New Bulls offense giving Rose more responsibility

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New Bulls offense giving Rose more responsibility

Monday, Oct. 18, 2010
3:11 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

As is par for the course, Derrick Roses often breath-taking explosiveness, body control and general athleticism have been on display during the Bulls preseason slate. But for all the talk about his developing outside shot and improved defense, the most glaring change in the All-Star point guard is something that should be apparent to closely-watching observers: Rose has the ball in his hands less.

In this age of ball-dominating floor generals, Roses natural gifts and underrated basketball I.Q. have put him into the position to be as successful as any point guard in the league. Opposing defenses are obviously aware of that fact, and in combating last seasons offense under former head coach Vinny Del Negrowhich was notoriously reliant on running the pick-and-roll, the most frequently-used offensive set in the NBAthere was an element of predictability, although Roses ability to improvise was a variable even the best strategists couldnt truly prepare for.

New Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, however, has installed a motion offense that still utilizes his point guards natural talent, but also gives other players the opportunity to be offensive facilitators, while placing even more responsibility on Roses shoulders.

The main thing is making sure everybodys in the right spot because with our offense, being in the right spot and timing, those are the main things. Those are the keys to our sets and thats any NBA set, any offense. Thats what weve been working on, said Rose. Its been different. Other than pick-and-roll and the game where I had the backdoor play against the Toronto Raptors last week, I havent had any sets that have been for me. All these sets are for the big men and Lu small forward Luol Deng, so when Im going out there, Im just scoring off regular pick-and-roll stuff.

Other than pick-and-roll, the ball is always moving. Thats what I like about it. Its like a motion offense where no ones standing still, people are always moving and its opening people up, he continued. Were a team with a lot of options, especially with the offense that we have. We have a motion offense; the ball is always moving. Weve got smart and good players. If you get the ball and you dont have a drive or something, you get it out of your hands pretty quick.

That ball movement just comes with the guys. Thibs is not talking to us in practice about moving the ball. It just comes with the offenseif you dont have a shot, pass it, go pick-and-rollwhateverbut the ball is always moving,

One of Roses primary duties is ensuring all of his teammates are in the right places on the court, no easy task on a squad with seven newcomers and an entirely new system. Rose will frequently consult with Thibodeau and the Bulls coaching staff during games about his reads on the opposing defense and how they are guarding certain players, especially Deng, center Joakim Noah and Rose himself.

In the Bulls system, there are several different sets within the basic motion offense, with multiple options for specific scenarios, each based on the coaching staffs initial play call and Roses initial read. The genesis for that line of thinking perhaps stems from Thibodeaus reputation as a defensive guru, ironically. Most NBA teams prepare for their opponents first option for different plays; the Bulls offense is designed for players to consider second and third options as seriously as the initial opportunity, something that has led to high-turnover preseason games as the team adjusts to personnel.

Everybodys getting in the groove, playing unselfish and if we cut down our turnovers, I think we can be a dangerous team, said Rose. Were an unselfish team. I think most of our turnovers come from trying to make the extra pass or trying to thread the needle, but if we take our time, our sets can be more smooth.

While Thibodeau has culled some of his offense from his time with the Boston CelticsDoc Rivers is known as one of the more creative offensive play-callers in the league and his ability to run a balanced offense based around the future Hall of Fame trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, as well as his utilization of speedy young playmaker Rajon Rondo has to have provided some inspiration in his former assistantbut he has also included many of his own concepts, which he has honed from his long tenure as an NBA assistant coach.

He Thibodeau was there Boston for three years, but a lot of the NBA teams run the same stuff. Doc Rivers has some real good stuff offensive sets, so we do some of the stuff he does, and then Tom has his own stuff. I think that the spacing is a little bit differentthe timing and the spacing is emphasized more with Tom and the way he teaches it than it was with Doc, reserve forward Brian Scalabrine, who was with Thibodeau and the Celtics in Boston, told CSNChicago.com. Thats plays for sharpshooter Kyle Korver; specifically screens to set up catch-and-shoot situations the same stuff that we ran for Eddie House or Ray Allenbut when you run a play for a shooter, its not always just that. It just puts a lot of pressure on the defense, him the shooter dumping it down to a big man, into the weak-side guys. When theres a play for a certain guy, its not necessarily to get that one thing; its to try to get movement.

