is to trade for another offensive weapon. But there is no indication that help is arriving anytime soon.
As a result, the Bulls must reveal more clever sets. They should showcase more San Antonio Spur-like ball movement, timely cuts to the rim and precise screening that cannot be easily anticipated.
This could be Thibodeau's greatest challenge yet. He must add some crafty wrinkles and in the process prove that he boasts more offensive creativity than we currently perceive.
More Offensive Balance
Rose has clearly been rusty, which has contributed to his dismal 33.3 percent field-goal clip (including 25 percent from distance).
But there is more going on here than rust.
There's no reason why Rose should go 7-of-23 in a game while Boozer goes 5-of-7 and Deng goes 8-of-15. This is what happened when they played the Knicks, a contest they narrowly won and only notched 82 points.
Rose is almost too involved in their offense, and this is exaggerating his inefficiency.
Consider Rose's percentage on pull-up jumpers while comparing it to other notable guards (via SportVU). A pull-up jumper is classified as "any jump shot outside of 10 feet where a player took 1 or more dribbles before shooting."
|Player||Pull-Up Shot Points||Pull-Up Shot Percentage|
Rust is apparent, but he's also trying to do too much. He has been frequently hoisting jumpers when a defender is nearby, culminating in a line-drive attempt that clanks off the rim. Or, he weaves into the lane and throws up an ill-advised floater with a hand in his face.
He has even chucked up some threes in transition, which were shots that Nate Robinson used to receive criticism for, but there's little fuss when they come from Rose.
The bottom line is that while rust is a factor, Rose isn't making the best decisions in terms of shot selection (evidenced by his percentages) or penetrations (currently averaging 4.2 turnovers per outing, to just 4.5 assists per game).
The trouble here is that it's hard to spread the responsibility around when the supporting cast is limited offensively. Can Boozer and Deng be relied upon consistently? How much production should Chicago expect from Jimmy Butler?
While these are valid worries, the last thing the Bulls should do is minimize the involvement of Boozer, Deng and Butler. This not only places overwhelming weight on Rose, but it also robs Boozer, Deng and Butler of confidence that they could readily possess.
If Boozer and Deng are looked to frequently throughout games, they'll develop much more of an offensive flow.
This will spark more confidence...which will generate more productivity...which will ease the burden from Rose...which will make the Bulls a much more well-rounded offensive bunch.
The same goes for Butler. In Chicago's opening bout against the Heat, he tallied 20 points and was aggressive in attacking the rim. He's especially gifted at getting to the free-throw line.
Since then, he hasn't scored more than 11 points in an outing. He often looks passive, like he's an average offensive threat who shouldn't assert himself.
Thibodeau should make a concerted effort to establish Boozer, Deng and Butler in every game, concocting plays that provide them with more opportunities. They typically receive sporadic chances, but they are all prone to disappearing on any given night.
Thibs should also advise Rose to trust his teammates more. As fiery as Thibs is, he doesn't seem agitated when Rose settles for a difficult shot attempt.
Perhaps he should express some displeasure. He should at least encourage more balance behind closed doors so Rose slows down and brings the best out of his teammates.
This is currently not happening, because Rose's plus/minus rests at minus-31, per 82games.com, second-to-last on the Bulls. His offensive rating is also a lowly 0.97, while Boozer (1.04), Deng (1.03) and Butler (1.04) all rank higher.
Something must change, and that something runs deeper than Rose merely scraping off the rust.
The Bulls will be at their best if they utilize Boozer, Deng and Butler to their strong points. While this won't cure all their offensive issues, it will enable them to work out some necessary kinks.
Maximize Mike Dunleavy's Potential
Thibs should first develop more creative offensive sets as well as push for more balance, but even if some successful refinements are made in these areas, Chicago still has a glaring void: three-point shooting.
Currently, Deng is shooting 5.6 percent from distance. Yes, you read that correctly. He is 1-of-18 through six games.
Butler's rate is 25.0 percent, which still isn't respectable.
Deng and Butler are stellar slashers and finishers in the lane, which is where Thibs should seek to establish their offensive worth.
But as far as spacing the floor goes, Deng and Butler aren't ideal figures. This puts into perspective why it's often hard for Rose to locate a driving lane.
The Bulls therefore must maximize the potential of newcomer Mike Dunleavy, who shot 42.8 percent from long range in 2012-13.
He had a breakout game in their most recent win over the Cavaliers. He tallied 15 points, including two trey balls. If he can consistently splash jumpers from deep as well as when he comes off screens in the half court, the Bulls have a major ingredient that should bolster their offensive capabilities.
Since Dunleavy fills a hole in Chicago's offense, Thibodeau should do two things.
First of all, he should play Dunleavy around 25 minutes per game, sometimes even more. As of now, he is only netting 20.0 MPG.
While Dunleavy is by no means an elite perimeter weapon, he is a decent veteran who defenses will recognize. It's imperative that he finds a rhythm in seemingly every game. This will only happen if he's entrusted with an involved role on a consistent basis.
Secondly, Thibs should add sets that situate Dunleavy in strategic locations, such as in the corner as Rose comes off a ball screen. This is a location in which Dunleavy's defender will often have to make a tough choice: 1) Leave Dunleavy open for three; 2) Allow Rose to weave into the lane and potentially get a layup.
When Deng and Butler are on the floor, the decision is easy for the defender: Challenge Rose and take a chance on Deng or Butler actually hitting a shot.
This is why Dunleavy is so important, and his value must be maximized.
If Thibodeau and the Bulls execute on these early-season adjustments, they should start steamrolling their way through the regular season, poised for a deep playoff push come next spring.
However, they could still have problems in terms of personnel that even the best coaching can't overcome. Rose may simply need more help. Only time will tell on this.
But there's a reason this team is forecasted as a threat in the Eastern Conference. Their defense is suffocating, and if they can at least be competent offensively, they're more than capable of beating anybody.
These aforementioned adjustments should help them at least be competent, and once Rose finds his niche, the sky's the limit for what the 2013-14 Bulls can attain.
Haddon Anderson is a Chicago Bulls Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter.