Monday night the Chicago Bulls will kick-off their preseason action against the Milwaukee Bucks at the United Center, their first of seven preseason games before opening night against the Boston Celtics on October 27th.
The basketball won’t be pretty, though it will provide a chance for the team to start building chemistry towards the regular season. As for Fred Hoiberg, it provides him with a chance to experiment: to see which lineups work and which don’t, and to ultimately decide on the various position battles. For this year’s Bulls, with an influx of new players and personalities, preseason will be extremely important in preparing for the regular season haul.
So for the next three weeks, here are a few things to keep an eye on and take note of while watching.
Lineup Management of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade & Jimmy Butler
One of the biggest obstacles facing Hoiberg with this roster is going to be how he manages to stagger the minutes of Rondo, Wade and Butler. This means both in terms of getting more shooting on the floor, as well as making sure one of three is with the bench unit and avoiding those dreaded Hoibergo lineups.
These three won’t play a ton during the first few preseason games, but there will still be an opportunity for Hoiberg to stagger them in different variations. Who of the three is the first to come out in the first quarter, how early do they come out? Who spends more time with the bench unit?
Through the first week of training camp, Hoiberg said that the starting power forward was still wide open. Many assumed it would be Nikola Mirotic’s to lose due to his shooting, but there’s veteran Taj Gibson and a possibility that Bobby Portis could be in the mix as well. Hoiberg may alternate starting these options during preseason to see who meshes the best with the other four starters.
Within the frontcourt there is quite a logjam, and it’s safe to assume the battle for those last few minutes will be between Portis and Cristiano Felicio, both of whom are in their second years and with a lot yet to prove.
There’s also a number of guys vying for the backup point guard spot between Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan, Spencer Dinwiddie and even Denzel Valentine. Hoiberg will likely give each of these guys time, how much time each receives will be what you need to watch for as that’ll be an indicator of who’s winning the battle.
Defending the pick-and-roll
Last season the Bulls were one of the worst teams in forcing turnovers, and Hoiberg has made that an area of emphasis during camp. We first saw a hint at change in how the Bulls defend the pick-and-roll during the Summer Bulls championship run in Vegas. Attacking the PnR in a much more aggressive style, this led to deflections and easy baskets in transition.
In the grand scheme of things it’s not necessarily a bad idea to switch up your coverage, but with players like Rondo and Wade, who are past their prime and rarely put forth their best effort on that end, how long they stick to this aggressive style during the preseason is something you’ll want to keep an eye on.
Ball movement and spacing
The biggest and probably most obvious question with the three alphas is will opponents sag off of them and create spacing issues? One way that the Bulls could work to negate this will be ball movement. Swinging the ball around the perimeter, side-to-side keeping the defense on its heels. But that’s easier said than done.
Chicago struggled mightily last season with stagnation on offense due to holding the ball for seconds on end. And this offseason, they’ve brought in a point guard who is notorious for holding onto the ball to orchestrate the offense. Especially during preseason, watch how long Rondo (and others of course) hold onto the ball, but also observe how much Hoiberg enforces quick ball movement while on the sidelines.
Preseason is a time for coaches to get weird, and throw out some crazy lineups (including guys likely not to make the team) to see if they work. We’ve already heard of Hoiberg throwing Gibson at center during training camp, and we’ll probably see that at times during preseason. It might be Hoiberg’s way of going “small” pairing Gibson with possibly Niko or even Doug McDermott at the power forward spot. Hoiberg and Doug discussed him seeing time at the four this upcoming year, so don’t be surprised to see him running that position often during the coming weeks.
We discussed previously Valentine seeing time at point guard, but there could also be a chance we see some unconventional lineups without a point guard, having Butler or Wade bringing the ball up and initiating the offense. The Bulls backup point guard spot isn’t ideal, and Hoiberg will (or should) put everything on the table when it comes the rotation.
There are a LOT of questions surrounding this year’s Bulls team, which makes them all the more intriguing or interesting I should say. Preseason will be ugly, and rather hard to watch, but there will be things that you can look for as the regular season continues to near its beginning.