You may not have noticed, but we have officially passed the halfway point of the NBA season. There are things that we know. Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, and San Antonio are the class of the West. Miami is the overwhelming favorite in the East challenged by a cluster of second tier teams. Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, Atlanta, and Chicago. The Bulls are the most intriguing of those teams. They sit at third in the East behind their ravaging defense, barely passable offense, and the effort they put in every single night. And they’re about to get their best player back, the 2010-11 MVP winner (however bogus that may have been), Derrick Rose.
In 2010-11 (We’ll be looking at this season instead of last year’s injury plagued campaign), without Rose playing, the Bulls’ offensive efficiency was 98.9, a mark that would sit mere percentage points above the Bobcats’ offense and be the third worst in today’s NBA. But the Bulls have adapted to playing without Rose, posting an offensive efficiency of 100.5, good for 20th in the league. In 2011, when Rose played the Bulls’ offensive efficiency jumped a whopping 8.6 points. A similar jump for this season’s Bulls team would make them the second best offensive team in the league with Rose on the court.
Now, this probably won’t happen. Rose is coming back from a torn ACL and likely won’t be himself for some time (look at Ricky Rubio). There will likely be minutes restrictions. We’re looking at data from two years ago and looking at a very different Bulls team today.
That last point is most important. The Bulls have completely changed their offense without Rose, so integrating him back in may be more difficult than just giving him the ball and watching him go. Let’s take a look at how this year’s Bulls’ starting point guard – Kirk Hinrich – compares to Rose in how he finishes possessions, using data from mySynergySports.
What immediately pops out when looking at this: Rose converts many more plays in the pick and roll, isolation, and transition, while Hinrich is used far more often in the role of a spot up shooter. The role of the point guard in Chicago’s offense drastically changed this year to suit the personnel. Compare the duo’s usage rates:
That 2011 team’s offense was completely centered around Rose; this year’s Bulls have adopted a new style without him. The team has been using Joakim Noah in the high post, Carlos Boozer down low, and lots of off ball cuts and screening action. They have no clear offensive focal point. The closest thing to it would be Joakim Noah, who has a 17.2 usage and is also posting 4.2 assists per game. (Side note: this may also be one of the reasons the team has struggled in crunch time – last five minutes, ahead or behind by five points – shooting only 38% from the field) The Bulls have largely been using Hinrich off the ball and he hasn’t been nearly as important as Derrick Rose was as the lynchpin of the 2011 team’s whole offense. Watch the following clip from this season:
Hinrich just pounds the ball at the top of the key as he waits for Rip Hamilton to come around a screen. The Bulls have been running a lot more of this type of thing without Rose. More of the Bulls offense this year is coming from cuts (11% of total plays this year vs. 10.1% in 2010-11), off screen plays (8.4% vs 6.8%), and, especially, post ups (11.7% vs 6.4%) and a lot less of their offense is comprised of pick and rolls (16.2% combined between ball-handler and roll man vs. 19.7%) and isolations (6.6% vs 9.3%).
While the Bulls certainly have an all-NBA caliber player coming back, it may take some time to integrate him back into the system and/or conform the system to fit his play better. Once this happens, the Bulls will be a dangerous team behind a presumably improved offense and their second ranked defense. They may even be ready to challenge Miami at the top of the East, but it won’t be easy, and it may not be quick.