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Analyzing the Offense pt. 4 – The Bulls
Let’s quickly review what we’ve seen so far to put the Bulls offense in perspective. We’ve seen the triangle offense that emphasized read-and-react with a particular spacing; we’ve seen the rigid use of the double high post set by the Heat; and we’ve seen the motion offense that combines a particular set with a read-and-react system. Now we’ll see a system that is probably most similar to the Mavericks system we saw last time but has some key differences.
The Bulls combine a few different systems to create their offense and can ultimately be described as a type of motion offense. I’ll characterize their two main systems as a flex motion offense and a dribble drive motion offense. Like most NBA playbooks, the Bulls don’t run a purely flex motion offense or a purely dribble drive motion offense but instead have created a variant of those systems to maximize the advantages in their roster. Let’s first take a look at what a flex motion offense is.
Similar to the description of a motion offense we used last time, any motion offense is a description of a system – one that emphasizes off-ball motion to open up passing options.
Flex Motion Offense
Let’s look at a traditional flex motion offense play and see how it compares to how the Bulls run their version.
Notice that the traditional flex motion starts with a 1-4 low set and ends as a 2-3 with two players at the high post. The key to this motion is to find an opportunity for a player to get a cut for an open shot. There is an opportunity for a cut by the SF after the pass to the PF, another opportunity by the cutting PG down the lane or in the corner, and another opportunity for the SF at the elbow.
Now let’s watch the Bulls run the basic flex offense.
In our clip we see the 1-4 low set with Noah at the point. In the version the Bulls run here Rose enters the elbow, then Bogans gets his low post screen by Gibson. Rose then screened for Gibson who receives the pass. Rose entered the corner and Bogans set a screen for Deng to receive a shot at the low post.
Notice how the movement down low opened up that shot for Deng. The flex offense gives players the opportunity to screen for each other to free up shots down low. Let’s see how shots open up on the perimeter.
In that clip we saw a pop out to the perimeter after the low post screen by Bogans. You can now imagine the combination of screen and roll/pop available by the movement created in the flex offense.
Variations – UCLA read
We’ve looked at the most basic version of the flex offense, now let’s watch what happens when the Bulls add some variations.
Our clip shows us that the Bulls are okay breaking out of the traditional 1-4 low set. What is important to them is the movement created between the corners and low post. It is common for them to substitute the 1-4 low for a wing pass entry. This frees up Rose to enter the flex motion and become a more potent off-ball scoring option.
You will also notice that the Bulls have incorporated what is known as a UCLA cut into the flex offense. A UCLA cut is simply the low post flashing to the high post to screen for a perimeter player to enter the low post. In our clip the UCLA cut is made by Rose toward the high post to meet a screen from Deng. The Bulls likely incorporate this cut also to assist freeing up Rose for a potential early basket and to further confuse the defense.
The Bulls love to run this variation. I have seen this variation called the UCLA read because they seem to start with the UCLA cut and when Rose reaches the low post they read the defense to decide what combination of screens and cuts they can run to free someone up for a pass. In the clip above they chose to free up Deng with a Rose screen.
The Bulls run this UCLA read so often I’ll include a library of clips with a brief description for each.
|Clip 1||UCLA read – Wing reversal to dump down|
|Clip 2||UCLA read – Wing return to dribble drive|
|Clip 3||UCLA read – Wing reversal dribble drive drop to Boozer|
Variations – Wing Reversal
The Bulls also like to incorporate a wing reversal by Rose to create a two man game between Rose and Boozer or an isolation for Boozer. Here we see the wing reversal with some brief flex motion down low that transitions into a two man game between Rose and Boozer. Rose eventually slides out of the two man game to create an isolation for Boozer.
As a side note, you might notice why they went with the wing reversal. Look at the Heat defense when the play begins. We have three Heat defenders crowding the high post to prevent an initial high post pass entry. This stops the basic flex offense and requires either a dribble entry, guard to guard pass, or a wing pass entry.
When the wing reversal is initiated, it allows the players swinging the ball to the opposite wing to surprise the defense with a move. Here we so Noah catching Bosh expecting a wing reversal and it results in a drive to the basket.
The wing reversal in many respects is a counter to the UCLA cut seen above. If the UCLA read doesn’t result in an open play the wing reversal can be used to reset the offense.
Variations – High Pick
You may remember our 1-4 low set when we discussed the Heat’s isolation plays. The Bulls are able to run the same isolation play and, as is common with the 1-4 low set, they can call up a high pick for Rose.
Did you feel bad that Noah didn’t receive the pass? Me too, so here’s a clip of him receiving that pass in the very next possession.
