Bulls aim for more ‘accidental’ offense in 2022-23 NBA season

NBA training camps can be a hotbed for big issues and philosophical adjustments.

For this year’s Chicago Bulls, the mission statement for improving offense boils down to one word.

“I think it’s just going to be a little more random,” said Zach LaVine when asked to describe the team’s new offensive principles after practice on Saturday. “Be in different spots than last year where teams knew exactly where we were and could adjust the defense every game.”

By definition, extracting detail from the concept of randomness is difficult. So maybe it’s better viewed as an antonym to what described the Bulls’ offense during the stretch run of the 2021-22 season.

stagnant. predictable. one dimensional Make your choice.

Such an ecosystem did not appear out of thin air. The injuries to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso hampered the Bulls’ ability to force turnovers and optimize their offensive attack in the transition period – both fundamental aspects of their early season identities. LaVine, who was battling knee problems himself in mid-January, shifted responsibility for the team’s perimeter shot creation on the halfcourt to DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan, to his credit, ran with the opportunity. He drilled buzzer beaters, put on a scoring streak unmatched by even Wilt Chamberlain, and rocketed forecasters’ midseason MVP leaderboards. And all while keeping the bulls afloat during the dog days of the season.

But what head coach Billy Donovan has long warned is that DeRozan’s size — exciting as it was — was papering over offensive flaws that need to be addressed for his team to make a next move. Mainly in the ball and player movement department.

“As a manager you have a group of guys off the bench who are trying to go into this game and win – and you are trying to put them in a situation where they can win. And no question, there were times when DeMar got it rolling and we moved on,” Donovan said. “And I’m not saying that was wrong. But my thing is, if you look at the big picture, is that going to be sustainable and successful for us against these really, really elite teams, both East and West? I think it would be really, really hard to live like that.”

It was like that last season. The Bulls finished 2-21 against the top four teams in each conference and, according to Cleaning the Glass, had the 25th point differential in the league (-11.6) against teams with top 10 point differentials. (That mark was arguably more down to their 29th-ranked defense against top-10 opponents — talk for another day — but the Bulls were also 17th on offense.)

Donovan also pointed out the Bulls’ poor record in close games against the NBA’s elite, and it’s true; The Bulls finished last season 25-16 in “clutch” games, defined by NBA.com as contests within a five-point lead by five minutes or less through the fourth quarter. But they were only 1-8 in clutch games against the top four teams in each conference – 24-8 against everyone else.

“I’ve said this before and people might not want to admit it, and I’ve spoken to our team about it. They take two of DeMar’s shots (away) — the one in Washington and the one against Indiana — we’re in the play-in tournament,” Donovan said. “It is so close and so fragile.”

So what needs to change?

Every time he’s been asked, Donovan has publicly begged his team to strive for a few pillars. He wants the Bulls to fastbreak as much as possible and play with pace on the halfcourt. He wants the fiver to start possession at ground clearance to clear lanes and cut lanes. And he wants his players to make quick decisions with the basketball and move freely without it, flowing from action to action rather than getting stuck after, say, a first pick and roll.

The Bulls finished last season in 13th place on offense with an average of 112.7 points per 100 possessions. But they finished 25th in 23 post-All-Star-Break games (110.7 points per 100) and finished the campaign at the bottom of the league in a few procedural categories that Donovan wants to change: 27th in assist- Rate, 24th in drives per game, and 27th in off-court touches per game — all areas Donovan often points to as opportunities to generate quality shot attempts from the edge and from 3-point range.

Last season, according to Cleaning the Glass, the Bulls ranked 15th for their rim shot rate, 30th for their rim shot rate of 3, and second for their center shot rate (which mostly self can be created). .

“It’s really hard to create a good offense without getting leftover paint,” Donovan said. “And we must try to find random opportunities to get there.”

Donovan’s message took hold after the first week of the team’s training camp — or initial installation phase.

“Free-flowing. Reads fast. For the isolation, one-on-one players, we’re going to take some of these shots. That’s part of our game. But read quickly. Quick decisions,” LaVine said when asked to describe the Bulls’ offense. “The ball should bounce back and forth. Being able to use different players in different places. We’re not just going to get stuck on the sidelines and do a pick and roll or roll it into the post. The ball on top of the key with me isolated and everyone staring at me.

“Does that happen every now and then? Yes, it’s basketball. And I think we have a lot more random games that involve cutting, moving, changing sides and things like that.

Communication will also be crucial. Donovan mentioned that he appreciated that LaVine, DeRozan and Nikola Vučević came to him with feedback after the dust settled over the end of last season.

“To be accountable and receive constructive criticism. I think we need to do that a little bit better, top to bottom, including the coaching staff,” LaVine said. “I think we’ve gotten better with that and being able to hear and see adjustments and try to take it all in stride and be able to adjust it and bring it into game form.”

It will likely take time for these concepts to come together on the pitch, even for a group that has emphasized continuity since last year’s trading deadline. And it requires approval and trust from top to bottom.

The goal is to be more unpredictable and less dependent on difficult shotmaking – or, in Donovan’s words, more sustainable.

“We have pretty much the same staff as last year. We know what our strengths are, we know what we’re good at, so we don’t try to stray too far from those either,” LaVine said. “But I think the tweaks will help us throughout the season not trying to have so many heroic games day in and day out.”

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