The Chicago Bulls, by all measures, have assembled their most talented roster of the Tom Thibodeau era this summer. First and foremost among their upgrades is the bevy of new offensive weapons.
While a healthy Derrick Rose is still the team’s sole superstar scoring threat in isolation, Thibodeau now has more, and better, secondary options than ever before. Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Aaron Brooks and a likely improved Tony Snell give the Bulls more scorers than they’ve yet had this century.
There are tons of ways their offensive playbook could change with this new cavalry. Not only will everything be easier with Rose’s returned penetration of the lane, but the floor will also look more open with all the court-spacing shooting the team now has. Mike Dunleavy Jr. was the team’s best three-point shooter last year; now he might not even crack the roster’s top three in that category.
The Bulls averaged just 90 points per game in their first-round playoff loss to the Washington Wizards this past season, including only 69 in the finale. It should now be safe to consider such offensive anemia a thing of the past.
Expect the increased options to allow Rose to do a little bit less with the ball in his hands. The former MVP has said in recent days that he’s been working on running around screens for spot-up shots and cuts to the rim—one of many encouraging developments in Rose's recent stint with Team USA. The way Joakim Noah played "point center" last season makes such action possible. As does Gasol’s masterful passing in the high and low posts.
The Bulls will design plays that rely on both Noah and Gasol’s ability to make uncanny passes, but with both brilliant big men and one of the league’s most dynamic drivers in tow, there’s really no telling what can happen in a given possession. From Ian Levy of VICE Sports:
The beauty of a Gasol-Noah-Rose combination is not setting up a traditional inside-out offense. It's the opportunity for mind-bending creativity. High-lows and low-highs, curling cuts and cutting curls, pindown screens that morph into flex cuts, all orchestrated by the two tallest men on the court.
The chess moves the Bulls are now capable of truly take off when you consider how much extra shooting they’ve gained. Defenses that collapse on interior action will have to leave someone open outside, and the Bulls now have the depth to run out a guard or wing who shoots at least 35 percent from deep at every point of the game.
Rose will undoubtedly remain the team’s top scorer and most transfixing player with the ball. But he won’t have to be the same over-worked engine he was before. Thibodeau is a level and democratic game-planner who will be sure to instill a balanced offensive diet including Gasol backdowns and second-quarter isolation calls for the likes of Brooks, McDermott and Snell.
McDermott is a sweet shooter who's been the victim of much skepticism for lacking elite NBA speed and athleticism. But Thibodeau and the team's front office have seen a mental acuity they believe in, and think of "Dougie McBuckets" so highly that they moved a series of draft picks to get him from the Denver Nuggets. And Snell is a lengthy and quick prospect whose confidence is growing with every dribble.
Top-10 efficiency on both offense and defense is often said to be the barrier for NBA championship contention. The Bulls have had a top-five defense each year under Thibodeau but never anything close to what 2014-15 promises to be on offense on paper. Dead last in the league in scoring production last season, the team has a sizable gap to fill between theory and reality.
But the necessary tools are in place. What used to be a hammer and a few loose nails is now a power drill, as the offense needs merely the orchestration and discipline to take several steps forward this year. It'll improve in ways as obvious as fielding its best pick-and-roll tandem in over a decade (Rose and Gasol) to ways as subtle and unseen as Snell’s extra confidence around the rim. When a squad regains a player as impactful as Rose—and adds a pantheon of new offensive life beside him—everything blooms.