While having Derrick Rose back has certainly given the fourth-year strategist a more robust game plan, the implementation of such a scheme has not been an instantaneous endeavor.
Thibodeau seems to recognize that working Rose and his teammates back into a well-oiled rhythm is a gradual process and has made some pretty significant adjustments in the meantime to insure a smooth transition.
In the early going, the defensive methodology has remained consistent; it has been on the offensive side of the ball where the most modifications have been necessary.
The Bulls struggled mightily to score without Rose last season and have continued to do so to an extent while they wait for him to get reacclimated.
To help cope with these expected struggles, Thibodeau has implemented an array of tactics.
Going to Carlos Boozer Early
In an effort to stave off poor offensive showings in the early minutes of games, Thibodeau has made it a regular practice of making sure Carlos Boozer gets plenty of first-quarter touches.
Given his solid start to the season, it makes a lot of sense at this juncture to rely on the veteran forward to jump-start the offense more than Rose.
Boozer is contributing 16.9 points per game with a very efficient 57 percent field-goal accuracy.
When looking at his contributions by quarter, he averages 6.1 points in the initial period.
This proficiency is critical as it helps the Bulls avoid getting into early deficits, thus allowing Rose to be a more organic participant in the flow of the game rather than being forced to take on too much too soon.
Boozer’s productivity has been good enough to keep this strategy a viable one over course of the early slate of games.
Opposing defenses have to still respect the other players on the floor and relent to whatever the soft-shooting power forward is able to impose.
Even when Rose starts clicking, it should not be surprising if Thibodeau continues his reliance on Boozer in the game’s opening minutes.
Seeing as how his fourth-quarter point production is his lowest, it’s logical to maximize his contributions before they trail off.
Establishing a Big Offensive Lineup
The versatility of this season’s roster opens a lot of lineup possibilities.
With the growing popularity of “small ball,” one might think that Thibodeau would look for his own version of the phenomena.
He certainly has the personnel, but a quote from an interview done this past summer with Zach Lowe of Grantland.com shows that he may not be completely sold on the concept as a reliable strategy:
That’s the strength of Joakim and Taj — that when teams go small against us, we can remain big and maybe get an advantage on the boards. We like that. But Luol does give us the option to go small and get more shooting on the floor. Even Erik Murphy — he’s another guy that can stretch teams out, another 3-point shooter. As I said, the makeup of our team is very good, and you have different lineups you use for different things. Sometimes to make up ground, if you’re in a big hole, you might add more 3-point shooting. But I like the versatility of our roster.
Thibodeau has been experimenting with a group of players that suggests he is looking for the best of both worlds: rebounding and scoring.
Several times the Chicago head coach has played Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavly, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Nazr Mohammed at the same time.
In the second half, Rose may fill in for Hinrich and Joakim Noah for Mohammed.
With the exception of the point guard, every player in this combination is 6’9” or taller. The bigs are solid rebounders, and the 1 through 3 positions are solid perimeter shooters. They can also easily use their height advantages to help on the boards.
This lineup has been used frequently. It seems like Thibodeau is trying to establish the unit as a viable small-ball counter that doesn’t relinquish the team's defensive or size leverage.
While this practice is not in step with the direction a lot of other teams are going, it shows the coach is putting his twist on a budding trend.
Given the team’s history of overdependence on Rose for offensive production, Thibodeau is taking the necessary steps to find different groupings that can contribute scoring in any number of ways.
Playing Derrick Rose Off of the Ball
Making Rose the option as opposed to the facilitator has been the biggest change Thibodeau has made this season.
On more than a few occasions, he has taken Hinrich’s adroit facilitating and combined it with the former MVP’s dynamic repertoire to create what could be a nightmare for opposing defenses if it really comes together.
Hinrich is quick to point out that the burgeoning chemistry should not be surprising.
Chicago Tribune reporter Brian Hamilton quotes the veteran guard, citing history as a contributing factor to the already successful pairing:
"We've played together before, before I left and came back," Hinrich said. "I'm real comfortable out there with him and it gives us multiple guys who can play in pick and rolls…We play a little faster, we play pick and roll on one side, pick and roll on the other side, make the defense move. It's hard to get locked in to what we're doing because we're both in there. Pick and rolls on both sides of the floor are tough to defend."
Indeed, they are tough to defend, especially when the one setting the pick is one of the most explosive players in the league who has also improved his outside game.
Making defenders choose between giving Hinrich an open look or giving Rose license to create whatever shot he wants after rolling off of a screen is a choice no adversary should have to make, but make it they shall.
The benefits that will come from this pair’s evolution are going to pay out big dividends down the line.
By taking the ball out of Rose’s hands, the option of frustrating him with double-teams by bigger players goes away, the defense is stretched more and that allows for a wider array of scoring options.
Putting It All Together
There is still plenty of basketball yet to be played, but if the few changes that have been shown so far are any indicator, there are some interesting things in store.
The common thread that ties all of this tweaking together is accountability.
While Rose is still getting his game legs back, Thibodeau’s new implementations distribute an equal yoke to everyone else.
Coach wants a team that is beyond scrappy and resourceful when its main guy is struggling; he wants a team that has a distinct identity both with and without the All-Star point guard on the court.
These new strategies allow for Rose to develop at a pace that is most comfortable to him while maximizing the team’s chances of staying in winning form.
It will be interesting to see how the game plan will continue to develop and what Thibodeau rolls out next.
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