FanPost: Off-Season Homework Assignments

[From the FanPosts. I'm apparently on a vacation (not intentionally, maybe just a little burnt-out still post-playoffs) and this was one of several quality posts from the holiday weekend -ed.]

In spite of the gut-wrenching way this season ended, it was still a pretty darn good season.  Rose firmly entrenched himself as one of the best players in the league, the Bulls developed a dominating defense, the Bulls achieved the league's best overall record and played five hard fought games in the Eastern conference finals.  These achievements all eclipsed most people's preseason projections.

Nonetheless, the Bulls are a young team, and as such have room to improve and push farther into the playoffs.  To realize this potential it is important for each Bull's player to improve upon their game during the off-season.  As such, I have assigned off-season homework assignments to each player.  I realize most players have multiple flaws or areas where they can improve, but I believe it is only reasonable for a player to address one or two weaknesses in the off-season.  Therefore, I have given every player a primary focus and a secondary focus.

I also expect management to perform some roster-tweaking in the off-season, but for the purposes of this exercise used the Bulls current roster, choosing not to speculate on what next year's roster will look like.   I also feel it is ridiculous to ask players to address weaknesses they are physically incapable of performing (asking Korver to work on becoming a lock-down defender), so although players may have greater weaknesses than the ones I address, I only included weaknesses I felt can actually be improved upon.


If you are too lazy to read every player’s assignment I provided a summary at the end of the article.



Derrick Rose:

Primary Focus:  3 point shot.  Derrick made great strides with his three point shot this season, but it still is not consistent enough.  I always felt it took two years to add range.  In year one he proved he could hit a three, in year two he needs to consistently hit the three.  This would obviously open up driving and passing lanes for Rose to exploit.

Secondary Focus:  Watch and mimic film.  Nearly, decided on both initiating a post game and improving his defense.  I ultimately decided on watching and mimicking game film of Chris Paul.  At the present moment Rose is able to exploit his ample physical talents to dominate players and teams.  This physical dominance has come at the expense of out strategizing his opponent.  Paul is exceptional at this.  Rose needs to learn and re-enact Paul’s habits to better create open shots for his teammates and create shots for himself more easily.  I don’t think Rose will ever be able to match Paul or Nash’s ability to manipulate defenses, but to add a slightly above average understanding of defense manipulation to his already ample physical abilities would spell doom for opponents.

Another reason I nearly decided on defense and a post game, is because those are tangible skills that one can work on in the off-season.  I am uncertain if defense manipulation can be achieved without actually playing against motivated and organized defenses.  Succinctly, I don’t know if defense manipulation can be learned during the off-season.


Keith Bogans:

Primary Focus:  3 point shot.  Bogans is known as a defender and spot up shooter.  His defensive reputation is accurate in that he is a solid but unspectacular defender (except according to Dr. Jack Ramsey), but his spot up shooting needs to be improved.  For the season he shot a very respectable 38% from three, but his percentage needs to be higher.  Though, 38% is good (1.1 per game off 2.9 shots), given the excellent quality of his shots his percentages needs to be above 40.  He needs to be able to punish teams for doubling Rose and sagging into the lane.  I don’t expect Bogans to be able to hit contested threes, but I do expect him to make the wide-fucking-open threes at an extremely high percentage.

Secondary Focus:  Free thow line jumper (within a foot or two).  I don’t mean free throws because Bogans doesn't get to the line.  Rather I feel Bogans needs to be able to provide more diverse offense than merely three pointers (77% of all his shot attempts were threes).  The Bulls offense needs more diversity and Bogans taking this many threes is predictable.  Therefore, I suggest Bogans to work on a free throw line pull-up jumper.  I don’t believe Bogans has the athletic ability to score at the hoop through cutting.  If Bogan’s defender attention is diverted elsewhere, Bogans can flash to the free throw line catch and shoot.  This would hopefully also open up new passing lanes for Rose.  If Rose drives on the opposite side of the court and the defense collapses he may be unable to deliver a pass to the three point line.  If Bogan’s defender was the one that collapsed, if he flashes to the free throw area it should provide an easier pass for Rose, a high percentage shot for Bogans, and the space needed for Bogans to shoot.


