Fred Hoiberg has been called a lot of things during his short tenure with the Chicago Bulls. Some nice, some things that I can not repeat on this blog (and even worse!), but one word that hasn’t been used enough when discussing Fred Hoiberg is adaptability. He’s been able to roll with the punches that Gar Forman and John Paxson have handed out, take a team that finished last season as one of the worst offensive squads, and form a highly-effective attack centered around the very egalitarian efforts of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. Even though Hoiberg can’t take all of the credit for the Bulls excellent start, it’s hard not to get excited about the job he’s done when you consider that his team ranks 10th all-time in Bulls history in offensive rating. The nine teams in front of them all made at the least the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
This year the Bulls have certainly benefited from the players actually attempting to enjoy spending time with each other, but there is a noticeable on-the-court difference. The factor that’s overlooked the most in basketball is player roles. It’s something that’s discussed often, but only at face value. By dictating Wade and Butler as the only volume-scorers on the team Hoiberg has accelerated the development of prospects like Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic, and even Isaiah Canaan.
Though I’ve always been a fan of Hoiberg, starting with his great Iowa State teams featuring the likes of Royce White. I’ll admit I was a part of the huge contingent of Bulls fans who quickly turned on the young coach in a roller-coaster 2015-16 season.
So far this year with a better mixture of young and veteran players, the Bulls have succeeded and Hoiberg (along with Jim Boylen and co.) have made some things abundantly clear on offense.
The Bulls were doubted coming into the season because of the obvious lack of shooting, yet as of December 5th, 2016 they rank seventh in the NBA in Net Rating-which is a point differential per 100 possessions statistic. In most cases that’s a safe way to measure who are the elite teams the league. Chicago’s defense has held strong throughout the many changes surrounding the organization, but the sudden spike in offensive efficiency is surprising. The last time this happened was back in the early Thibodeau years, which means that the players are buying into their head coach. So what exactly are the players buying into?
1. Fred Hoiberg’s players are pushing the pace while still valuing possessions.
The Chicago Bulls attempt 88.5 shots per game, a figure that is good for 4th in the league. At the same time the Bulls rank in the top ten in the league in protecting the ball. A team that gets up and down the floor quickly, without turning over the ball often will have a much easier time building an efficient and effective offensive attack.
Wade’s veteran leadership certainly has helped guide the team in this direction, but certainly the design of Hoiberg’s offense was a major key. Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson, and Robin Lopez have all posted good offensive ratings with the Hoiberg’s early action sets keeping Chicago’s inside scorers involved.
2. Chicago improved on their biggest offensive strength….
Rebounding-it has been the calling card of the Bulls for quite some time. Chicago’s rebounding prowess has allowed them to trot out some poor-shooting lineups over the years, and still end up with offenses just outside the top ten in efficiency.
In year one under Hoiberg, the Bulls finished ninth in offensive rebounding. As of December 5th, 2016, they are number one in the league by a full board at 13.8 offensive rebounds per game.
Robin Lopez (3.9 ORB per game) and Taj Gibson (2.4 ORB per game) lead the charge, but what’s remarkable is that the next six players on the team all average at least one offensive board per game. Hoiberg’s offense is about spacing, and plugging aggressive rebounding guards into this system has resulted in one of the best modern NBA offenses. Which has been buoyed along by second-chance points rather than three-pointers.
3. Jimmy Butler has made “The Leap” (and has brought Taj along with him)
Jimmy Butler is a great player because of his awesome work ethic and attitude. The All-Star guard certainly would’ve become a serviceable pro no matter what, but it’s interesting how different coaching styles affect players. I say this because the one thing that’s undeniable about Fred Hoiberg is that his involvement with the Bulls correlates directly with Butler’s growth as a play-maker.
Butler improves overall every season, but what is awesome about his development under Hoiberg is that he has actually been playing less minutes per game while producing more (the mark of a true superstar). He has racked up assists at a rate roughly 5% better than his last year with Tom Thibodeau. My point being, Hoiberg has given Butler the keys to the car by letting him initiate so many pick-and-rolls. The former Marquette Golden Eagle forces the defense to collapse and make a decision because of how good he’s at finishing in the paint (currently shooting a career-high 65% on shots three to ten feet from the rim).
The cool part about Butler’s ascendance to a MVP-caliber player is that he’s specifically brought Taj Gibson along for the ride. Of course I don’t mean that Gibson is an MVP candidate, but perhaps a Most Improved Player honor is in order? The 31-year old Gibson has been stellar this season, sitting at 12.3ppg/7.9 rpg/1.1 bpg and is shooting 55% from the field. His two-way presence and dominant inside scoring has given the Bulls the third-banana that they have always been missing.
If this year’s squad continues to establish their identity through these winning principles, there’s a strong possibility of the Bulls getting another shot at LeBron in Eastern Conference playoffs.