Reasons for optimism with the Chicago Bulls’ offense

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 26: Lauri Markkanen
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 26: Lauri Markkanen /

While the Chicago Bulls possess one of the worst offenses in the NBA so far, there have been some positive results if you look deep enough.

Sifting through early-season stats can be a precarious exercise; it’s hard to put too much stock into a certain statistic or performance when the sample size is only eight games.

Still, eight games is about 10 percent of an NBA season. If we start to look just a little bit deeper into some early trends, we can learn something from them. Are the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons really the second and third best teams in the Eastern Conference? No, most likely not. Have we seen enough of them playing good basketball that we now know they’re better than most thought? Absolutely.

With a team like the Chicago Bulls, this becomes even more difficult. Their 2-6 record is supported by their point differential (-6.6 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball Reference), and there hasn’t been much excitement outside of Lauri Markkanen, David Nwaba, and the occasional Kris Dunn highlight.

Despite the poor early season results, there are still certain areas of the game in which the Bulls have excelled. They’re fourth in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions according to Basketball Reference, but that’s mostly spear-headed by back-to-back solid performances against the Magic and Pelicans. The Bulls are absolutely not a top five defensive team in the NBA.

There is one stat about the Bulls in the early-season that has caught my eye. It’s a small part of the game, but it’s something (h/t Matt Moore of

What makes this more notable is that the Bulls have generally performed very poorly in this area in the past (and h/t to Michael Gallagher for this):

Last season, with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and Rajon Rondo at the helm, much of the Bulls’ offense relied on isolations. 6.8 percent of the Bulls’ possessions were isolations, and they scored just .82 points per possession on those isolations, 26th in the NBA, per

Many after timeout plays last year, and many plays in general, ultimately resulted in Butler or Wade pounding the ball into the floor with limited spacing. They start with action to get Butler or Wade open for a pass, only for everything to come to a standstill:

According to, the Bulls run isolation plays just 3.6 percent of the time this year. That’s last in the NBA, more than a percentage point behind the 29th placed Magic. Those isolations have been replaced by handoffs and screen action. They run one of the two over 12 percent of the time. Last season, that number was just 7.7 percent.

This has been an effective change. They’re fourth in the NBA in points per possession off of handoffs, and 11th off of screens; those numbers are well above satisfactory considering the complete lack of offensive talent that this team has.

Ugly isolation plays like the ones above have been replaced with beauties like these:

So what does this mean? The Bulls absolutely are not becoming an offensive juggernaut; they’re dead last in the NBA in points scored per 100 possessions, per Basketball Reference. Zach Lavine will help. He was in the upper third in the NBA last year in scoring off of screens, per He’ll also give the Bulls someone that can actually break down a defense.

What I see here is a team and a coach working with what they have. In my opinion, Fred Hoiberg tried too hard to please both Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler last season. This resulted in all of the ball-stopping, and all of the isolations.

Next: Worn-Out Chicago Bulls fall short in 96-60 Overtime Loss to Pelicans

Before the season in the Pippen’ Ain’t Easy roundtable, I theorized that Hoiberg would be a much more effective coach now that he has young guys that will buy into what he’s selling. So far, that seems to be the case. Demarcus Cousins even complimented the Bulls on their effort after Saturday night’s loss. 

There’s still not much talent, and it’s still relatively bad basketball. But Fred Hoiberg has been given garbage and he’s turning it into garbage that’s at least been sprayed with Febreeze.