Twenty-four minutes into a game where an early 16-point Bulls’ lead was cut to three against the Brooklyn Nets, the Bulls’ big-name, top-dollar backcourt hadn’t missed a shot.
Yet in total, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler only took six shots between them, a low number considering their efficiency. And what’s more telling, it wasn’t an oversight from the coaching or play calling.
Keep in mind, Rose was going against a less than formidable point guard duo of Shane Larkin and Markel Brown, but wasn’t about to overexert himself to exploit the mismatch.
“Pau (Gasol) had it going too,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We were playing through Pau a lot in that first half, he was hitting shots for us. We had mismatch opportunities for us where we tried to get Taj (Gibson) the ball on the block.”
It’s part of this ball-movement heavy Bulls offense, which for lack of a better word can be described as “equal opportunity.” In playoff basketball, if it’s not Butler or Rose creating for themselves, it’s a painful watch.
Here, new habits are being formed, at least in the interim.
“When those guys get it going, it’s not just for themselves,” Hoiberg said. “They find other players. It was good.”
In the Bulls’ 115-100 win Wednesday night, the four top shot-takers were Nets players, as no Bull took more than 11 shots with Rose, Butler and Gasol each taking that amount.
The only player who could’ve qualified as playing a bit thirsty for his shots was backup point guard Aaron Brooks taking nine shots in 16 minutes, but he plays aggressively no matter the occasion.
Besides that, the balance in shot attempts and approach has been notable. Five players scored in double figures in the opener, followed by six players the next night in Brooklyn.
E’Twaun Moore, a player many believed would be squeezed out of playing time, has stepped in at crucial points, quickly earning Hoiberg’s trust, averaging 10 points on 70 percent shooting in 15.5 minutes per game.
Hoiberg hasn’t minded the aggressiveness of his players, rarely cringing on the sidelines when a quick shot is taken. He will, however, remark about the ball sticking if one holds onto it too long.
In other words, do something with the ball or swing it, but don’t stop moving, and the very, very small sample size results is reason for optimism.
The balance has been impressive when one considers the choppiness the offense has shown. Shooting 54 percent and 50 from 3-point land was offset by the 20 turnovers, preventing the Bulls from having a true offensive flow.
“We’re good offensively,” Butler said. “We try to thread the needle, hence the turnovers. But we’re taking shots with confidence. I think we’re a really unselfish team to a fault sometimes.”
It was more like big explosions, instances where the talent overwhelms a defense as opposed to a relentless, consistent stream. But Nikola Mirotic, the one scorer many would’ve forecast as the most likely to be inconsistent, has been the quiet tone-setter of the new and improved offense.
He’s a matchup problem at the power forward and is essentially the glue to this offense. His mere presence allows Gasol to take more time before getting double-teamed and makes defenders think twice before running to help on Rose and Butler driving to the basket.
“Niko’s out there hooping,” said a wide-eyed Butler after Wednesday’s game. “He’s guarding, getting guys to foul him, and getting us to the bonus early. He’ll be big for us down the stretch.”
And to boot, taking 11 and 10 shots to score 19 and 18 points, respectively, means a strong recognition of where his opportunities are coming from has occurred very early in this offensive system.
Perhaps he’s either grasped it the best or is best-suited for success in the system and if everyone else is to follow suit, he won’t be the only one playing with such efficiency.