Through the preseason, one of the more commonly-used sets has been one in which both of the Bulls big men start in the high post, with one receiving the ball at the elbow. The post player without the ball then moves to the low block, creating traditional high-low spacing. The big man with the ballusually Noah, although its foreseeable that Carlos Boozer, an underrated passer, will frequently be in this position upon his returnhas the option to dump the ball down to the other big man, take a 15-foot jumper if left open, drive to the ball to the basket if his defender plays him closely, find a cutter going backdoor to the basket, kick the ball out to an outside shooter or simply find a guard on the perimeter to reset things.

Other than him Noah trying to thread the needle, I love it Noah functioning as a playmaker from the elbow, said Rose of his teammate, who led the team in assists (with eight, one of which was a slick backdoor feed to Rose) in last weeks game against the Toronto Raptors, their next preseason opponent. Jo, hes a good passer to be big and hes smartwhen he has the ball in his hands, he really plays the game like a guardand it really helps us because he brings people defenders in for kick-out shots. If somebody steps up, hes driving and is going to get fouled. Its great that hes handling the ball.

Not that adjusting to the new system hasnt been without its challenges, as the sometimes-disjointed appearance of the Bulls offense and resulting turnovers in the preseason show. Some of that is due to the new-look squad attempting to foster team chemistry with unselfishness, manifested in the team forcing the issue via the pass.

Theyre moving the ball very, very well. Theyre hitting the open man. I just think, at times, were trying to thread the needle a little bit too much, instead of just making the simple play, said Thibodeau, a noted perfectionist. And the other thing offensively is just sustaining that space into the second and third option. When we do that, were very efficient offensively. But when our spacing breaks down, its leading to turnovers, so we have to correct that.

Aside from the teams halfcourt sets, Thibodeau has also placed an emphasis on playing to an advantage the Bulls have by virtue of having Rose: transition offense. Whether off defensive rebounds or made shots, the Bulls will look to push the tempo, with Rose instructed to either push the ball himself for layups, hit a teammate cutting to the basket with a bounce pass or find an open three-point shooter.

Additionally, the team will still employ plenty of pick-and-rolls, as Rose has become one of the leagues most dangerous players in that situation.

The Bulls coaching staff just told me to put pressure on the defense every time I come off pick-and-rollevery single time, they want me to attackand I just come off and make somebody come towards me, then kick the ball out, said Rose. Im more comfortable; I hope that you see that when Im on the court. I guess it comes from playing years in the league in the pick-and-roll. Im not thinking about anything. If a defender comes towards me, wherever hes coming from, thats where the ball is going.

If I dont have the ball, Im always moving. Everybody is moving when someone has the ball. Its hard to guard, he added. Were always moving, unless its an isolationIm a guy that can play with the ball and off the ball.

That aspect of his game (and personality) has allowed Rose to become a threat from the wing, something he relishes.

I love coming off screens. It gives me another look, especially with a live dribble. When Im bringing the ball up, people are really watching me, but when Im coming off screens and Ive got a live dribble, I think that it can be hard to guard me, said Rose of his versatility within the offense. Im always moving. Im not in one spot all the time. Im always cutting. If they bring backup point guard C.J. Watson in, I can move to the two and I know those spots.

When C.J. is in, either one of us can handle the ball. I told him if he gets it, Im running down and he can call out a set and we can change spots. Thats why we have an early group that comes in and runs over all the plays and he puts people in different spots so you can get used to playing more than one position," added Rose, who isnt concerned about his assist totals decreasing, even though he wont be on the ball as much. Not with the shooters we have on this team. With Lu Deng shooting the ball like that, I think that it his assists could definitely be higher. Youve got Kyle Korver, C.J., Luyouve got Lu hitting three-point shotsKeith Bogans; Ive got some shooters on this team, so I think that I should get some more assists this year.