Dribble Drive Motion
The dribble drive motion offense is a motion offense that utilizes dribble drives to key the motion of off-ball players. Unlike the motion offense we saw with the Mavericks, there are no off-ball screens to free up players to accept a pass. Instead, it relies upon the player entering the lane to find the open man after the defense collapses on him. If you’ve followed Derrick Rose you may recognize this system because he ran it at Memphis.
Here we see the Memphis Tigers running the dribble drive motion offense.
The dribble drive motion has four distinct zones.
The rectangular area in white is called the breakdown zone. This is where the ballhandler will attempt to break down his defender and enter the lane. The area marked in red is called the drop zone. Once the dribble penetration reaches the drop zone it keys other players to make one motion. The gray area is called the drag zone, keying another motion. The green zone is called the rack zone where the dribble penetration player should attempt a layup.
If the dribble penetration makes it to the drop zone, it usually keys the C to drop down to the opposite high post to receive a possible pass and the SG and SF rotate upward.
In our animation you can see the PG was able to make it to the high post and has a few passing options. He can either look to the weakside perimeter to pass to the SG, make the closer perimeter pass to the SF, make a bounce pass to the C, or if the PF”s defender moved to stop the PG’s penetration the PF might be open for a high-low pass.
In this animation the PG was able to make it to the drag zone which opens up different possibilities. The SG and SF still rotate upward but now the PF has rotated out for an open baseline shot and the C has rotated behind the PG on the perimeter for a kick out.
If the PG makes it to the rack zone he simply attempts a layup.
The animations above don’t fully cover the possible motions by the off-ball players but should give you an idea of how the offense works. The main idea is that players will give the ballhandler some passing options based on the defense collapsing on him.
You may have noticed some significant weaknesses to this offense. First, it requires at least one perimeter player that can consistently break down his defender to enter the lane. Second, it requires the ballhandler to make some very quick decisions on where to pass.
One way the Bulls have decided to cover these weaknesses is to have the C or PF set a high screen. This makes it easier for him to break down his defender and gives him a closer passing option.
Let’s take a look at this motion in action.
Here we see the high screen by the C and he roughly makes it to the drop zone. This keys the SF and SG to rotate across the perimeter slightly to receive the pass. The PG finds the weak side corner who is open for the shot.
Again we see a high screen attempt by the C but it’s unsuccessful so the PF sets a screen. The PG is able to make it to the drop zone again and he makes a high-low pass to the C. We also see the weak side corner is open so he doesn’t need to shift up and the ball side corner rotates upward as another passing option.
Since the Bulls have added a high screen to the typical dribble drive motion it allows players that otherwise wouldn’t be able to breakdown their defenders 1 on 1 the ability to run the dribble drive motion offense. In this clip we have the PG receive a series of screens that allow him to get to the drop zone. He makes a bounce pass to the opposite high post and the C finds the PF open at the low post. Also notice on the perimeter players rotate upward (Brewer should have rotated upward slightly but he seems to have been caught ball watching).
If the rotations go wrong, spacing issues can result and can easily cause turnovers. It is essential that the rotations maintain adequate spacing and everyone knows where to go.
In this clip Rose makes it to the drag zone but we see Boozer rotate into the lane rather than out to the baseline. This causes Bosh to be in the rack zone, preventing a layup attempt and also further clogs the lane for the cross court pass. As a result, Lebron is in place to intercept the pass attempt.
Roster Specific Plays
The Bulls have a few plays to give Boozer some low post isolation opportunities. Usually it’s a simple wing entry followed by a clear out like the clip below.
Kyle Korver Single Double
The Bulls also love to run a single double for Kyle Korver. You probably remember the single double play when we discussed the Mavericks, which is good news because I wasn’t able to find a clip of Korver running the single double.
Once again we end by comparing this offense with what we’ve seen so far. Which offensive system would you say the Bulls’ system is most similar to? Do you agree that it’s probably most similar to the Mavericks’ system? The Bulls utilize so many offensive elements that I don’t think there’s really a right answer. It features some read-and-react elements in its dribble drive motion offense, though not as complex as the triangle offense and certainly not the centerpiece to their offense. The flex motion offense is also primarily a read-and-react system but they incorporate the UCLA cut enough to nearly make it begin as a set.
How about the role of the PG in this system? Derrick Rose has such an enormous impact on the success of the Bulls’ offense compared to the systems we’ve looked at previously. In past systems the PG was an offensive threat mostly because he was a spot up shooter. Now we see the PG as the anchor to the offense. In the flex motion offense Rose enters the UCLA read off a UCLA cut at which point he can control the screening or exit on the opposite wing to reset the offense. In the dribble drive motion he has to penetrate the defense and make the right play. Looking forward we’ll compare the role of Rose and Westbrook when we take a look at the Thunder offense. After that we’ll take a little change of pace and look at the best offense of all – defense.