Wednesday night's victory over the Washington Wizards may have been the best case Fred Hoiberg has had for 'Hoiball' since he took the Chicago Bulls' head coaching job. In a game that featured no Derrick Rose, no Jimmy Butler, and no starting point guard, the Bulls managed to put up 109 points on a slightly-below average defense. But the biggest takeaway from that victory has to be seven different Bulls players scoring in double figures, much of which was fueled by the passing of Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson. Passing is an instrumental element to the success of any basketball team, and given that the ball can travel far faster than any player on the court, passing is a crucial element to satisfying the goals that Hoiball sets for itself regarding quick offense and spacing the floor.
This performance by the Bulls prompted me to examine the execution of the Bulls from a passing perspective for the season, and their results in the context of games they have won or lost speak volumes about what the goals of this team need to be. Essentially, the Bulls need to make their every-game goals to get at least five players in double figures and to out-assist their opponents. Consistently striving towards those goals helps to build a team identity--something some speculate the Bulls have lost due to the absence of Tom Thibodeau--while also promoting the basketball element that perhaps influences success in Hoiberg's system more than any other.
Over the course of the season up to this point, the Bulls are 17-6 when five or more of their players score in double figures, compared to 13-20 when four or less players register ten or more points. That's a 34.5% difference in winning percentage. Furthermore, the Bulls are 20-7 in games that see them out-assist their opponents, versus 8-15 in games where opponents tally more assists. That itself is a difference in winning percentage of about 39.3%.
It gets even more convincing when examining 2016 by itself. Every win in 2016 for the Bulls has seen at least five of their players score in double figures, with the only exceptions coming when another player scores more than thirty by himself or two players score twenty each. In addition, the Bulls have out-assisted their opponent in all but two of their wins in 2016, one of which was Jimmy Butler's 53-point game against Philly (the other was versus the Bucks by only one assist). Conversely, all but three of the Bulls' losses in 2016 have seen the other team register more assists.
Despite these performances, there is still room for improvement if the Bulls want to be taken seriously as contenders. They still rank slightly-below average in team assist ratio in the context of the rest of the league, and while a ridiculous ten players on the team average at least a full assist per game, none of them for the season average greater than 5! This speaks to the ball fluidly moving between players, but may also highlight the lack of a consistent distributor on a game-to-game basis (Derrick Rose's play over the last month would seem to resolve this issue, however).
You can also look at NBA.com's pass tracking, that measures how many passes that result in points being scored (field goal, free throw, or hockey assist). Nine of the players on the Bulls' roster throw these passes at least 9% of the time, and one of them is Justin Holiday. This is in comparison to contenders like the Warriors or Spurs that have ten players with adjusted assist to pass ratios of at least 9%. Other contenders such as the Cavaliers, Clippers, and Thunder all have at least one high-volume player with a ratio of at least 17%, while the Bulls max out with Derrick Rose at only 15.5%. The Warriors have the distinction of being the only team that satisfies both of the aforementioned criteria (Steph Curry's ratio is 17.1%), which speaks volumes about where they are in the context of the rest of the league.
People have been skeptical of Hoiberg from a scheming standpoint throughout his first year with the Bulls, but the team's performance over the season clearly shows that his heart is in the right place with respect to the outlook of the team. In order for the Bulls to be a successful offensive team in Hoiberg's system, they must run quick and spread-out offense that requires a substantial level of passing to achieve positive results. The roster has proven it is capable of such ball movement and diverse scoring, but it has not done so to this point on a consistent basis. That being said, if the Bulls' passing record so far this season is any indication, buying into Hoiberg's philosophy results in victory far more times than not, so it certainly would be in the team's best interest to do whatever they can to pass the way they have the last two games. It may prove to be more difficult against teams with better defensive capabilities, but keeping these goals in mind going forward will certainly make it easier for the Bulls to develop a firmer identity and play consistently up to how they need to in order to realize their championship aspirations.