Chicago Bulls: How can the offense be modernized?

Chicago Bulls (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Chicago Bulls (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /

With the still-new Otto Porter waiting to be deployed in full, there’s one thing the Chicago Bulls can do right away to update their offense. At the introductory presser for Coby White and Daniel Gafford, the Bulls talked about playing a modern offense. But there’s one way to adapt without relying on their rookies.

It was a shock move that brought Otto Porter Jr. to Chicago last year, with the Chicago Bulls simultaneously realizing the error of their Jabari Parker decision and deciding to capitalize on Bobby Portis’ extension indecision.

From the jump, Porter was set on making an indelible impact on the floor. His initial string of games was markedly impressive, as the Georgetown product averaged 17.5 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists on insane efficiency—48/48/90 with 1.7 turnvoers. Obviously, this impressive showing should be taken somewhat lightly due to the minuscule 15-game sample size, but he seemed to fit remarkably well within a Bulls team still lacking a defining identity.

Some regression should be expected, as defenses accumulate more film on Porter’s preferred actions in a Bulls uniform, but there are a few things the Bulls could try schematically to continue maximizing their most expensive starter. Foremost among them is using Otto as a ball handler in P&R situations.

One thing that stood out amidst his stellar Bulls stint was Porter’s strength shooting off of movement. His handle is relatively sound for a combo forward and it allows him to transition into pull-ups relatively smoothly, where his picturesque shooting form does the rest of the work.

This is a key ingredient for him to succeed in P&Rs as a ball handler, as defenses will have to respect his pull-up and avoid freely sinking into the paint. This shot against the Grizzlies with Cristiano Felicio screening is a perfect example, though not necessarily the shot you want him to take. This opens up the second option for Otto, a quick dump-off to the big man — a pass he’s shown the ability to execute. 

Otto in the P&R isn’t necessarily the most novel or exciting idea, especially if most of them end in him shooting a fadeaway two, but what if we swap out the normal running mates—Felicio, Robin Lopez, Marcin Gortat—with Markkanen? Fortunately, one pairing similar to Porter-Markkanen saw a great deal of success when schematically actualized: Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.

Lopez, in particular, had a career year as a shooter because of how frequently the Bucks involved him in slip screens to stretch the opposing center away from the paint. Budenholzer’s Bucks Rub 5 set provides the full breadth of options available to Otto and Lauri. For starters, there’s the straightforward pick-and-pop.

Lopez screens for Middleton (the handler), pinching Jrue Holiday and forcing Jahlil Okafor to sink if he hopes to stop the wing’s drive. Thus caught in no-mans-land, Okafor is forced to watch as Lopez shells an open three-pointer with ease.

But as with any good set, the wrinkles are often more impactful than the core set itself. By establishing Lopez as a shooter early in the year, they asked opposing centers to abandon drop coverage and step up to the arc—for most, an unfamiliar and uncomfortable task. The Bucks created the edge they wanted over the defense: a reactive, adaptable offense.

What if Holiday had just switched onto Lopez after screen impact? Wouldn’t that have avoided the open shot? Watch here as the Heat try just that.

See what happens when Josh Richardson sticks to Lopez after the screen rather than instantly abandoning him for Middleton? Part of this is a credit to Lopez, who times his roll perfectly so as to prevent Richardson from recovering to his man. Hassan Whiteside, though, is now left on an island against the much shiftier Middleton, who takes the acre of space given to him and pulls up for a jumper, which closely resembles the ones Otto was hitting last season.

Richardson gets there late, and credit to him selling out on the contest, but the ball has basically left Middleton’s hands; the only thing throwing it off its course is a block.

Here, Kevin Huerter takes a tight angle to beat Lopez’s screen over the top, leaving Middleton room to gather speed as he rolls toward Alex Len. Lopez, however, is open, and so Len can’t fully commit to the drop until he’s certain Middleton won’t pass—at which point it’s far too late. Otto, who is at least as quick as Middleton and certainly as competent a finisher, can make quick work of these situations. He might even tack on a poster or two along the way.

Of course, there’s one more wrinkle, and this one bears even more promise for the Chicago Bulls in a Porter-Markkanen tandem than it does with Middleton-Lopez: the Lopez keep.

Here, the big, Nikola Vucevic, sinks just the same as before but the guard, Jonathan Simmons, sticks on Lopez. Lopez tries the pump fake to draw Simmons off his feet and maybe find a cleaner look (Lopez has nearly mastered the pump-into-sidestep three), but Simmons doesn’t bite and so Lopez uses his superior size and shot-making confidence to break into the mid-range. We can see a tangible lumbering here, as Lopez is 1) on the older side and 2) hobbled by years of lower body injuries.

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With Markkanen, a more agile and decisive driver, replacing Brook in these sets, it’s easy to see how the tandem could give teams trouble. The Finn has a better first step than Brook and gets his contested shots off more cleanly, thanks to his structured shot base, quicker mechanics, and slightly higher release point. Still doubting it? There’s no better omen than this: Lauri’s first 3-pointer in the NBA came off a similar rub set. The team he hit it against? They just won the NBA Finals.

Here’s to running the Chicago Bulls with a modern offense, one tweak at a time.