Michael Walton II writes about the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for We Are Regal Radio.
Michael is a student, freelance writer and high school basketball scout based in Chicago. He’s previously been published in TrueStar Magazine, the Redeye Chicago and thelyricallab.com.
Here we are, almost 40 games into the season, and it seems that the Fred Hoiberg-led Chicago Bulls have finally found their identity, but its taken a bit of suffering to reach self-recognition.
The currently sit at 22-15, good for third in the Eastern Conference, and they have got to this point with an elite defense and an offense that is quickly catching up (Bulls have rocketed up to a top ten spot in points per game).
The Bulls identity as of now is perhaps very different from what casual basketball fans expected with the Hoiberg hiring. They are not a “hyper-charged fast break” team. Chicago is actually in the bottom five in fast break points per game. The Bulls couldn’t really fast break more if they wanted to due to their roster to being filled with injury-prone veterans. But they didn’t hire Hoiberg so they could fast break more; the Bulls management hired him because they needed more offensive consistency.
Hoiberg has effectively transformed the Bulls into a perimeter-oriented team that thrives in an equal-opportunity offense. The defense is still elite because this roster has held on tight to the defensive fundamentals instilled in them by Tom Thibodeau. However, the isolation-heavy offense used by Thibs is gone in favor of the Hoiberg’s early offense/pace-and-space system.
Early on it seemed as if Bulls players weren’t buying into Hoiberg’s coaching. Now the team has turned it around. They have played their best basketball of the season as of late, and they were in the midst of a six-game winning streak before their losses at Atlanta and against Washington.
“The Mayor” has had to preside over the Derrick Rose-Jimmy Butler drama, he’s solved it by having them shoot roughly the same number of shots per game. And on top of that Pau Gasol also gets the proper amount of touches he needs to stay involved. This means Chicago is one of the handful of teams in the league that are fortunate enough to have a clear top three on offense (Butler, Rose, Gasol, in that order).
The Bulls offense has been boosted by Rose and Butler serving as a great play-making duo. The chemistry between the two of them is starting to improve. And with both of them letting their games do the talking, the rest of the team can just focus on improvements in their game.
Over the last seven games that Rose has played in he is averaging 19 points on 48 percent shooting, his aggressiveness is at a season-high. It is no coincidence that Rose’s best stretch of the season lines up with the month that his inside scoring and free throw attempts have increased.
Rose’s refusal to shoot less actually has helped Chicago’s offense tremendously. Rose has stayed aggressive all season and because of this defenses give him and Butler equal amounts of attention (rightfully so). This means that as long as the other Bulls players stay in motion, this offense will continue to improve and eventually be one of the best in the league. Plays like the one below illustrate this point.
The Chicago Bulls offense has finally turned a corner. They are scoring at a high rate and on top of that Hoiberg has finally decided to stick with a (12-man) rotation. Wins fix everything and losses accentuate your problems, so the Bulls recent losses to the Hawks, Wizards and Bucks show that the team may need most to acquire a defensive-minded big, while their recent wins against the Thunder, Celtics, and Raptors suggest they should stand pat at the trade deadline. Different match-ups and different results all yield different viewpoints as to what could solve this mysterious team’s ills.
The Bulls outlook for the rest of this of this season depends heavily on this upcoming stretch of games. Chicago’s performances in upcoming games against the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will go a long way towards determining if any trades are on the horizon, but the all-star level play from Chicago’s back court duo have the Bulls sitting pretty heading into the all-star break.
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