Chicago’s spacing this upcoming season is going to be a shitshow. Which means that Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic’s shooting is going to be even more integral than in seasons’ past. For McDermott, he needs to continue hitting threes at a league-high rate, while Mirotic just needs to carry over the consistency he showed at the end of last season.
You wouldn’t expect them to have success together, but Fred Hoiberg would be wise to give this duo more time. Last season they posted the team’s fourth highest net rating of those to appear in more than 700 minutes. Moreover, they had accumulated a true shooting percentage of 55%, which was second on the team only behind the Niko and Pau Gasol pairing.
Towards the end of last season, Hoiberg was more creative and began to integrate more off-ball movement within the offense, particularly with McDermott.
However, this type of movement rarely, if ever involved Niko with McDermott together. While it was effective with McDermott being the only shooter on the floor, pairing him with Niko in the same type of sets could prove even more advantageous for the Bulls.
Here, Taj Gibson sets the initial pick for former Bull Aaron Brooks. As we can see, because of Gibson’s inability to stretch the floor with his shooting, (now-former) Cavalier Timothy Mozgov can drop back and guard both Gibson and Brooks.
Let’s imagine Niko in Gibson’s role setting the screen for Brooks, and popping back to the three point line instead of rolling as Gibson does. Mozgov can no longer afford to drop back as is because of the threat of Niko’s shot. So now, not only is there the option of McDermott in the corner, the point guard will have more space to drive down the lane or to kick it back out to Niko at the three point line depending on how the defense is playing.
Below is another example. Great play, but could be even more potent with another shooter on the floor.
Hoiberg does a very good job of designing this play in making sure there’s misdirection off of the dribble handoff between Brooks and Cristiano Felicio, as it ends with a McDermott three.
But take a look at how Toronto’s Corey Joseph and the former Bismack Biyombo defend the handoff:
Neither are paying any attention to Felicio as Brooks comes off the handoff, and rightly so as he presents no immediate danger that far out. But if you insert Niko into Felicio’s role, and for the sake of this argument replace Bobby Portis with Robin Lopez, it creates quite a different dynamic. Now, Biymbo can’t afford to sag under the handoff to contain the drive with Niko popping out to the arch. But if he does happen to sag under, then there’s a wide open McDermott AND a wide open Niko not mention the room for the guard to penetrate. To put it simply, instead of having the one option in McDermott, there are now three viable options.
The same type of scenario plays out in the same game against Toronto.
This was a nicely designed hammer set from Hoiberg that resulted in yet another McDermott corner three. Gasol was also the right option in this situation as the screener given his comfort in knocking down that 15 footer out of the pick-and-pop. He’s gone now, but Niko would be the perfect replacement.
Look at how Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas defends this play:
Former Bull (still getting used to that) Derrick Rose had two options on this play, if McDermott wasn’t open in the corner then he could turn around and pitch it right back to Gasol. But with Niko in that role, that 15-17 footer from Gasol now turns into a three pointer. In addition, if the post defending the play were to stay with Niko popping out, then the guard penetrating has a wide open lane. Again, more options.
With Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler, there’s going to be a heavy dose of isolation plays and pounding the ball. Which will presumably leave us with a lot of ball-watching and little if any off-ball movement. Though there’s the tiniest sliver of hope that the Bulls can find some sort of success offensively next season. Namely, it’s going to take the same type of creativity shown above along with some serious lineup management by Hoiberg, specifically in getting Niko and McDermott on the floor together.