Maybe it’s just one of those ‘backlash to the backlash’ type of things, but after weeks of getting pounded by consensus, the 2016-17 Bulls have gotten a second look recently in how they can be successful.
Granted, it won’t be working by design, as (arch-nemesis) Matt Moore of CBS Sports pointed out, so don’t worry if you felt icky thinking Gar Forman would get credit if this team isn’t that bad. But Moore looks at that and 3 other myths surrounding this Bulls team and tries to debunk them to varying degrees of success. I’m not sure ‘well they can bail on this plan if necessary’ should be perceived as a positive, but I do think it’s possible that a ‘Three Alphas’ hierarchy can work if the right guy takes the lead.
And that guy is Jimmy Butler, who gets the most spotlight in this fantastic post by Scott Rafferty over at The Sporting News. Rafferty hits up some video evidence to show how Butler’s versatility means he can adapt well to his new teammates, provided they fall in line with the roles that suit them best as well. That means, in Rafferty’s terms, ‘embrace the slashers’ and try to run some early, if still half-court, offense:
The other big problem the Bulls face is that they don't have the personnel to push the ball at every opportunity like a typical Hoiberg team would. Rondo was a disaster in transition last season, turning the ball over 38.2 percent of the time and scoring at basically the worst rate in the NBA. Butler was around league average when it came to converting those opportunities, and Wade ranked near the bottom of the list (35.8 percentile) with 1.04 points per possession.
Rather than trying to catch teams off guard in transition, the Bulls would be wise to speed up the tempo in the half court. That way, their spacing issues will be less prevalent. It doesn't necessarily need to be in the form of quick shots, either. While teams will likely dare them to beat them from outside, it will be harder for opponents to implement that strategy if the ball moves quickly around the perimeter and everyone is involved in the offense...If the Bulls make an effort to get the defense moving before they attack, they'll have more success.
Our old pal Stephen ‘HungarianJordan’ Noh over at The Athletic also surmises that these Bulls can sort of turn into the skid by abandoning spacing/shooting and instead concentrating on what they can do well.
He notes that that fast-break opportunities (though acknowledging the same problems Rafferty did: Wade and Rondo don’t actually perform well in transition) could improve simply with their new backcourt being ‘ballhawks’, as both may no longer be solid defenders, but they will get more steals than last year’s Bulls were able to.
Noh further adds that another way the Bulls can generate points without the three-point shot is by being terrors on the offensive glass:
Hoiberg took a more modern approach in de-emphasizing offensive rebounding last year, and the Bulls finished 13th as a result. He’d be wise to go back to letting the Bulls crash the glass, because they are likely to be abysmal in transition defense anyway and will have a lot of opportunities at offensive rebounds (only the Celtics and Lakers missed more shots last year).
The Bulls have the personnel to be an offensive rebounding juggernaut if they so choose. Rondo, Wade, Butler and Robin Lopez are among the best offensive rebounders at their positions. If Bobby Portis orTaj Gibson find themselves playing with the starters, that group will have the potential to be the best offensive rebounding unit in the league.
As is explained later, possessions from those offensive boards typically lead to better production that normal possessions.
So there you have it: reasons for optimism! There’s a lot of caveats, mostly around Rajon Rondo’s ability to fit in and Fred Hoiberg’s ability to...coach, but there’s a chance that the Bulls (offense, at least) may be unconventional but still effective.