Reportedly mandated by management to come in with an approach that ran opposite to those instilled by Fred Hoiberg, things were always going to change under Jim Boylen. And Boylen’s ‘new’ ideas of what the Bulls should be have drastically changed the identity of the team.
But after seven games on the job, the results have not been good.
The offense is somehow failing even further
Since Boylen has taken over as coach, the Bulls have dropped in almost all notable advanced metrics.
Though the offense was already ranking 29th under Hoiberg, their efficiency has plummeted under Boylen to an anemic 94.2 points per 100 possessions. Some of this should be expected: employing a new offensive vision would bring with it some early hardship. There was also a historic loss served by the Boston Celtics and self-inflicted by Boylen’s substitution strategies which has helped skew the numbers.
Withstanding such an inefficient offense may be possible with a significant uptick in defense. But it’s been a more marginal improvement there, and thus the team has been outscored by 15.2 points per 100 possessions under Boylen compared to 9.5 points under Hoiberg.
Keep in mind Boylen has had the luxury of Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis back from injury, something his predecessor didn’t.
The pace has stalled
Making it clear that the offense would slow itself into deep clock halfcourt sets, Boylen has been true to his word: as Stephen Noh of The Athletic recently noted, they’re running less and taking fewer shots earlier in the clock.
Under Hoiberg, the Bulls were programmed to run the floor off misses to hunt out easy points in the open floor. That idea has seemingly been shelved by Boylen. We saw it come to life in the most recent loss against the Thunder. At one point, after forcing a stop and securing a defensive rebound, Boylen audibly halts Shaquille Harrison from racing up the floor in transition, instead forcing the team into walking the ball over halfcourt.
Here's Boylen yelling at Shaq Harrison to stop off the outlet pass. pic.twitter.com/QefCx9pkAF— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) December 18, 2018
For reference, Hoiberg implored his point guards to cross halfcourt with 21 seconds still remaining on the clock (even if Derrick Rose and Jerian Grant rarely did). In this instance, however, note when Dunn crosses halfway — there’s only 18 seconds left on the clock.
It may not seem like much of a difference, bit those three seconds are significant, particularly for a young team already prone to mental mistakes in set plays. Additionally, it allows the opponent to collect their breath and find their defensive assignment, with this case having that opponent currently rank first among all teams in defensive rating,
Turnovers are a huge problem
The Bulls have been careless with the ball. Some of this undoubtedly relates to players adjusting to a new style, but the underlying problem is the capabilities of the roster. While there’s some credence to going back to the basics and trying to teach a young team how to execute in a halfcourt setting, if the talent of the roster doesn’t allow for such a philosophical shift it should be avoided.
Already with so few offensive creators on the perimeter, slowing down the pace of the game and bogging the offense down into the halfcourt has only exacerbated the team’s propensity to throw away the ball — under Hoiberg the Bulls ranked 21st in turnover percentage but have fallen to last in the league under Boylen.
That the #Bulls are turning the ball over so spectacularly under Jim Boylen when their pace has slowed is really something else. Probably all the more reason to play faster -- shoot it so you don't turn it over. https://t.co/hQwA8RiHNI— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) December 18, 2018
Just like the Sacramento Kings, who launched themselves out of the rebuilding doldrums with their fast-paced offense, this young Bulls roster was built to run. That’s what Hoiberg was hired to do, and after three seasons, he was finally given a roster with the capability to do so. It’s clear at this point that both the coach and management have no intention of reverting back to methods employed under Hoiberg, which is disappointing given the alternative Boylen is attempting to implement is far more suited to an experienced team full of ball movers and shooting at all positions.
The Bulls roster isn’t equipped with the necessary traits to function within intricate offensive schemes. Without Zach LaVine, who may be out injured for some time, Kris Dunn is the only notable playmaker on the perimeter — no defense fears what Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaquille Harrison or Cameron Payne can do off the dribble. Justin Holiday remains the only high volume three-point threat and does very little else. Rebuilding around two young big men without an adequate roster that can find them easy baskets deep within offensive sets, Boylen is making life even more difficult for Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr, something that should be avoided at all costs.
The Bulls game plan, once lauded by GarPax as evolutionary, has now shifted back to a style better suited to days gone by. And the worse news is that they’re bad at it.