Leave it to the Bulls to be the first team to keep things rather interesting.
One of the NBA’s worst-kept secrets in 2015 was Chicago management’s dissatisfaction with head coach Tom Thibodeau. Thibs was dispatched from the position in late-May, two weeks after losing to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals. His replacement, as expected, was former NBA guard and Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg.
How Hoiberg would change Chicago’s philosophy, which for so long was winning games with grinding half-court sets and suffocating defense, was a major storyline going into the season. How that philosophical change will impact Rose is also something to watch as the season goes on.
The Bulls are emphasizing pushing the pace, calling fewer plays and more offensive freedom for point guards and their teammates, according to Bulls players who spoke to SheridanHoops before and after Chicago’s 115-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday night.
An orbital fracture in Rose’s face suffered in the preseason is still affecting his vision, but Chicago is encouraged by the results since his return and are yet again hopeful that he can regain his MVP form after an injury-free offseason.
“He feels good. He doesn’t have any soreness in his legs,” Hoiberg said. “He says that his vision is getting better.”
“They said that in a couple of weeks it will go down or go away, so I’m waiting patiently,” Rose said after scoring 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting while wearing a transparent protective mask in a 115-100 victory. “My priority right now is going out and creating and trying to get to the basket.”
Rose played in the team’s final preseason game on Friday and immediately brought good energy and pace to the offense, Hoiberg said. He was encouraged by Rose’s aggressiveness and ability to get into the paint even with his blurred vision.
For five seasons, Chicago’s priority under Thibodeau was to slow things down and play championship level defense. On those two fronts, Thibs was quite successful.
|Thibs’ Bulls||Pace||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating|
The Bulls ranked in the bottom third in pace, or possessions per 48 minutes, and in the top 11 in defensive rating every season. The Bulls will now try to see sustained improvements in per-game scoring and offensive efficiency, which fluctuated between 5th and 28th during Thibodeau’s tenure.
Reserve forward Doug McDermott, the son of a successful college head coach, knows his x’s and o’s and tried to explain his team’s new offensive philosophy.
“We have some of the same sets we’re still running, but we’re getting up and down a little more tempo-wise and there are different reads and different options now, which I think is good for us because we’re not thinking out there,” McDermott told SheridanHoops. “We’re breaking and seeing what happens.”
Those different reads and options are usually carried out by the point guard, which will almost always be Rose as long as he’s healthy. McDermott then emphasized what the point guard in this offense can do with these reads.
“If he sees open space, he’s supposed to attack,” McDermott said. “We have a lot of shooters out there that can open up the floor for him, and if he doesn’t have something, he could do a quick dribble hand-off or call for a quick ball-screen. And we’ve got some great big guys that can pick-and-pop too.”
It’s only been two regular-season games, but Hoiberg, McDermott and other Bulls are already excited and enthused by Rose’s play — though we’ve heard this story before. Rose was openly encouraging teammates, especially Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic, to take more shots as the team improves its pace and flow.
“Everybody has the freedom to do whatever,” forward Tony Snell told SheridanHoops. “Lots of movement, lots of freedom. We just have to read each other.”
As expected, Rose has been the primary beneficiary of this freedom early on.
“He doesn’t [have to] think about calling the play, he can just go,” McDermott said. “And I feel that he’s really comfortable so far.”
Aaron Brooks, Rose’s backup at point guard, agreed that the offense emphasizes less play calls, more actions and a freer flow, he downplayed the impact the new offense has on Rose.
“Derrick’s Derrick. He plays with complete freedom anyway and throughout the season he’s going to continue to get better and better,” Brooks told SheridanHoops. “It’s too early to see which offense is better for him, or whatever. When you’re a player like he is, of his caliber, it doesn’t really matter what the offense is.”
What still matters to the Bulls is their play on defense, which has been lackluster for their standards after giving up 95 to the Cavs on Tuesday and 100 to Brooklyn on Wednesday.
“Everybody can score on this team,” Snell said. “We just have to be more aware defensively.”
Rose listed several ways the Bulls needed to improve defensively, including coverages on mid pick-and-rolls, side pick-and-rolls and defensive rotations. He also said that the team has to be more vocal and aware on D.
“This is the second game of the year, and we’re probably going to be talking about the same thing all the way into the postseason,” Rose said. “We need to really work on our defense.”
Hoiberg remains enthusiastic about this team despite its early defensive shortcomings, gushing before the game about the roster’s versatility and ability to use different lineups of players who have played together for a while. However, none of that versatility and continuity really matters if Rose can’t stay on the floor.
Rose will continue to play between 30-35 minutes a game and there’s no limit on his minutes as of now, Hoiberg said. Once his vision is back to normal, Rose will be back to full strength and try to do the things he does best.
“Get in the lane, being creative, shooting floaters, try to get contact,” Rose said. “Usually when I have the ball and I create, the defense is so keyed in to me that a lot of guys are open for shots.”
Rose’s abilities should play out well in Hoiberg’s free-flowing attack.
Whether Rose remains in good health is the question that has and will define Rose’s career, along with the recent past and future of this proud Bulls franchise.
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for SheridanHoops who focuses on analytics, profiles and features. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. You should follow him on Twitter.