Well, it’s finally official. Fred Hoiberg was introduced as head coach of the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, ending an awkward stretch where Gar Forman and John Paxson pretended to have a coaching search. The Bulls and Hoiberg can now focus on integrating the current roster into his system. Hoiberg’s pace and space style figure to translate well to the NBA given his prior experience in the league as a player and executive. From a purely statistical standpoint, Hoiberg projects to resurrect a Bulls offense that was stagnant during the Thibodeau era. Let’s take a deep look into the numbers of Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams and how those numbers might help, or hurt, the Bulls in the future.
Iowa State was among the fastest-paced teams in college basketball during “The Mayor’s” five seasons at the helm. The only season Iowa State failed to rank in the top 34 in KenPom’s adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes, adjusted for opponent) was in 2012 when Royce White was acting as a point-forward from the post. Aside from that exception, Hoiberg preferred a quick style of play with mostly smaller players on the floor. Furthermore, the Cyclones’ average possession length was the second-shortest in the nation. Hoiberg got into his sets early and loved to push the ball in transition.
Iowa State was 19th in the country in percentage of field goal attempts in transition (27.3 percent) this past season, per Hoop-Math. Hoiberg’s transition offense is predicated on a big running to the rim while the wings run across each baseline. This provides space for the point guard to drive to the rim for their own shot, drop it off to the running big man, leave it for the trailing big man or dish it out to one of the wings on the perimeter. The Bulls had some of the fewest transition opportunities in the league, with only six teams going on fast breaks less than Chicago’s frequency of 11.9 percent, according to Synergy. Only seven teams converted in transition worse than the Bulls’ 1.08 points per possession, displaying how much Hoiberg’s system could help Chicago in one of its weakest areas. Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are players who project to fit seamlessly in a more transition-oriented offense. Iowa State’s offensive efficiency marks over the years displayed how beneficial a faster pace can be for an offense.
Hoiberg and Iowa State never ranked lower than 24th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency after his sub-par rookie season in Ames. A major conference team that plays at such a fast play can be overwhelming for other college programs, especially when Hoiberg’s teams were outstanding at executing in the half court as well:
This detailed BBALLBREAKDOWN video delves into how intricate an offense Hoiberg ran at Iowa State. The system involved constant player and ball movement with motion being involved in even the most simple plays. Plays such as pick-and-rolls and even dumping the ball into the post involved tons of surrounding motion to keep the defense off guard. Thibodeau was often criticized for the predictability of his offense. Hoiberg’s offensive playbook is much more complex and diverse. If you’re interested in the specific X and O’s, you can check out his Iowa State playbook here.
From a statistical standpoint, Hoiberg’s offense prioritized getting to the rim and shooting three-pointers while seldom taking mid-range shots. Under 30 percent of Iowa State’s field goal attempts came from mid-range for every year but one during the last four seasons, per Hoop-Math. On the contrary, three-pointers made up for around 40 percent of the Cyclones’ shots during Hoiberg’s tenure.
In comparison, three-pointers accounted for 26.6 percent of the Bulls’ field goal attempts this past season. Iowa State didn’t just chuck three-pointers at will, as they connected on at least 35.8 percent of their shots from behind the arc each of the past four seasons. The space created by Hoiberg’s offense allows for open looks on the perimeter. Chicago’s predictable offense and slow pace would often limit open looks once the defense clamped down.
Hoiberg utilized this fast-paced, three-point-heavy attack while limiting turnovers. Iowa State ranked 31st in the country in turnover rate this past season, per Sports-Reference, while ranking a solid 74th in assist percentage. Cyclones point guard Monte Morris handed out 5.2 assists per game to just 1.1 turnovers, defining how efficient Iowa State’s attack was this past season. Hoiberg has also utilized point-forwards such as White and Georges Niang to run the offense, which bodes well for Chicago’s adept passing big men in Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic.
However, one aspect where Hoiberg’s teams didn’t excel was defensively. Iowa State’s best adjusted defensive rating rank during Hoiberg’s five-year tenure was 54th. That’s unacceptable for a team that was perennially ranked in the top 25. As much as Steve Kerr has mastered the “play fast while still defending” style in the NBA, it’s much tougher to get that done with college players. Hoiberg’s teams were much more focused on offense and were often too tired from the fast pace to keep up their intensity on the defensive end.
Iowa State also rarely forced turnovers under the Mayor, ranking 7.8 percent under the NCAA average in turnover percentage according to Kevin Pelton, which is something Hoiberg has in common with Thibodeau-coached teams. Portland was the only team to force fewer turnovers per game than Chicago’s 11.7 this past season. Also like the Bulls, Iowa State kept their fouls down, ranking third in the nation in free throw rate allowed. Thibodeau’s teams notoriously didn’t foul due to his outstanding defensive principles. Hoiberg might want to borrow from Thibs on that end next season.
Another area where Hoiberg’s teams struggled was on the offensive glass. The Cyclones ranked 280th, yes, 280th in offensive rebound percentage last season, per Sports-Reference. Hoiberg’s teams pretty much ignored the offensive glass and instead worried about getting back on defense. He also likes to use his big men out on the perimeter for pick-and-rolls and in Horns or Five Out sets, so the paint was often left without a potential rebounder in position. The lack of second-chance opportunities is what ultimately led to Iowa State’s demise, as they got outrebounded on the offensive end, 18-9, in an upset loss to UAB in March. Chicago ranked fifth in offensive rebound rate this past season, but ranked just 19th in defensive rebound rate. Noah should be able to help Hoiberg in that regard.
Hoiberg’s system and statistics from Iowa State won’t transition seamlessly to the Bulls. The NCAA is so different from the NBA that these numbers will likely look completely different next season. Nonetheless, the Bulls project to be a team that at the very least plays much faster and is a lot more entertaining. Whether that helps the Bulls’ offense improve, or the team overall, remains to be seen.