D'Antoni, Rockets give Bulls a blueprint for offensive success

Mark Strotman
NBC Sports Chicago

Free agent Fred Hoiberg had his eyes set on joining the Phoenix Suns in 2006. The 33-year-old shooting guard had led the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage in 2004 with the Timberwolves before undergoing open-heart surgery in 2005. Phoenix was a natural fit, as two-time reigning MVP Steve Nash and the Suns were in the process of revolutionizing the NBA with their Seven Seconds or Less offense. The previous season the Suns became the first team in league history to average double-digit 3-pointers per game.

Hoiberg came to terms with the Suns but team doctors couldn't guarantee his helth post-surgery. Ultimately Hoiberg announced his retirement and join the TImberwolves front office. But he never forgot those Phoenix teams that changed the NBA, and as he began his own coaching career he looked to the man who invented those offenses for inspiration: Mike D'Antoni.

"I did try to model a lot of my system after the way he plays," Hoiberg said Monday night. "Shoot rim twos and obviously a lot of threes, a lot of those in transition. He's as good as there is, as creative an offensive mind as there's ever been in this game. I do think he changed the way the game is played with the amount of 3-pointers that are shot."

D'Antoni never stopped the revolution. As teams began mimicking what Phoenix was doing and advanced analytics took center stage, D'Antoni continued pushing the limits. And it's now led him to Houston, where he's once again rewriting NBA history books. Monday night that was on full display, as the Rockets poured in 20 3-pointers on an eye-popping 54 attempts in their 116-107 victory over the Bulls.

There were hot streaks – they made seven of their first eight from deep – and serious lulls that allowed their opponent to erase a 21-point deficit. Their commitment to the style paid dividends, however, and it allowed them to extend their NBA record of 35 straight games with double-digit made 3-pointers.

It's been a two-year stretch of records for the Rockets, who have been built to play this way. They shattered every 3-point measurement last season and are rewriting all their own records this year, thanks in large part to the addition of Chris Paul, who had 24 points and nine assists on Monday (including three of those 20 triples). With Eric Gordon (four 3-pointers) and Trevor Ariza (six 3-pointers) on the wings, combined with stretch forward in Ryan Anderson (one 3-pointer), there's always at least four shooters on the floor.

When center Clint Capela, who leads the league in field goal percentage because of his uncanny pick-and-roll ability isn't in, the Rockets can go defense-first with P.J. Tucker or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, or insert the recently signed Gerald Green for an offensive spark. Green went 8-for-15 and hit four triples, giving him 29 triples in seven games with Houston. He'll hold down the fort until, oh, MVP frontrunner James Harden returns from a hamstring injury and makes Houston all the more lethal.

"That's the way we play. We get up and down. A guy got an open shot we take it," Paul said. "I get to get on guys about not taking shots, and I'm the guy that passes all the time."

Added Ariza: "Any time we play our style of basketball that gives us the best chance to win, because that's what we do and what we've been doing. Just have to stay true to it."

The Bulls have transformed in similar ways under Hoiberg. Their own 28 3-point attempts hardley compares to Houston's shots, but the Bulls are still flirting with top-10 status in 3-point attempts per game. Their 29.9 attempts per game are nearly seven more than a year ago, when Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade initiated much of the offense from inside the arc. Successful? Yes. What Hoiberg wanted to do? No.

In just the last 12 months the roster has transformed. Lauri Markkanen continues to set NBA rookie records for 3-pointers. Denzel Valentine, for all his shortcomings, matched a career-high five 3-pointers on Monday. Kris Dunn has struggled with his 3-point shot since taking the point guard reins, but he's also up to nearly eight assists per game since Nov. 28. Though Mirotic could be dealt as early as January 15, he's shooting 47 percent from deep.

Zach LaVine, who could return as early as Wednesday, was showing promise as an outside shooter before tearing his ACL nearly 12 months ago. If nothing else LaVine will space the floor better for the other four Bulls on the floor. That can only mean more attempts, and more open attempts.

It'll take time, and the Bulls won't be erasing these Rockets from the record books anytime soon. But the man Hoiberg is trying to imitate in his style of offense is currently doing so at a better and more efficient rate than any coach in NBA history. That means something for the Bulls, and as the rebuild continues will pay dividends eventually as the 3-pointers go in and the wins pile up.

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