The Ideal 2021-2022 Bulls Offense - The Wheel


With all the new changes the Bulls have made to the roster, there is a national agreement that if nothing else - the Bulls will be a fun team to watch on offense. They've added a real playmaker, they added an all-star level offensive player, they've done all they can do to make one of the more effortless scorers in the league the center of attention - so why not?

But basketball is a bit more nuanced than just throwing a bunch of great offensive talents on the court at the same time and expecting poetry in motion. The Bulls have a ton of questions on how the team will truly mesh together. Lonzo wanted to be on the Bulls partially because he wanted his talents to be more on display, DDR came to the Bulls because he felt he would get a chance to really shine in a big market and rack up wins, and Lavine by default is most valuable on the offensive end. How do you make everyone happy? How do you Share the ball?

Let me introduce - The Wheel.

What is 'The Wheel'

Per Wiki:

The Wheel offense is an offensive strategy in basketball, developed in the late 1950s by Garland F. Pinholster at the Oglethorpe University.[1] It is a kind of continuity offense in which players move around in a circular pattern to create good scoring opportunities. The wheel offense is a popular offensive play, frequently used by teams from middle school to college levels because it can effectively work against any defense, including zone defense and man-to-man defense.[2]

I really haven't seen much of the Wheel in either college or the NBA in recent memory. I'm sure there are college teams that still implement it, but I don't watch enough of them to be familiar, and the teams in the NBA and in College that get the most attention/wins are often the teams that have the most talent - and that brings up a huge point about the wheel.

The wheel is an offense that isn't easy to implement simply because it requires specific roles to be established as a pre-requisite. The roles are as such:

  1. The Lead Ballhandler/Playmaker
  2. The Best Offensive player (but can't be the lead ball handler)
  3. The Secondary Ball handler (who can't be the best offensive player or the lead ball handler) and must be adept at midrange jumpshots
  4. A Big man who can faceup and set strong screens
  5. A jack-of-all trades type that can cover to a much lesser extent all other roles/

Simply put - you rarely see that combo of roles in a single lineup ever in modern basketball. Often times your lead ball handler IS your best offensive player. And if not your lead ball handler, then it's your secondary ball handler. Your jack of all trades is often also your best all around player. There just are very few teams in either college or in the NBA that have roles so clearly defined and that's part of why I believe the Wheel isn't utilized much.

The other aspect of The Wheel that makes it less utilized in college and especially the NBA - the death of the midrange jumper. Teams may be "Okay" with guys taking and hitting midrange jumpers, but generally speaking it's a frowned upon art due to saber-metrics proving it's inefficiencies. The Wheel LOVES the midrange jumper. It also allows for 3pt shots and attacking the rim, but the movement and actions out of the wheel lend itself to some really easy FT line jumpers.

All that said - lets dive into what the Wheel's Formation looks like, the typical actions and the general involvement of the players within the offense.

This is the Default configuration that starts the wheel

Don't view the position numbers here in the traditional sense (1= pg, 2 = sg, 3 = sf, 4 = pf, 5 = c) even if it matches up a bit with the traditional notions. Instead view the position numbers here as it pertains the roles defined above. This simple formation starts the general actions for each role in the offense. There are a ton of variations that can come out the actions once the wheel offense starts moving, and instead of me going into every possible action (which there are actual entire books on) i'll just link to a great video of Bob Hurley showing off sort of the more general actions and explanation of the offense:

Bob Hurley's Explanation of the Wheel - (Link opens in a separate window so feel free to click away)

The Roles

Here's just a general synopsis of what each role is doing out of this default formation:

  • The 1 role = Initiating the plays, providing spacing, eventually an off ball screener, isolation attack
  • The 2 role = corner 3s, strong baseline cut into an alleyoop or catch and finish, isolation out of the corner. Eventual swap with the 3 or 4 roles
  • The 3 role = secondary play initiator for the left hand side court, attack the middle of the court (FT line extended) in iso plays
  • The 4 role = 3pt shooter, screener for the 5, attack weakside
  • The 5 role = Low Post isolation, High Post jumpers, Control the direction of the Wheel, Post isolation
The Wheel is a continuous offense so every time the offense is reset the wheel has turned slightly based on the decisions made. The roles remain intact but the positions on the court will have changed. The beauty of the offense, like most continuous flowing offenses, is that there really shouldn't be any "Broken" plays. Everything is set and therefore the decisions being made 7 seconds into the offense are the same decisions 22 seconds into the offense. This also means that offense is easier to understand for defenses, where they can identify the roles adeptly. It is therefore imperative that the personnel in each role are optimized for their role within the Wheel so that even if the defense knows what's coming, they need to provide extra attention to who has the ball and this disarray is what The Wheel will eventually take advantage of with a wide open 3pt shot or uncontested inside drive.

Lets view why I think the Bulls have (at least) a starting lineup that can truly run The Wheel at an Optimal level and why it truly benefits this team more than any other.

How the Starting 5 fit their Roles in 'The Wheel'

The Lead Ball Handler - Lonzo Ball

Part of the reason I feel The Wheel is ideal for the bulls is because of Lonzo. Lonzo as a playmaker has a great reputation. Makes great decisions, good accuracy on passes. Particularly good at look ahead plays in transition. Where Lonzo suffers though is in general pick and roll plays. While an improved 3pt shooter now, he's still at his best in catch and shoot situations. As a big guard Lonzo prefers to drive against his pg counterpart where his size can be an advantage, his ability to see over defenses is what drives his passing ability, and in pick and rolls that ability is reduced. He's also not a great secondary passer, constantly looking for the homerun play rather than instinctively seeing the pass to set up the assist.

