Hey, Bulls fans! I am Larry Golden, also known on Twitter as @_LarroHoops. On Tap Sports Net has truly given me a great place to ramble about the Chicago Bulls. Expect to read about plays that interest me on offense and defense as well as my reasons and thoughts as to why they stick out to me. I will also dive into details on players that I see have done things well and even the players who may be struggling on the floor.
All in all, it will be about things that are interesting to me. I hope you, the reader, will have fun and maybe even learn a new thing or two along the way when checking into my newsletter!
DeRozan-ing on Offense
The Bulls' offensive philosophy has changed in a major way since adding DeMar DeRozan to this squad. During the 2020-21 season, the team's shooting rate from three-point range was 38.3% (NBA average was 39.2%). So far this season, the current rate for the Bulls is 30.6%. DeRozan's silky-smooth play and great footwork in the mid-range and mid-post areas have had a major impact on the decreased attempts of three-point shots.
The talking point about the mid-range game has been very controversial in recent seasons. But it seems there is some misunderstanding around this topic as well. The biggest discourse around this topic is whether or not mid-range shots should be taken by everyone on the floor or if they should mainly come from the most accurate mid-range shooters on the team. Personally, I fall into the crowd that believes the latter. There are certain players who excel in shooting from mid-range, so they should be the ones taking a majority of those shots.
DeRozan has been absolutely spectacular his whole career from the mid-range area. According to Cleaning the Glass, in the 2020-21 season, he ranked in the 77th percentile for most shots attempted within the 4-14 foot range with 363 attempts with 47% of those shots falling. So while it may be frustrating at times to watch shots go up from inside the arc, it's important to remember how efficient DeRozan is at converting them.
In the GIF below, you will see how great DeRozan is at reading a defender's feet and getting them to commit on a certain dribble move. He then counters the defender's efforts to try to stay in front of him with a myriad of moves, ultimately getting to his spot and taking a side step jumper. It's a great move because most offensive players like to use the step-back move to create space, but DeRozan typically uses the side-step move in order to create that necessary space between himself and the defender in order to get a clean look.
DeMar Gets To The Charity Stripe
The Bulls struggled last season with getting to the free-throw line. They had the worst FTR (Free-Throw Rate) of the 30 teams in the league. So far this season, they are 12-6 and rank 11th in the NBA in FTR.
This is yet another area that DeMar DeRozan positively impacts this Bulls squad. He does a great job of drawing contact in order to get to the charity stipe. Dribble pick-up with a rip move following are nothing new to the avid NBA enjoyer (example below), but DeMar seems to really do a great job of initiating contact from that very move on a nightly basis. He gets to the free-throw line 7.8 times per game, converting on 89.4% of them. The signing of DeMar DeRozan has been a gift from the basketball gods.
Can the Bulls' Half-Court Offense Improve?
The Bulls' half-court offense has been inconsistent at best early in this season. That notion is backed up by Chicago ranking 16th in half-court efficiency. There have been great sets in the half-court that involve Spain pick-and-roll, also known as stack pick and roll. However, you would like to see an offense with the likes of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Lonzo Ball flourish more against a set defense. At times, the offense looks like a very well-oiled machine. The connective passing, screening, cutting, and paint touches lead to great looks.
The offense against set defenses has at times relied on the isolation ability of Zach LaVine, which isn't a terrible idea since he has a 1.082 PPP in the isolation category -- good enough to rank in the 81st percentile. Chicago has also relied on DeMar DeRozan in half-court situations to go one-on-one a ton, ranking in the 88th percentile with a PPP of 1.138 (that's elite). Those numbers from your top two isolation scorers are absolutely nothing to bat your eyes at. However, just because you have two absolute stud "bucket-getters" doesn't mean that it should be your epicenter for offense.
The starting lineup is filled with the right role players to be a potent offense. There are three scorers in LaVine, DeRozan, and Vucevic (when healthy), and there are connective passers/advantage creators in Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso. In theory, every NBA team would like to build a starting lineup with that much synergy. But asking teams to have three All-Star caliber players is a tall order for any organization. Yes, some people may read this and say Vucevic was not playing at an All-Star level before his COVID-19 absence. I agree, but when Vucevic is playing with rhythm and confidence, there is no doubt in my mind that's the level he can reach.
The group as a whole can really shoot the three-pointer, knocking down 35.9% as a team, good enough for seventh in the NBA. However, the Bulls are the worst team in the league for three-point attempts with only 28.2 per game.
So, I'm sure you are asking, "Well, what is it that you are looking for this team to do?"
Since the beginning of the season, I have harped on more player movement and ball movement. To me, player movement is key as it creates confusion and stress on a defense. When you can collapse a defense with cutting and dribble penetration, that's called cooking with hot grease. I have shown an example of exactly what I'm talking about below.
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Derrick Jones Jr. as the roll man in P&R
Head coach Billy Donovan has impressed many with his ability to adapt and scheme around the loss of Nikola Vucevic while continuing to win. One adjustment that sticks out to me immediately came against the Warriors. Yes, the Bulls were bludgeoned for most of that game. But as a coach, you have to continue to try to find solutions for future opponents.
Playing Derrick Jones Jr. at center was not only a great idea, it was a smart idea as well. When you lose Vucevic, you lose passing, scoring, and the gravitation that teams show toward him. All of those things mean a lot to an offense, especially when you need someone to really garner attention in the middle of the floor.
Billy Donovan struck gold with Derrick Jones Jr. He screens and rolls hard to the basket, and he's a high flyer that can absolutely go and get it. When you have someone of that mold on your roster, teams have to account for him, especially on pick-and-roll situations. Jones Jr. provides a lob threat and the ability to stretch a defense vertically. He has also shown growth in the short roll with being able to move quickly into the next action, or in finding an open shooter.
The GIF below shows what happens when you high-hedge Zach LaVine and the backside of your defense doesn't rotate fast enough. Granted, no one is thinking that someone would jump from damn near the free-throw line! The point still stands though, you have to keep your rotations on point against a vertical threat like Jones Jr.
Jones Jr. has also shown some growth in his passing reads out of the short roll. In the GIF below, you will see him set a touch-and-go screen for LaVine. While rolling, the player must pay attention to how teams are rotating in order to make the right decision to make them pay. He finds Ayo Dosunmu at the top of the key, making Damian Lillard's job a winless one in that situation.
Nikola Vucevic will be back tonight against the Houston Rockets. Very big news, perfect opponent to come back against and get some well-needed reps. The Houston Rockets are a very bad team at the moment. It could be a perfect recipe for Vucevic to get back to basketball shape.
What's On Tap Next?
The Bulls visit the 1-16 Rockets tonight at 7 PM CST. Next, they'll travel to Orlando to face the Magic on Friday at 6 PM CST. Then it's back home for a date with the Miami Heat on Saturday night at 7 PM CST.