The Bulls’ front office gifted second-year head coach Billy Donovan with one of the best rosters in the NBA.
With the additions from this past offseason, the roster this year compared to last season’s is far more talented.
I say this with all due respect and happiness for the success of last season’s cast. Daniel Gafford, Wendell Carter and others are having plenty of success at their new homes.
Nonetheless, the outcome proceeding the Bulls’ offseason moves resulted in questions surrounding the “fit” of the team.
“DeMar DeRozan will not fit with the Bulls” pic.twitter.com/5Wd3EiypKN
— Devin Keller (@devnkeller) December 3, 2021
For example, Greg Swartz of Bleacher Report specified his thoughts around the DeRozan, “The DeRozan sign-and-trade, however, feels odd. With Zach LaVine, Ball, Coby White and Nikola Vucevic all needing their touches, adding a ball-dominant, non-three-point shooting wing just doesn’t fit. Chicago overpaid both in contract (three years, $81.9 million) and assets surrendered (2025 first-round pick, Young, Aminu) for DeRozan, a player it’ll almost certainly try to trade before his contract is up.”
I’m not trying to call out Swartz because he could be proven correct down the line. DeRozan is on the wrong side of 30 and the Bulls put plenty of assets into his presence.
But, the reason his take on DeRozan and the fit of the Bulls is currently wrong is simplified down to one answer: Billy Donovan.
Donovan’s offensive adjustments surrendered all of the concerns around DeRozan & Co. fitting on the court. In return, the adjustments boosted DeRozan to an MVP candidate, made the Bulls a near top-10 offense in the league and led the Bulls to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.
How did the Bulls do it?
Donovan changed the offensive system to accommodate the ball-dominant scorers in the lineup, so they can efficiently spread the wealth.
Last season, the top three offenses run by the Bulls were spot-up shooting (24.4 percent), pick-and-roll through the ball handler (18.2 percent) and transition (12.7 percent) with an honorable mention to cutting and pick-and-roll through the roll man (tied at 8.2 percent).
This season, the Bulls’ top offenses remain the same logistically, but with minor detail.
The increase in isolation ball and pick-and-roll through the ball handler helps accommodate the ball-dominant scorers. That, followed by a decrease in cutting, pick-and-roll through the roll man and the lesser need for Nikola Vucevic post-ups equates the Bulls’ offense.
Derrick Jones Jr. never played a minute of center in his career before this year. He was found money as a roll man for the Bulls on this road trip. Excellent move by Billy Donovan.
Three big buckets on the roll vs. the Nuggets last night: pic.twitter.com/0ieXsDUXFU
— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) November 20, 2021
The difference, however, is in the details.
The Bulls are the best transition team in the NBA. They lead the league in points per possession (1.24), field goal percentage (62.2 percent), and-one frequency (four percent) and scoring frequency (57.6 percent).
The strongest addition to the transition offense is inarguably Lonzo Ball. Ball averages 2.66 miles per game, 10th best in the league. A small stat to exemplify his work running the floor and attributing the Bulls’ eighth best pace in the league.
The team also contends as one of the best isolation teams too. They lead the league in points per possession (1.14), field goal percentage (52.6 percent) and scoring frequency (54 percent).
Through isolation and pick-and-roll through the ball handler, the Bulls have the ability to extract the best from their top scorers. Insert DeRozan, who averages the sixth-most points per possession (1.29) and the second best field goal percentage in isolation (62.9 percent).
The adjustments made to the offense are strikingly different than that of the offense last season. Last season, the Bulls ranked 29th in points per game in isolation and 25th in points per game in transition.
Kudos to Billy Donovan
The roster additions make a huge difference, but Donovan’s offensive design put the icing on the cake.
The conglomerate of minor offensive changes to this year’s Bulls so far resulted in the 11th best offense in the league (108.9 points per game) that maintains the fifth-best scoring margin (+3.7) and one of the most efficient shooting rankings (fourth in field goal percentage, sixth in three-pointers, first in free throws).
The front office jettisoned past players for new, energetic players like Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan, who accentuate the Bulls’ offense in transition and isolation, respectively. Yet, it was Donovan that designed the offense applicable to his new team.
In the season’s small sample size of 26 games, the team passes the test of fit already. The question remains, can they keep the same high-octane offense through isolation and transition? Only time will tell.