Bulls

Does the Bulls' offense need more pick-and-roll possessions?

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USA TODAY

Does the Bulls' offense need more pick-and-roll possessions?

Last season Zach LaVine was a great pick-and-roll scorer for the Bulls, finishing in the 70th percentile among pick-and-roll ballhandlers. He scored 0.90 points per possession in pick-and-rolls, with that play type accounting for 40.2% of his possessions. That has decreased to 32.8% of his possessions this season, despite his efficiency (0.94 points per possession in pick-and-rolls in 2019-20) improving. 

In traditional stats, LaVine shot 43.9% on 7.2 attempts per game out of pick-and-roll plays and that is down to 5.8 field goal attempts per game, though again, his field goal percentage on pick-and-roll shots is up to 46.1%.

So what is the reason for the drop in this play type for LaVine and could a reverse in this trend improve the Bulls struggling offense?

The first thing to tackle here is why is LaVine shooting less out of the pick-and-roll, and my best guess here would be it is a general part of the new system's goal of creating looks for everyone and keeping the ball from sticking. The Bulls, however, are only 23rd in the league in passes made, the same ranking they had last year while actually making fewer passes per game than they did a season ago.

Since the decrease in pick-and-roll plays isn't helping the Bulls pass more, is it helping their intended goal of getting up more 3-pointers? The short answer here is a very strong yes.

The Bulls are taking 35.5 3-point attempts per game (through 13 games) as compared to 25.9 attempts per game last season but even so, the Bulls offense has actually taken a step back, with a 102.9 offensive rating, compared to a 104.5 offensive rating last season. 

LaVine's usage rate has only decreased slightly from 29.8% to 29.1%, so the breakdown of plays he uses would have to be the main culprit in his slight drop in offensive efficiency. LaVine's 32.8% usage of pick-and-rolls is lower than similar players such as Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell, Andrew Wiggins (sorry Bulls fans), or even Portland youngster Anfernee Simons.

Now, of course, the Bulls play—as we have heard extensively at this point—a style of play more akin to the Houston Rockets than assistant coach Chris Fleming's former Nets squads, as the majority of their 3-point attempts are of the catch-and-shoot variety and usually come off of drive and kick action rather than players running off of screens. 

The Bulls roster is not exactly comprised of a bunch of players who can easily beat their man off the dribble, so it would behoove the Bulls to allow not just LaVine, but the entire roster to work out of pick-and-roll more. LaVine himself touched on how pick-and-roll is his go-to for when he absolutely needs to make a play, especially in situations late in the shot clock. 

"I try to call a pick-and-roll most of the time when that happens and then if nothing comes from that, I'm going to take the shot or pass it. I'm definitely going to at least get a shot on the rim...  If I get it at the top of the key with eight, nine seconds left on the clock, I'm going to try to make a play."

The Bulls roll men have been underwhelming so far this season, with only Wendell Carter Jr. averaging over a point per possession (1.09 PPP, 46th percentile). Carter and Lauri Markkanen have both seen a decrease in their offensive efficiency in pick-and-rolls and the fact that the frequency of which they use pick-and-roll plays has decreased has a lot to do with it.

In 2018-19, Carter scored 1.17 PPP on pick-and-rolls and averaged 2.3 screen assists per game (5.3 screen assist points) and this season that is up to 4.5 screen assists and 10.2 screen assist points per game. No one on this year's steam outside of Carter is averaging more than 1.4 screen assists per game and that is largely a byproduct of the Bulls "five-out" offense, which encourages everyone to spot up for 3-pointers and (usually) has a lone big man to corral offensive rebounds and kick them out to the perimeter.

Last year Markkanen averaged a robust 1.20 PPP on pick-and-rolls and that figure is down to 0.98 PPP in 2019-20. He is by no means an extremely physical player but even he is helped out by the simple threat of a screen to opposing defenses. Even when he makes minimal contact on his screens—a recurring issue—the simple act of a screen and roll, or "slip" provides Markkanen, who has a suspect handle, a more clear path to attack smaller players trying to guard him. 

This is a key reason the Bulls need to implement more screen and roll into their offense. Chicago is second in the league in FGA at the rim coming into Monday night, yet dead last in field goal percentage.

They are getting to the basket plenty, but the fact that they are not converting means they need to scheme up different ways to get these many, many looks at the rim. Playing rookie Daniel Gafford more—or at all for that matter—will likely help remedy this issue as well, as he has excelled in the NBA G League in terms of putting pressure on opposing defenses as a devastating rim-runner. 

