Bulls Film Room: Looking at the Unstoppable Jimmy Butler-Pau Gasol Lob Plays

Throughout the 2015-16 campaign for the Chicago Bulls, there was a play that the Bulls seemingly got to work on a nightly basis. Here’s a look at how the Bulls ran those successful lob plays with Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler.

There was plenty to critique from the disaster that was this past season for the Chicago Bulls.

One of the main focuses of that aforementioned criticism was the lack of execution that was shown in head coach Fred Hoiberg‘s quicker, more-modern system. The Bulls attempted to take a roster that was built for more scoring opportunities in the half-court and tried to run and gun with a style that fits today’s game. That obviously didn’t work out too well.

There was a play that worked tremendously for the Bulls in their half-court opportunities this season.

Despite being a slower-paced team under Tom Thibodeau in his five seasons in Chicago, the Bulls were among the league’s lowest in terms of completed lobs.

In a 2013 piece from now current Bulls columnist Sean Highkin, he mentioned how the Los Angeles Clippers during their early “Lob City” days threw 255 successful alley-oops in the last two seasons prior.

(The funny part of that short post: the San Antonio Spurs had only completed five lobs in that span.)

How does this relate to the Bulls? They completed 24 lobs in that span. That total amount was only higher than the Spurs’ five during that time.

The Bulls aren’t a high-flying team still by any stretch of the imagination under Hoiberg, but it appeared that way at times. There’s one play in particular that stood out and that’s Pau Gasol connecting on lob attempts to Jimmy Butler seemingly once a night.

(The Bulls won a game this season because of a Gasol-to-Butler lob connection.)

Here’s a look and a breakdown of why that play tended to work this season by looking at simplicity of the play itself.

In this instance, there’s a couple things that come to mind for this lob: the Houston Rockets are pathetic on the defensive end and Dwight Howard is guarding Gasol, so he’s not able to protect the basket.

Gasol gets a simple pass from Derrick Rose in the high post. The sneaky thing about this play is that Rose appears to head towards Butler to set a screen on Trevor Ariza. Rose fakes the screen, followed by a quick jab towards the three-point line by Butler to get Ariza out of position just slightly and that was all she wrote.

In this half-court sequence, Rose has the ball on the right wing, while Gasol moves to the top of key with Butler isolating Chris Paul in the post. The timing and recognition from both players on this play was fantastic. Gasol knew that Butler had the smaller Paul on him and that he pulled DeAndre Jordan away from the rim. All that was left after Gasol’s pretty touch pass at the rim was Paul Pierce.

Advantage: Bulls.

This lob was similar to the successful lob against the Rockets. Gasol gets the ball in the high post against Roy Hibbert with Butler on the opposite high post in a HORNS set for the Bulls. Julius Randle (not seen until the end of the play) is eyeballing Taj Gibson on the baseline, while Jordan Clarkson is watching E’Twaun Moore in the right corner.

The issue once again? There’s nobody to protect the rim.

Butler sees the open lane and makes a good spin move off of Anthony Brown and Gasol puts the pass right where he needs to for the easy backdoor deuce.

This version of the Butler-Gasol lob was a little impromptu (and not exactly filmed well by yours truly).

This manufactured lob came courtesy of a couple things:

  1. Pau Gasol getting a pass up near the top of the key again (with Timofey Mozgov sagging deep in the lane).
  2. Kevin Love being out of position, thanks to a random off-ball screen from Bobby Portis.

The reason(s) why this worked was because Love’s eyes were everywhere after Portis screened LeBron James away from Tony Snell and Butler simply beat J.R. Smith to the basket. It was the prettiest finish, but the Bulls once again pulled the rim protector away from the basket and got an easy bucket.

This may not technically count as a lob, but the execution and finish was flawless.

Gasol posted up Brook Lopez, which means Brooklyn’s best rim protector is away from the rim. Taj Gibson is sitting right there at the free-throw line, while Butler basically did to Joe Johnson what he did to Ariza earlier. Butler sells going to the three-point line and then bum-rushes the lane for the easy two points on a great pass from Gasol.

Remember the lob during the Lakers game where Butler spun off his man and finish at the rim? This is a similar play, but the setup’s a bit different.

The Bulls load up the left side of the floor in the half-court with Pau Gasol up top and Jimmy Butler to his right. Anthony Davis is one the premier players in the NBA and a masterful shot-blocker.

But, with Gasol up high again, Davis has to mark him out there, which leaves the lane wide open. Just like he did against the Lakers, Butler spins off of Alonzo Gee and finishes a Gasol lob perfectly for a key fourth-quarter bucket.

There’s a good chance that Gasol doesn’t return to Chicago next season. He’ll likely opt-out of his current three-year deal and look elsewhere for one more paycheck (potentially from the San Antonio Spurs themselves).

But, with an awesome athlete like Butler still in Chicago for the time being, the Bulls have to continue to look for freebie points like these when they can’t get out, run and shoot more under Hoiberg.

Portis and Gibson aren’t exactly dynamic passers (they’re really not passers whatsoever), but Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah (if he stays) could make plays like this work in the future with the timing and execution shown by Butler and Gasol this past year.