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Assistant coach hires could hint at philosophy shift for Bulls offense

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USA TODAY

Assistant coach hires could hint at philosophy shift for Bulls offense

Assistant coaches aren't always the embodiment of the teams they coach for. After all, a blend of philosophies, opinions and beliefs is critical to any coaching staff. But if Jim Boylen's two offseason hires are any indication, the Bulls could be in the early stages of a philosophical shift on offense.

Boylen has hired Brooklyn Nets assistant Chris Fleming and former Houston Rockets assistant Roy Rogers in the past month, adding two significant pieces to Boylen's staff in his first offseason as Bulls head coach. It's no surprise given the success that both Brooklyn and Houston had this season, but those two offenses appear to be ahead of the curve in terms of analytical approaches to the game. Here's why.

It's a small sample size given he was only the head coach for 58 games, but Boylen's Bulls offense wasn't exactly a model of efficiency. 

The Bulls were 28th in offensive rating, 23rd in pace, 30th in 3-point attempts and 23rd in free throw attempts under Boylen. Granted, the weak talent pool, myriad injuries and shallow bench - and, really, a combination of the three - had plenty to do with those ugly numbers.

But pulling assistants from Brooklyn and Houston is a good start in trying to improve some of those numbers, if only from a philosophy standpoint.

3-point attempts

It was no secret the Houston Rockets were going to lead the league in 3-point attempts. Moreyball was in full effect in H-Town as the Rockets hoisted 45.4 triples per game, breaking their record of 42.3 triple attempts from the previous season. That 2018 mark broke Houston's own 2017 mark of 40.3 3-point attempts per game. Yep, the Rockets hold the three highest marks for 3-point attempts per game in a single season. But we knew that.

The Brooklyn Nets haven't been far behind. Brooklyn averaged 18.4 3-point attempts in 2016, the year before they hired Kenny Atkinson and began their turnaround. Under Atkinson, the Nets have averaged 31.6 (4th in NBA), 35.7 (2nd in NBA) and 36.2 (5th in NBA) 3-point attempts. In that same span, the Nets went from 26th (33.8%) to 20th (35.6%) to 14th (35.3%) in 3-point field goal percentage. Their 55.6% true shooting percentage was their best in franchise history.

Passing

It's impossible to analyze the Rockets offense in some capacity because of how isolation-heavy they were with James Harden. Harden had 1,280 isolation possessions by himself in 2018-19, more than any other team had. The Thunder's 854 isolation possessions as a team were still almost 400 fewer than Harden's, and Harden had more iso attempts than the Jazz, Magic and Hawks COMBINED. Because of that, the Rockets were 29th in passes per game and 28th in assist percentage.

But the Nets were a boon. They've ranked 8th, 3rd and 8th in passes per game the last three seasons. The Bulls were 23rd in passes per game and 29th in assist percentage after Jim Boylen took over. The Nets were 18th in assist percentage but are just a year removed from ranking sixth in that category in 2018. It's a sure bet that the ball will be moving more next season.

Efficiency

The midrange is the least efficient shot in basketball. That doesn't mean it's bad to shoot them, just that it should be a last option on offense. The Bulls attempted 792 midrange shots in 58 games under Jim Boylen, more than the Nets (672, third fewest) and Rockets (396, fewest) attempted all season.

In fact, the Bulls were 14th in the NBA in midrange attempts under Boylen but 24th in field goal percentage (37.9%) on those shots. Of the bottom 13 teams in midrange field goal percentage, only the Jazz and Thunder were playoff teams. Houston was third in field goal percentage (44.1%) and Brooklyn 13th (40.2%). They didn't take them often, but the Nets and Rockets found the right spacing on those rare attempts and made a decent chunk of them.

Free throw attempts

The Bulls would have been a more efficient free-throw shooting team had Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter remained healthy. Still, Boylen's downhill offense didn't lead to as many free throws as it probably should have (the midrange attempts could have been a culprit). That wasn't a problem for Brooklyn or Houston, who ranked 4th and 7th in free throw attempts per game last season. In 2018, Houston was 3rd and Brooklyn 11th, while in 2017 Houston was 1st and Brooklyn was 7th.

Both offenses are predicated on playing inside-out, either finishing at the rim (or drawing contact) or kicking out to open 3-point shooters. Free throw attempts can be personnel-dependent (Harden set free throw records) but the Nets were second in the NBA with 24.5 drives per game (behind the Bulls) and Houston was 14th at 19.9 per game. Those tendencies will remain in tact but both Fleming and Rogers should have designs to implement to make the Bulls offense more efficient.