Luol Deng:

Primary Focus:  3 point shot.  Again, Luol did very well improving his three point shot, but the Bull’s would benefit from its continued improvement.  As stated previously, I felt adding range was a two year process, so this should be well within Deng’s capabilities.  In addition to improving the overall percentage, I’d like to see Deng improve the speed of his release.  Often times during the Miami series, Deng was open, received the pass, but James was able to close out on him.  a quicker release would allow to convert these attempts, though the mere fact it was Lebron James cannot be discounted.

Secondary Focus:  Finishing in transition.  I feel every fan thinks their team is terrible in transition because they only remember the blown opportunities.  Regardless, Deng’s open court skills are rather limited inspite of having the physical tools needed.  He doesn’t have great speed or agility, but in transition he is usually taller, longer, and stronger than the defensive counterparts.  Specifically, I’d like to see Deng work on finishing at pace, but more importantly pass more effectively on the break.  When Deng runs the break, the Bulls end up with a far more challenging shot than is warranted.  Even if Deng has players breaking on the wings, he will still drive at the last defender and force up a contested shot.  If Deng learns to use his teammates more effectively, the Bulls can create more uncontested shots, as they should be since they have numbers.


Carlos Boozer:

Primary Focus:  Talk with Kurt Thomas to learn how to play old man defense.  Boozer will never be able to overwhelm players with his athleticism, but he should still be able to play better defense.  An undersized but strong power forward can play effective defense by utilizing positioning and smarts.  Kurt Thomas employs both effectively, in spite of being physically less gifted than Boozer.  Boozer’s primary task for the off season is to adopt Thomas’ defensive playing style.

Secondary Focus:  Offensive footwork and repertoire.  I came very close to assigning the task of perfecting his midrange shot.  Primarily because I don’t know if he will be physically able to finish around the hoop and opening up the paint for Rose is the next best thing.  Nonetheless, if Booze can become a legitimate finishing threat at the hoop and from the post he might be able to become the secondary scoring option the Bulls so desperately need.  Again, Boozer will have to rely on old-man skills around the hoop to improve his effectiveness.  Utilizing his good strength by employing solid footwork and adding a repertoire of two or three shots (with counters) Boozer hopefully will be able to fake and out position players to create makeable shots for himself.  Essentially, Boozer needs to add diversity to his shot selection down low to prevent his shot from getting blocked, as happened so often in the playoffs.  A simple up and under move could be vitally effective within Boozer’s game.


Joakim Noah:

Primary Focus:  Mid-range shot.  Through November and mid-December Joakim Noah was establishing himself as the second best center in the NBA.  Noah had tough defense, great rebounding, and a nice scoring bounce.  For the season Noah averaged 11.6 ppg, but in Oct. and Nov. he averaged 15.6ppg.  Part of the drop involved Boozer playing and drawing shots away from Noah, but Noah’s hand injury also played a very large role in his diminished scoring.  The shot most noticeably absent from Noah’s arsenal after the injury was his mid-range jump shot located just outside the free throw line.  Noah was not a knock-down shooter, but this shot did possess the ability to punish defenders sagging off of him.  If Noah can recapture this shot it he can become a legitimate scoring option.  Noah is already a good passer, this jumper would make opposing bigs defend him more closely opening up avenues for backdoor cuts.  It would also create space for either Rose to penetrate, or Noah to utilize his good foot speed to drive against the other centers.

Secondary Focus:  Ambidextrous finishing.  Another byproduct of the hand injury was Noah’s finishing around the hoop.  Noah has great length which should help in finishing around the hoop, but Noah has only one real move down low.  Sure, he can score on tips and put backs, but when covered he defaults to the left-handed high-bank shot.  A shot which was unconventional at first, but became rather predictable as the season wore on.  With defenders sitting on that shot, Noah struggled to score inside.  For Noah’s second homework assignment, he needs to continue to polish this shot, but also utilize his right hand to finish.  A right-handed baby hook and faking the shot with the left but going up with the right would be excellent complements to his current shot, and significantly upgrade his offensive arsenal.  Additionally, if Noah can consistently convert a right-handed high banking shot, and makes the mid-range shot detailed previously, he’d be able to drive and finish with either hand.  Noah will never become a primary scoring option, but if he makes these adjustments, he can become a significant and diverse scorer both inside and out.