And the simplest way to get easy baskets at the rim when your team is not finishing well is to run more pick-and-roll, allowing clear avenues to the basket. The Bulls need to force opposing defenses into rotation more so that they can attack a defense that is scrambling rather than a set one and increasing their pick-and-roll frequency is one of the easiest ways for them to give defenses something different to think about.

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Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Tomas Satoransky is a perfectionist and a pleaser.

This can be a positive thing. It also can be negative.

“Everyone who is close to me will tell you that I’m hardest on myself. I always expect to play the best,” Satoransky said in an interview. “I always expect to be perfect, which isn’t always the best but in the long term it has always worked out for me.”

That’s because perfection is an unattainable quest. But Satoransky keeps working towards the unachievable goal. So he’s driven, which is good, but sometimes self-destructive, which isn’t.

Early on, as Satoransky slowly adjusted to a new city, new coach, new teammates and new system, the process didn’t go smoothly.

“I didn’t feel down. I felt frustrated and anxious to do better, anxious to help the team as much as he can,” coach Jim Boylen said when asked if he sensed frustration from Satoransky. “He really struggles when he lets the team down. That’s just basketball. You’re not going to play perfect all the time. He takes it to heart. I’ve spoken to him about it. I don’t need him to beat himself up. Just continue to grow and learn how we’re going to play and get used to guys. It does take some time to get a feel for each other.”

And it’s happening. Satoransky has posted nine straight games with at least five assists, the second-longest stretch of his young career. Coincidentally, his assist totals began to rise the more he looked for his shot.

“I think there’s a point where you make other people better, which he tries to do, and a point where you have to play your game. I think he’s starting to figure that out,” Boylen said. “I think he’s starting to understand where his spots are and how he makes people better but also doesn’t lose the positive things he can do individually.”

The selflessness of Satoransky is something that gets mentioned often by others when they’re asked about him. He’s someone who takes the time to read a situation before asserting himself, always trying to make the right play.

This dynamic was exacerbated by Satoransky not only joining a new team but doing so after playing a leading role for his Czech Republic national team at the FIBA World Cup this offseason.

“I think I’m very adaptable. But I won’t aggressively adapt. I’ll try to see what it is---new coaches, new offense---before asserting myself,” Satoransky said. “I knew I had to be patient, especially with a new team, new role. I’m also coming from a very different situation in the World Cup. And I’m trying to fit in and make my teammates feel the best and most comfortable around me. But I’m trying to be more aggressive because it opens up more space.

“I feel we’re more and more on the same page now.”

Satoransky’s averages of 9.6 points, 5.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 27.1 minutes are eerily similar to those he posted last season with the Wizards, his breakout season. In 80 games, including 54 starts for the injured John Wall, he averaged 8.9 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds also in 27.1 minutes.

He’s shooting 39.7 percent on 3 3-point attempts per game---again very similar to last season’s 39.5 percent on 2 3-point attempts per game.

“I tell him he has to take his shots. He’s a threat,” Zach LaVine said. “He can shoot and create for others. Once he gets in the lane, he’s crafty. He isn’t just a spot-up 3-point shooter.”

Satoransky is in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal that is only partially guaranteed in the final season. He said he is enjoying Chicago and playing for the Bulls.

“Everyone cares. We get along well,” Satoransky said. “This is my second NBA locker room, but I think this is one of the best groups I’ve had.”

Now, he just wants to improve the won-lost record to something closer to perfection.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 100-98 loss to the Warriors

0:45 - Reaction to loss and Bulls losing to Warriors again

2:30 - On 4th quarter struggles

3:30 - On Zach LaVine’s game-winning shot attempt

5:20 - Viewer comments on Coby White starting

9:20 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine leads to Matt rant

10:20 - Viewer comment on Wendell Carter

12:10 - Viewer comment on Sato needing to be more aggressive

13:30 - Viewer comment on Luke Kornet

16:35 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine talking trash to Warriors

18:00 - On LaVine not being the issue

19:00 - On Otto Porter’s injury and being out indefinitely

22:10 - Viewer comment on Bulls being contenders

23:50 - Viewer comment asking why Matt is always angry

24:50 - Viewer asking Sabine how he feels about the Bears beating the Cowboys

26:20 - Which team is more likely to make playoffs, Bears or Bulls?

 Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

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