In expected move, Bulls name Tomas Satoransky starter over Kris Dunn

In expected move, Bulls name Tomas Satoransky starter over Kris Dunn

In quite the clever move, the Bulls solved their so-called point guard controversy by renaming the position “lead guard.” This is a nod to Jim Boylen’s multi-ballhandler system.

Whatever it’s called, Tomas Satoransky will start in it for Thursday’s preseason finale and the Oct. 23 regular-season opener in Charlotte.

In an expected move, Boylen made that news official following Wednesday’s practice. Satoransky will start alongside Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. Kris Dunn and Coby White will come off the bench.

“I’ve been happy with both of them. They’re both in good places. I think this is what’s best for our team, and I think it will be great for both of them individually,” Boylen said of Satoransky and Dunn. “Kris has to be kind of our defensive force in that second group. He can impact the game coming off the bench. He’s embraced it, I’ve spoken with him, and we had a good conversation about it. He’s all about winning, and I’m really proud of him.’’

Boylen cited Satoransky’s shooting ability to space the floor and quick and accurate decision-making as primary factors behind the decision. He reiterated the organization’s belief in Dunn, who had six steals and 11 deflections in last Friday’s preseason game in Indiana and can be a defensive force with the second unit.

“You know I’ve always said he’s a terrific kid. I’ve always said he’s for the team. I’ve always said he’s very coachable,” Boylen said of Dunn. “Those things haven’t changed how I feel about him and what he’s done. But I do think that he’s in a really good place. I do think he had some introspection and got some time away, and it was good for him. He said it, we’ve said it, he’s prepared to help the team win, and that’s his mindset. That’s what we need. We talked earlier in the year, it’s going to be about sharing and sacrifice, and he’s going to come off that bench and help us win.”

Barring foul trouble, Satoransky likely will play in the range of 30 to 32 minutes, while Dunn could be in the 18 to 22 minutes range. Boylen consistently has talked about the need for sacrifice for the Bulls to make the jump to a contending team.

The Bulls aggressively pursued Satoransky during July free agency, acquiring him in a sign-and-trade transaction with the Wizards and agreeing to a three-year, $30 million deal whose final season isn’t fully guaranteed. He quickly endeared himself to Boylen by not asking about starting during the recruiting period, merely saying he wanted to be a part of what the Bulls are building.

“I love the way he throws the ball ahead,” Boylen said. “I love his command of our offense already. He’s obviously a terrific shooter. He can play off those guys, he can play on the ball and off those guys and create space. Him and I have a real good connection and he’s got a really good feel. And I feel confident in him running that first group.”

Satoransky averaged 11.2 points and 6.6 assists in 46 starts at point guard for the Wizards last season after John Wall went down with a season-ending injury. He also started eight games at small forward. It’s this versatility that Boylen envisions using in a backcourt rotation that includes LaVine, Dunn and White.

“I’ve felt really good with them on the floor,” Satoransky said of minutes with the starters. “For me, it was getting used to every player, not only with certain lineups. But I felt really good, especially last game. I think we have a lot of shooters on the floor. That gives us an advantage and spacing to attack, especially for Zach. Hopefully we can continue to get better and have options there.

“I try to run the team, put them in the best position where they can succeed. Run with pace. Keep the spacing. Try to organize the team. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for my whole career. And do the little things. I think it’s expected for me to come up with energy on the defensive side. I’m trying to do that and compete for every ball.”

Boylen favorites Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison also are available, as are Denzel Valentine and Chandler Hutchison, who has yet to play with a hamstring injury.

Dunn remains the team’s best on-ball perimeter defender and has returned to the Bulls saying and doing all the right things after an offseason of reflection that briefly involved him wanting a change of address. In fact, sources said in July that the Bulls held substantial trade talks centered on Dunn, at one point trying to re-acquire Justin Holiday from the Grizzlies in a sign-and-trade transaction.

Instead, Dunn reported to September voluntary workouts with a strong work ethic and clear mind. He has drawn raves from coaches and teammates alike for his team-first attitude.

“We’re developing Coby White as a basketball player,” Boylen said. “We’re not going to put him in this situation where he’s a 1, he’s a 2 or he’s a 3, he’s a this, he’s a that. He’s a basketball player; he’s a baller. He plays well off other people. He plays well with the ball in his hands. He plays well off a live catch. He can run pick-and-roll. He has positional size, toughness, physicality. Not concerned about somebody saying he needs to be this or that, he just needs to play.”

