The Bulls are looking for more “random” offense in the 2022-23 NBA season

NBA training camps can be a hotbed for big topics and philosophical adjustments.

For this year’s Chicago Bulls, the mission to improve the offense boils down to one word.

“I think it’s just going to be a little more random,” Zach LaVine said when asked to describe the team’s new offensive principles after Saturday’s practice. “Be in different spots, different than almost last year, where teams knew exactly where we were and could determine the defense on every play.”

By definition, the concept of randomness is difficult to pin down specifics. So perhaps it’s better thought of as the antonym of what describes the Bulls’ offense during the stretch run of the 2021-22 season.

At a standstill. Predictable. One dimensional. Choose.

Such an ecosystem did not develop out of thin air. Injuries to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso have hurt the Bulls’ ability to force turnovers and fuel their offensive attacks in transition — both core aspects of their early-season identity. LaVine, who himself had knee issues in mid-January, shifted the burden of creating the team’s perimeter shots in the half court to DeMar DeRozan.

De Rozan, to his credit, ran away with that opportunity. He’s hitting fastballs, hitting a hitting streak not even touched by Wilt Chamberlain, and shooting up the MVP charts midway through the season. And all while keeping the Bulls afloat during the dog days of the season.

But what head coach Billy Donovan has long warned about is that DeRozan’s greatness — as charming as it was — masked offensive deficiencies that must be corrected for his team to take the next step. Mainly in the ball and player movement departments.

“Coming off the bench as a coach, you have a group of guys trying to get into that game and try to win — and you try to put them in a situation to win. And without a doubt there were times where DeMar drove him and we kept going at him,” Donovan said. “And I’m not saying that’s the wrong thing. But my thing is, if you look at the big picture, is it going to be sustainable and successful for us against those really, really elite teams, both in the East and in the West? I think it would be really, really hard to live like that.”

It was like that last season. The Bulls finished 2-21 against the top four teams in each conference and, according to Cleaning the Glass, had the 25th-ranked point differential in the league (-11.6) against teams with a top-10 point differential. (That mark is probably more due to their 29th-ranked defense against top-10 opponents — a conversation for another day — but the Bulls were 17th on offense as well.)

Donovan also pointed to the Bulls’ poor record in close games against the NBA’s elite, and it’s true; The Bulls finished 25-16 last season in “clutch” games, defined by NBA.com as contests within five points with five minutes or less to play in the fourth quarter. But they were just 1-8 in clutch games against the top four teams in each conference — 24-8 against everyone else.

“I’ve said this before, and people might not want to admit it, and I’ve talked to our team about it. You take two of DeMar’s (out) hits — the one at Washington and the one against Indiana — we’re in the playoffs,” Donovan said. “That’s how close it is and how fragile it is.”

So what needs to change?

Whenever asked, Donovan publicly implored his team to aim for multiple poles. He wants the Bulls to fast break as much as possible and play up tempo in the half court. He wants the floored five out to start a possession to free up driving and cutting lanes. And he wants his players to make quick decisions with the basketball and move freely without it, transitioning from action to action instead of getting bogged down after, say, an initial pick-and-roll.

The Bulls finished last season ranked 13th in offense, averaging 112.7 points per 100 possessions. But in 23 games since the All-Star break, they ranked 25th (110.7 points per 100) and finished the campaign near the bottom of the league in several procedural categories that Donovan hopes to change: 27th in assist percentage, 24th in shots per game and 27th in frontcourt touches per game — all areas Donovan often points to as ways to generate quality shots at the rim and from 3-point range.

Last season, according to Cleaning the Glass, the Bulls ranked 15th in field goal percentage, 30th in 3-point field goal percentage, and second in field goal percentage. made from a midrange (which can largely be created by themselves) .

“It’s really hard to generate good offense without getting paint chips,” Donovan said. “And we have to try to find opportunities, randomly, to get there.”

Donovan’s announcements came after the team’s first week of training camp — or the first installation phase.

“Free-flowing. Quick reads. For isolations, one-on-ones, we’ll take a few of those snaps. That’s part of our game. But quick reads. Quick decisions,” LaVine said when asked to describe the Bulls’ offense. “The ball has to bounce off the sideline. Being able to use different players in different spots. We’re not just going to stay on the sideline doing a pick-and-roll or rolling it into the post. The ball at the top of the key with me in isolation and everybody staring.

“Will there be things like this from time to time? Yes, it’s basketball. And I think we have a lot more random plays where they cut, move, turn sides of the ball and things like that.”

Communication will also be key. Donovan mentioned he appreciates LaVine, DeRozan and Nikola Vučević coming to him with feedback after the dust settled on last season’s finale.

“Being accountable and receiving constructive criticism. I think that’s something we’ve got to do a little better job of, top to bottom, including with the coaching staff,” LaVine said. “I think we got better with that and being able to hear and see the adjustments and try to take everything easier and be able to adjust it and put it into game form.”

Those concepts will likely take time to play out on the court, even for a group that emphasizes continuity from last year’s trade deadline. And that will require buy-in and trust from the top of the list to the bottom.

The goal is to be more unpredictable and less reliant on tough shots — or, in Donovan’s words, more resilient.

“We have pretty much the same staff from last year. We know what our strengths are, we know what we’re good at, so we’re not trying to stray too far from that either,” LaVine said. “But I think the tweaks will help us throughout the season to not try to have as many heroic plays day in and day out.”

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