The Wheel works in favor of Lonzo here. The play doesnt utilize the on ball screen and roll as the initial play. Instead the Main ball handler is given the task of determining the initial start of the wheel. The Wheel is most dominant when the ball gets into the hand of the 5 role, a pass that's a bit difficult to make for where the main ball handler starts by default. Lonzo i think is one of those players who I think can regularly make the necessary lofty pass to catch the Big man on the first pass and accelerate the turn of the wheel.

Lonzo's improved ability to hit the wide open 3 also lends itself to a perfect fit in the Wheel as the 1 is primarily used a floor spacer when not initiating offense. Finally there is an under rated part of The Wheel which is the initial transition from defense to offense. 3 of the 5 players ono the court are speeding towards their spot, and it's benneficial to the offensive team to catch the defense asleep and make a hard cut to the basket instead of their designated spots. Lonzo is great at hitting guys with outlet passes in transition and can take advantage before even the wheel motion starts.

The Main Perimeter Offense - Zach Lavine

There isn't much to say here. Zach will be - and should be - featured as the main offensive talent in any system the Bulls try to run when he's on the court for obvious reasons. He's a true triple threat, and his quickness with and without the ball just attracts a lot of defense. One underrated concept of the wheel is the initial play of having the person playing the 2 to attack baseline off the ball. Shooting 3s and attacking closeouts are obvious elements of playing out of the corner, but because the wheel's unique formation, the defense is going to be pulled to the left side of the court away from the 2, and this lends to giving the main perimeter offensive player to have all the space they need to work.

The Secondary Ball handler - Demar DeRozan

Another main reason for why I think The Wheel is a great fit for the Bulls is because of DDR and the role of the Secondary ball handler. A lot is being made of what DDR can't do - play defense, aged body so less likely to attack and finish at the rim, iso player who wants to dominate the ball when he has it, relies heaviliy on the midrange and doesn't stretch the floor. Well - the 3's role in this case matches perfectly.

DeRozan will be asked to initiate the majority of the plays among the strong side of the court. Here we can see more traditional pick and roll actions as the wheel turns. But the most important piece of this role is the ability to create their own shot in the middle of the court where the defense is the lightest. The wheel's turn happens mostly along the baseline and branching into the elbows. While the Defense is busy preventing easy looks on the perimeter and on the inside, the 3 can play iso ball or run simple pick and roll actions with the 4 or 5. This basically fits into what makes DeRozan effective, attacking a much weaker midcourt area for pull up jumpers. If the defense is somehow strong in the middle that means someone on the perimeter is going to be open to knock down the open 3 or a backdoor cut is possible. DeRozan is going to shine as a playmaker in the secondary here.

The Primary Post Option - Nicola Vucevic

It's something to note - the most famous implementation of The Wheel likely took place back in the 70s when UCLA deployed it as an optimal offense for their big man - Lew Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Vucevic is no Kareem, sure, but he's a very gifted post player. High post? Low post? Yes. Vucevic is an efficient player out of the post, he can take advantage of soft defenses inside and is an under rated passer out of either post area. He's also very comfortable with catching and shooting jumpers. While Zach is the Primary Perimeter offensive threat here, it's really going to be Vuc who will anchor the offense. The fact that the defense has to somehow always account for him is what is going to make the turning of the wheel efficient. He may not be Kareem - but i figure in this offense he's going to get a lot of touches and do a lot of feasting - and it's going to really open up the court for Zach and DDR.

The Jack of All Trades - Patrick Williams

As MikeDC would constantly harp - it's not a good thing to have your power forward position be anchored by a still raw 19/20 year old. But I think the Wheel is a perfect system for a guy like PaW. Even though he's still figuring out his actual niche in the league, the role he plays here relies on his ability to be a versatile player. For the most part on offense his role is to space the floor and set screens to give the other scorers more open opportunities. This means that often times he will be given weaker defensive attention, and also means that he won't usually be a primary option during the actions. This also means he needs to be ready.

At any given moment it may be on the 4 to become the play initiator, the cutter on the baseline, the midrange jump shooter, or simply the offensive rebounder. The Wheel has some elements of predictability and if you focus on defending the 2 and 5 position specifically the ball movement and plays can become muddied. It's then the job of this 4 to exploit the vacant areas and temporarily play one of the primary roles to keep the Wheel Spinning. I imagine someone like Kawhi would be ideal for this type of offense (and I believe the Spurs with duncan, manu, parker, and kawhi ran the Wheel quite a bit) and therefore I think it's something that fits the abilities and goals of PaW.


Again The Wheel offense is a continuous offensive system that is constantly creating actions and movement with every pass. There is a lot that can go into the various options it will open up but the the primary need is a lineup that can fit into the 5 roles outline above. I think the Bulls are one of the few NBA teams that can truly implement this system. Couple that with Billy Donovan's history as a College coach (and the Wheel is more of a college and lower system) and I think we have an out of the box offense that the typical NBA defense isn't properly designed to stop. It's a unique offense that can play to the strengths of the players we have in our starting lineup.

I didn't get too far into how our bench can play a role in the Wheel, but let's just simplify it and say that having combo guards in Ayo, Coby, and Caruso helps slot those players in the proper role of 1, 2, 3, and even 4, and Marko should fit well as the 5 off the bench. For best efficiency you'll almost always want to stagger the starters with players on the bench and I still think we need help at the 3/4 for optimal bench play (losing DeRozan or PaW will hurt a lot if that happens).

But yea - While looking at systems ideal for the Bulls new look - to me The Wheel seems like the perfect fit. Now how do I get this to Billy D?

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