To maybe put it lightly, it's been an adjustment period offensively for the Chicago Bulls this season. The move from a highly structured offense into one with a more free-flowing philosophy has been a push-pull for the players. Though if there's one thing Fred Hoiberg can rely on that will be successfully executed with each passing game, it's the lob set featuring Pau Gasol to Jimmy Butler. In a season of inconsistencies for the Bulls as they adjust to a new offense, they've managed to find at least one consistency.
There's nothing overly complex when it comes to the Gasol to Butler lob, however with the personnel involved combined with the weak-side action, it makes it difficult to defend, as most teams have figured out. Opposing teams, have gone several different routes as a means of defending the play, but each of those being unsuccessful. With that being said, let's take a look at what makes this set so potent, and how teams have attempted to defend it.
The set will start with a shooter, let it be Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic or Tony Snell on the strong-side block. While this time it didn't happen (though we'll see it later), Gasol will screen for Butler freeing him to set the on-ball screen for Derrick Rose.
At the same time, even though Joakim Noah doesn't do as well of a job this time, he'll set a down screen for McDermott, and Butler slips the screen for Rose sprinting to the basket:
There looks to be some slight miscommunication from the Detroit Pistons defending this set, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Steve Blake switch the screen between Rose and Butler. Blake, as you guessed, isn't quick enough nor has the verticality to contest the lob to Butler:
Look at how wide open everything is below the free throw line, why is this? Andre Drummond can't help off of Gasol given his ability to hit that 20 footer, in addition to the threat of McDermott coming off a down screen from Noah, Marcus Morris and Ersan Ilyasova cannot provide help on the lob.
This same set isn't always ran with Rose either, as with his own ability to drive into the teeth of the defense, Aaron Brooks can present a viable threat off this action too. Against the Dallas Mavericks the day after Christmas, the Bulls once more ran this set play.
Here Dallas' Wes Matthews defends the slip screen by Butler by trailing him on the play:
As seen in the previous clip from Detroit, everything with this play from the Bulls end is executed from above the free throw line, preventing any sort of help defense on the lob.
Wes Matthews, never exactly an "explosive" player is coming off a recent torn achilles tendon, has no chance of leaping with Butler to try and break up the lob.
Trailing the slip could have worked given the right personnel, but with Matthews being the one defending the play, it served little to no chance for Dallas to defend it.
Against the Knicks on New Year's Day, Chicago was slowed on this set, as New York successfully stopped the initial action.
When Butler comes over to set the on-ball screen, Arron Afflalo hedges while Jose Calderon drops underneath the screen stepping in front of Butler's slip, reading the play correctly.
With Calderon on his backside, Butler knows he has no chance of defending him in this position, as he spins around him towards the basket:
Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis does a fairly decent job of staying home on the outer edges of the lane. Although, with the weak-side screening between Taj Gibson and Niko, he can't cheat all the way in the lane, leaving a wide open alley-oop to Butler:
For the most part, the Knicks defended the initial screen and pressured Gasol on the lob pass well. But it was Butler's counter move in addition to the weak-side movement from Niko and Taj that prevent New York from stopping the lob.
When ran last week versus the Milwaukee Bucks, the lob set put into focus how dangerous the other elements of this play are.
As mentioned earlier, the beginning of this play will usually start with Pau setting a screen to get Butler open:
But when the on-ball screen is set by Butler, with the threat of Rose driving middle towards the basket, Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo hedges hard to prevent that:
John Henson is in great position initially to defend the lob, but as Rose swings the ball back to Gasol, Henson can't afford to leave him wide open, because as mentioned previously, his ability to knock that down at a high rate.
And with Henson running back out to Pau, Giannis doesn't recover from the hedge in time leaving Butler wide open for the layup. This specific play against Milwaukee encompasses how the threat of Gasol and Rose, again combined with the weak-side action, open things up for the lob.
With the season now in the New Year, opposing teams have yet to truly figure out how to effectively defend the Gasol to Butler lob set. We've seen teams defend parts of the set well, but never entirely all the way through. Eventually, someone will crack the code, and how Hoiberg implements counters once that does happen, will be fun to watch.