The freedomand subsequent level of responsibilitygiven to Rose has empowered the third-year star, who remains in constant contact with Thibs, as the two are often seen huddled together in deep discussion at the Berto Center. Even though he was informed about the organizations decision-making process in hiring the coach and Thibodeau was in touch with him over the summer (even sticking around Las Vegas after the teams summer league to watch Rose practice with USA Basketball), Roses hectic offseason ensured that he didnt know what to anticipate from the new head man, in terms of his role.

Not at all did Rose expect Thibodeau to give him so much responsibility. When he first got hired, I didnt know what he was doingwhat type of offense we were going to run or anythingbut by the way it looks, hes giving everybody freedom to go out there and play, said Rose. Anybody can have anything any night, like Jo led us in assists some nights ago the Toronto game. You can see with the offense, anybody can get off any night.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."

Jimmy Butler, Bulls prep for stretch run with realistic eye on the postseason

Jimmy Butler, Bulls prep for stretch run with realistic eye on the postseason

The Bulls are focused on their own basketball these days, and in winning two of three they may have righted a ship that was headed toward another playoff miss.

But with just eight games remaining in the regular season they're also aware of where they stand in a closely knit Eastern Conference. As 

Entering Tuesday night the Bulls sit one-half game behind the Miami Heat for the No. 8 seed in the conference, while just 3.5 games separate the fifth-seeded Hawks and tenth-seeded Hornets.

With the Bulls in the middle of so much movement that's bound to change a half dozen times between now and April 12, Fred Hoiberg and his team admit they're paying attention to what the rest of the league is doing.

"You almost have to this time of the year with all the outlets, being able to watch every game with (NBA) League Pass," Hoiberg said at Tuesday's practice. "You do keep an eye on what other teams are doing. But at the same time we talk every day about how it's up to us. We've got to go out and play with purpose, play with energy every time we step on the floor, and give ourslves a chance to win."

The Bulls have done just that lately. 

An ugly skid in which they lost eight of 10 in March saw them fall out of the East playoff race, but crucial wins over the Pistons and Bucks - albeit with an ugly home loss to Philadelphia - have the Bulls back in solid playoff positioning.

Though they trail the Heat for that No. 8 spot, the Bulls hold the tiebreaker over Miami (2-1 season series advantage) and have a far easier remaining schedule down the stretch. In fact, the Bulls' remaining opponents have a combined win percentage of .390, the easiest remaining path in the East. It's different in Miami, where Erik Spoelstra's group has the third most difficult remaining stretch in the East.

Throw in injuries to Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside and it's looking likely that the Bulls will catch Dwyane Wade's old team by season's end. The Bulls' only two games against teams with winning records are the Cavaliers (8-10 since February began) and the Atlanta Hawks (losers of seven in a row).

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After that the Bulls get bottom feeders in New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Orlando and Brooklyn twice. Then again, the Bulls have had issues against some of those teams, as they tout a 7-4 record against those squads (with losses to New York twice, Philadelphia and Orlando).

With Wade out of the lineup the rest of the year the backcourt tandem of Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo has picked up the slack. Rondo is looking more like the player who signed a two-year, $30 million deal this past offseason, averaging 12.4 points on 51 percent shooting and 7.4 assists in 31.1 minutes since being moved back to the starting lineup on March 13.

"I just try to look at what we're doing and control what we can control," Rajon Rondo said. "We're not playing other teams that we're racing against so we got 8 left and we want to take advantage of all eight.

"I would love to get back to the playoffs. That's the goal. That was the goal when I came here was to make the playoffs, nothing else. So we got a little bit more work to do.

Jimmy Butler claimed he hasn't been focused on what other teams around the Bulls are doing, but knows that making the playoffs has added value. Though the Bulls would likely be the No. 8 and seed and face either the Celtics or Cavaliers, with so many young players on the roster that experience can pay dividends down the line.

"You get to see how important every possession is, the way you've got to lock in, the challenge of playing the same team the possibility of seven times, it just shows the mental growth that you're gonna have to withstand and hold through a seven-game series," Butler said. "It's a lot harder than the regular season, I'll tell you that much."