CJ Watson:

Primary Focus:  Consistency.  Watson had some excellent stretches of play, but he also had some incredibly bad stretches of play.  The Bulls need Watson to consistently lead the second unit, or else the Bulls risk overplaying Rose and Deng.  These players need rest, and I felt they became exhausted during the Miami series.  When Watson was 'on' he provided the offensive lift to allow Rose and Deng (to a lesser extent as sometimes he plays with Watson), to sit and rest, thus allowing them to play without fatigue hindering their play.  I don't necessarily know how to improve consistency in the off-season as it seems like it requires playing against organized defenses to be addressed.

Secondary Focus:  Free throw shooting.  Watson is not like Derrick Rose in that he does not have an extreme set of physical abilities which need to be refined.  Watson plays good defense, is reasonably adept at creating shots, penetrating, and converted 39% of his threes.  If he can address the consistently, he already possesses the kills to be a very good back-up point guard.  I would like him to improve his free throw shooting.  He shot a career low this season at 74%, and though he is career 80% shooter, the Bulls can use an free-throw ace to close out games late.  The Bulls struggled with free throws, and if the other team needs to foul, inserting Watson as another free throw shooter would greatly help the Bulls. 


Ronnie Brewer:

Primary Focus:  3 point shot.  Brewer already excels at defense, running the baseline, and finishing in traffic.  All skills that are vital for the Bulls to be successful.  The main caveat with Brewer is his lack of range.  This allows his defender to sag, harming the efforts of the other players on the team.  Brewer has shown the ability to flash to the baseline to await a pass for a dunk, however often times the lane was too crowded to have a passing lane.  Brewer therefore needs to be able to punish a sagging defender in another way.  My recommendation is the three point shot.  Brewer quietly improved his outside jumper this season, yet it is still a ways from being strong enough to deter his defender from double-teaming and/or sagging off of him.  A 3-point shot converted at a 35% rate should be sufficient to force his defender from cheating off him.

Secondary Focus:  Ball-handling.  Another primary problem with the Bulls were the lack of ball-handlers outside of Rose and Watson.  Brewer is athletic, big, and a decent passer.  If teams press on Rose or Watson, Brewer should be able to use his athleticism and size to (A) provide a nice target for a pressure release pass and (B) have the skills and size to initiate a 4 on 3 to punish teams for pressing.  I don't expect Brewer to become a second creator over the off-season, but I do expect him to build the requisite ball-handling to be a press-release valve.


Kyle Korver:

Primary Focus:  Jumper of the curl.  In spite of the Miami series, Korver's outside shot is solid and does not need improving.  What could be improved are the number of sweet spots from 2 point range.  Specifically, improvement of his existing 2-point shot running off a curl and double screen, as well as another sweet spot to add diversity to the offensive plays run through Korver.  With Rose and Deng out, the offense runs through Korver, but Korver had two separate plays run for him: a double-screen opening a three, or a double-screen opening a 15 ft jumper.  A few counters were included, like the touch pass to the screener, but more diversity is necessary for the Bulls to relieve Rose of the offensive burden, and to improve the sometimes stagnant offense of the bench mob.  Adding the second sweet spot, and transforming the elbow jumper into a deadly shot should improve the offense.  Specifically a pump-fake one dribble pull up would add the necessary diversity and counter to maximize Korver's ability as a shooter.  

Secondary Focus:  Ball-handling.  Korver runs with the starters late in games.  He provides the shooting to stretch the defense enabling Rose and others to better work the interior.  Within this late game line-up Korver became incredibly one dimensional (basically, standing at the three point line and waiting).  If teams pressure Rose, Korver needs to be able to initiate the offense.  As such he needs to improve his ball handling.  I don't believe this is asking much, as the situations I'm envisioning are when teams double Derrick hard, thus Korver simply needs to be able to initiate the offense in a 4 v 3 situation.  Within the closing unit, Korver's movement stops (except if the specific play is called for him), he is unable to take advantage of 4 v 3's because lacks mobility.  The improved ball-handling should address this issue.  It would also help with the pump-fake one-dribble jumper stated above.


