October 09, 2010
For Chicago, the addition of Carlos Boozer(notes) to what was the league's 27th-ranked offense last season was supposed to act as a near-panacea. With that in place, the news of Boozer's broken hand and expected month-long stay on the regular season shelf was supposed to knock the Bulls back down to that lowly offensive status until the former All-Star returns.
But if Friday's 107-96 win over the Washington Wizards was any indication, it doesn't have to be that way.
The Bulls roared out to an impressive win on the shoulders of an offense that seemed to get whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted. Notching 92 points in three quarters with the starters working, the Bulls utilized great spacing and quick passes on its way to a win that was a lot more lopsided than the final score would indicate.
And all without Boozer. That screen-setting, jump-shooting 20-and-10 man.
The Wizards, with their three-guard (three small guard lineup) and iffy frontcourt, hardly stand as a mark of defensive excellence. This doesn't allow us to slough off the way Chicago spread the floor, continually ran cutter after cutter into the paint and wait for the eventual pass and finish, or the way the team racked up 28 assists on 39 field goals. Usually home scoring plays a part in a nice percentage like that, but not in this case.
The key was spacing. All night long the Bulls staggered screens and generated myriad offensive options as a result. Though Chicago's passing wasn't always pinpoint -- players like Keith Bogans(notes) and even point guard Derrick Rose(notes) are still a little hesitant when it comes to unloading a dime with a little mustard on it -- the ball was moving, and Washington was playing catch-up all night.
This mustard and catch-up stands in stark contrast to the offense Chicago utilized last season. Under former coach Vinny Del Negro, the Bulls mainly ran an isolation attack that put the ball in Rose's hands and asked everyone else to get the heck out of the way. Though there are some elements of VDN's offense that have carried over (this is still the NBA, so the great majority of plays will start with a big man setting a screen for the point guard up top), new coach Tom Thibodeau has all sorts of new options and perks already in place for his young team.
And for the older parts of his young team, he has sets galore in place to work them into their comfort zones.
Kurt Thomas(notes) was continually given a baseline jumper. Keith Bogans (3 for 4 from long range) consistently had good outside looks, right in his wheelhouse. And Kyle Korver(notes) played the role of a more-foppish Ray Allen(notes) all night, as he has all preseason.
Korver was running the same sets Allen ran in Boston under Thibodeau's assistant coaching to perfection, and it allowed him to finish with 17 points on 12 shots. Korver is averaging 16.3 points per game in the preseason on 53 percent shooting in limited minutes, proving that he is far more potent than his catch-and-shoot history would suggest.
And, out of nowhere, Chicago seems to have several options in Boozer's absence. Taj Gibson(notes) was more or less money with his midrange jumper. Luol Deng(notes) ran himself ragged yet again, but he's proven he can play big forward for short stretches. The same goes for Thomas, who more or less looks and acts the same as he has for the last decade.
Also, though the pairing proved to be a little dicey at times, moving rookie center Omer Asik(notes) into the lineup alongside Joakim Noah(notes) at power forward could be a long-term bench option even after Boozer returns.
It wasn't pretty on Friday night, as both players still have center instincts and attempted to follow the ball as a result, but they showed a willingness to work together, and their size and active games clearly got to the Wizards.
Asik is far from a finished product. He had two of his shots blocked, turned the ball over five times, and missed 6 of 9 free throws against the Wizards. But he's receptive to learning the NBA both in and out of game action, and the Turkish rookie still pulled in 10 rebounds off the bench and changed a host of shots. Noah (12 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 30 minutes) was simply more of the same, which is a good thing for Chicago.
The offense, after years of looking stagnant and piecemeal, was not more of the same. In just the team's third preseason game, Chicago's offense looks wonderfully spaced, as the finishers earn their comfort zones and the passers gain more confidence, it will only get better. And then, sometime around Black Friday, a 20-and-10 guy shows up. Not bad at all.
It was just a preseason game, against a team that figures to be among the worst in the NBA this season, but after just a few weeks of officially working under Tom Thibodeau, it's clear that the Bulls are on the right track. Even without an All-Star big man to call their own.