Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you’re probably aware of Jimmy Butler and how he’s emerged from (relative) obscurity to do some awesome things. Most recently, his dunk against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday had the blogosphere buzzing, mostly because, as you can see, he clearly is unimpressed with his work.
Now, as much as I loved the dunk and Jimmy’s reaction to it, the play that set it up is even more impressive. Since Tom Thibodeau took over as head coach of the Chicago Bulls, the single-double screen, or the “floppy” set, as it’s known in NBA circles, has been a staple of their offense. Sebastian Pruiti broke it down better than I could ever hope to back in April, but the basic concept is simple enough. A player — in the Bulls’ case, it’s usually Rip Hamilton — will eventually make his way under the basket, where he’ll either choose to curl off a single screen on one side or a double screen on the other, based on how he’s being defended. Here’s a basic example, from Pruiti’s piece:
It’s an extremely basic set in the NBA, and virtually everyone runs it in some form or other. But the Bulls will occasionally pull out a slight variation. You can see an example of it in the Pruiti piece, if you want, although that one isn’t quite as exciting.
The set starts like pretty much any “floppy” set would. Luol Deng inbounds to Kirk Hinrich at the top of the key, then runs across to the near elbow, where he gets a double-screen from Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson while Hinrich dribbles at the top.
As Deng comes around the double-screen, Joakim Noah slides down towards the baseline, where he’ll set another screen. Mike Dunleavy actually does a good job of sticking to Deng through the screens — although neither Taj nor Jimmy is really trying all that hard — but Deng doesn’t have any real problems as he runs through the middle.
Deng never hesitates as he comes through the lane, making a beeline for the screen being set by Noah on the far side. Meanwhile, Gibson starts creeping up behind Monta Ellis, who’s guarding Butler. Ellis has his head turned and doesn’t really seem to know Gibson’s there, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, guarding Taj, either doesn’t warn him or isn’t heard.
At this point, the Bucks are pretty screwed. Dunleavy got picked off pretty hard by Noah’s screen, forcing Ekpe Udoh to jump out on Deng as he makes the catch on the far side. In turn, this forces Mbah a Moute to step up and into the lane as Noah dives to the rim. Kirk Hinrich flares to the three point line on the opposite wing, and with Brandon Jennings getting caught ball-watching, Deng could probably find Hinrich for an open three-pointer. But the primary option is still Butler, now cutting hard to the basket.
Milwaukee’s only hope now is that Mbah a Moute can somehow defend Noah and Butler simultaneously, which he can’t. Somebody is getting a dunk at this point, it’s just a question of who.
Spoiler: Mbah a Moute wasn’t able to guard both at once. He’s too far away from the rim to do anything as Jimmy soars over him for the dunk, and Monta couldn’t recover quickly enough/jump high enough to seriously contest Jimmy at the rim. And again, notice that Kirk is wide open for three, if the Bucks had somehow managed to contain Butler and Noah at the same time.
Here’s the play in real time.
The Bulls have run large chunks of their offense out of this basic single-double set since Thibs arrived, and this is one of the best they have. Butler’s athleticism makes this play especially exciting because he can go up and throw down the lob. Hopefully we’ll be seeing this again at some point.