Taj Gibson:

Primary Focus:  Mid-range shot. Gibson brings a lot of intangibles to the team: energy, shot-blocking, speed and athleticism at the power forward position, but his temporary lapses in cornerstone components of basketball lacks at times.  Much like Noah, Gibson opened the season on fire from mid-range.  Unlike Noah, his preferred shot was the 14-15 ft. baseline jumper.  As the season progressed Gibson's ability to convert this shot diminished significantly.  At times during the season, Gibson struggled to score when left open.  It wasn’t a one-dimensional failure either.  Gibson struggled both with the mid-range shot and finishing inside.  After much thought, Gibson’s primary task is to regain his mid-range shot.  It would provide spacing and/or punish collapsing defenders, thus allowing Rose/Deng/Noah/Boozer to score inside, and further draw defenders away from the free throw line for Bogans.  I specifically request the baseline jumper as it is an easy pass to complete off dribble penetration.

Secondary Focus:  Discipline.  The other cornerstone Taj struggled with was defensive discipline.  As stated previously, he possesses good intangibles, but the effort, energy and shot-blocking sometimes translated into stupid and ticky-tack fouls.  Taj must become more disciplined on defense for two reasons; 1) ensure he can play in the game with aggression; 2) Minor and stupid fouls waste an otherwise good defensive possession.  It is demoralizing for a team to play solid defense for 16-20 secs of a possession only to yield two unnecessary free throws.


Omer Asik:

Primary Focus:  Finishing.  Omer is big and athletic.  You can tell his team in Turkey told him to focus on defense and rebounding because as a rookie Asik already excelled in these facets.  Asik’s offensive prowess however was problematic.  He struggled to score unless he had a wide open path to the basket, and failed to convert through contact.  Therefore, it is pertinent for Asik to be able to finish in and around the hoop.  He needs to gain the strength to finish through contact, and add one or two basic moves enabling him to convert if he can't get the dunk (bank shot, baby hook, etc.).  If Asik can prevent himself from being an offensive liability he could provide invaluable minutes with his defense.

Secondary Focus:  Free throw shooting.  If Asik can improve his finishing, he could very well become a beast in the paint.  Most beastly players in the paint draw lots of fouls.  It is important for Asik to convert these attempts and prevent a hack-a-sik technique and the demoralizing 0 for 2 free throw trips.  Primarily, if Asik does add an average inside game, we can't have him be a liability on the free throw line.

Kurt Thomas:

Primary Focus:  Spread the knowledge.  Thomas is old and experienced.  As the series against Miami illustrated the Bulls are young, have lapses in judgement, concentration, and lack the individual morsels of knowledge and tricks which make the game easier on the players.  Thomas knows these tricks, and needs to share them with his teammates. 

Secondary Focus:  Stay in shape.  The dude is old.  Yet, he was seemingly always prepared to play.  This can be attributed to a great mental approach to the game, as well as good overall fitness.  It is important for Thomas to maintain this fitness, thus allowing him to be ready when called upon.



Primary Focus:  Review the season long game tape.  Thibs was a rookie coach.  Throughout the season he inevitably made rookie mistakes.  Thibs needs to rewatch the season, identify these mistakes, and devise a plan to remedy these mistakes.  Whether it involves rotations, personel line-ups, match-ups, situational plays, time outs, game management, motivating players, practices, resting players, arguing with the refs, he needs to review the season and extract the positives within his coaching while addressing the weaknesses.  Hopefully, this examination and analysis allows Thibs to be far better prepared for a wide range of issues likely to befall the team next season.  The end hope is through a revision in coaching tactics and philosophy (I'm talking about mild adjustments not a complete overhaul) the team will be better prepared for a deep playoff run, either through having had more reps performing the tasks necessary deep in the playoffs, or being better rested.

Secondary Focus:  Spend a solid chunk of time focusing on the offense.  The Bulls’ shortcomings on offense lead to their downfall in the playoffs.  Having seen an entire season of game tape and the magnification of weaknesses experienced during the playoffs, Thibs needs to identify what worked, what didn’t and devise more effective plays.  This could mean more off-the-ball movement, more Derrick in a secondary role, a few more plays for the other players to execute without Derrick creating.  I particularly like the last option, I am all for lightening the load on Rose’s shoulders.

Summary:  The perimeter players need to work on their three balls, the bigs on finishing and mid-range jumpers.  The individual tasks primarily dealt with improving the offensive efficiency and offensive diversity.


I intentionally didn't address Scalabrine or Butler as the post was already over 3,000 words and neither of them played significant minutes.


Any assignments you'd like to assign?

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