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Jason Goff to join NBC Sports Chicago's Bulls coverage team

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USA Today

Jason Goff to join NBC Sports Chicago's Bulls coverage team

Chicago, IL (October 16, 2019) – NBC Sports Chicago - THE NEW, EXCLUSIVE HOME FOR EVERY BULLS GAME - has announced Chicago sports media personality/NBA expert JASON GOFF will be joining the network as host of Bulls Pregame Live/Bulls Postgame Live beginning this season.  The announcement was made by Kevin Cross, Senior Vice President/General Manager, NBC Sports Chicago.

Goff’s first official appearance on NBC Sports Chicago takes place on Wednesday, October 23 for the network’s multi-platform coverage of the 2019-20 NBA SEASON OPENER, as the Bulls travel to face the Eastern Conference rival Charlotte Hornets (an expanded, one-hour Opening Night edition of Bulls Pregame Live presented by Coors Light begins at 5:00 PM CT, Bulls-Hornets tip-off at 6:00 PM, Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois immediately follows the game).  NOTE: Every Bulls game will also stream live on NBCSportsChicago.com and the “MyTeams by NBC Sports” app.  

In addition to his Bulls Pre/Postgame Live hosting duties, Goff will also make additional appearances throughout the season on a variety of NBC Sports Chicago’s programs and cross-platform portals, including SportsTalk Live and the network’s “Bulls Talk” podcast.  

“Jason is an impact player who joins our already outstanding Bulls content team,” said Cross.  “His deep knowledge and lifelong passion for the NBA, especially the Bulls, will benefit all of our fans on all of our platforms.  We couldn’t be more excited for the upcoming NBA season as the only home for Bulls basketball.”

“I’m looking forward to joining the NBC Sports Chicago team and the exceptional Bulls coverage we provide to Bulls fans all year round,” added Goff. “I was that kid watching Bulls games in his basement on SportsChannel and now I have a chance to help cultivate that same energy to Bulls fans old and new on NBC Sports Chicago, it’s just a dream come true.”

Goff, a native of Evanston, Ill., has been a fixture on the Chicago sports media scene for close to two decades.  After attending Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Goff began his sports broadcasting career at WSCR AM 670 “The Score” in 2000 and quickly escalated to become one of the station’s top producers.  In 2007, Goff was named producer of WSCR’s “The Boers and Bernstein Show,” a role he held through 2012 before leaving Chicago for Atlanta to become the WZGC-FM 92.3 “The Game” new full-time evening host, along with handling pre/postgame hosting duties on the Atlanta Hawks Radio Network.  Also, while in Atlanta, Goff was an integral part of SiriusXM NBA Radio’s national relaunch, as he hosted the station’s popular midday show featuring former NBA greats Sam Mitchell, Malik Rose, and Kenny Smith.

Goff returned to Chicago in 2014 as a primary host for national NBA shows on both SiriusXM NBA Radio and Bleacher Report on SiriusXM.  In 2015, Goff returned to WSCR and was named midday co-host with Matt Spiegel on “The Spiegel and Goff Show” and later moved to afternoons joining Dan Bernstein on “The Bernstein and Goff Show.”  Most recently, Goff continued hosting stints with SiriusXM NBA Radio, along with SiriusXM Big Ten Radio, and also with ESPN Radio’s “The Spain and Company Show” featuring host Sarah Spain, and the “GTL Show” featuring Goff, Taylor Twellman and Rachel Lindsay.  In addition, Goff has made numerous appearances local television appearances on WFLD-TV’s (Fox 32 Chicago) “The Final Word with Lou Canellis,” along with “Windy City Live” on WLS-TV (ABC 7 Chicago).

NBC Sports Chicago, a partnership between the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL), Chicago Bulls (NBA), Chicago White Sox (MLB) and the NBC Sports Group, features over 275 live pro games in high definition each year.  In addition, NBC Sports Chicago delivers extensive pre/post-game coverage for its core pro team partners, as well as Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs multi-platform coverage, plus - local sports discussion programs that includes SportsTalk Live, and massive cross-platform coverage provided by the network’s growing digital platform, NBCSportsChicago.com, the “MyTeams by NBC Sports” app, and its variety of fan-focused social media outlets. Fans can follow the network on Twitter via @NBCSChicago.  

NBC Sports Regional Networks is NBC Sports Group’s portfolio of nine regional networks that delivers more than 2,200 live sporting events and original content to more than 35 million homes. Aligned within Eastern and Western Divisions, the NBC Sports Regional Networks are: NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBC Sports Philadelphia +, NBC Sports Washington, NBC Sports Washington + and SNY; and NBC Sports Bay Area, NBC Sports California, NBC Sports Chicago/NBC Sports Chicago+, and NBC Sports Northwest. For more information on NBC Sports Group properties, including press releases, photos, talent and executive bios, headshots and logos, please visit www.NBCSportsGroupPressBox.com.

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