The Chicago Bulls and new coach Fred Hoiberg gave us the first look at what they’re going to be like in the 2015-16 season, and if nothing else, one thing is apparent: They’re going to be a lot more fun to watch this year.
Gone are the archaic days of trying desperately to cram the ball into the paint and force a contested shot at the rim. In comes the modern offense, built around spacing, zipper cuts and three-point shots—lots and lots of three-point shots.
It was a story of Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott doing magical things more than Kirk Hinrich and company doing “gritty” things. It was—what’s the best way to say this?—aesthetically pleasing basketball. It’s not something Bulls fans have grown accustomed to watching the last several years.
Things did not start off entirely well, but they were certainly different than in recent years. For the first third of the contest, the Bulls were doing things to get open shots, but they were clanking off the rim the bulk of the time. The Bovine shooters made just one of their first 14 attempts from deep. They were a meager 8-of-35 overall.
But then with 3:43 left in the second, Moore hit a three, and the floodgates opened. For the remainder of the game, the Bulls’ overall field-goal percentage was a deceptive 37.1 percent. That’s because they were doing a tremendous job of getting to the line (20-of-28) and knocking down the deep ball (12-25). Also, they grabbed 15 offensive rebounds compared to just five for the Bucks.
They turned the ball over 10 times in the first 20 minutes, and only five the last 28.
And they were a good offense. No really. Over the remainder of the game, they had an offensive rating of 117.6 against a team that boasted one of the best defenses in the league last season. And while the Bucks were pulling their starters early in the 4th, the Bulls had an oRtg of 126.6 over the 16-minute stretch before that happened.
The action was there. The ball popped from side to side. The Bulls had 21 of their 33 field goals assisted. But that only scratched the surface. They were getting open shots and good looks. And they were doing it all without Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol or Taj Gibson, arguably three of their five top offensive players.
The Bulls’ pace was 104.68, almost 10 possessions faster than it was last year at 95.35. Ten! You might call that a “Bull market.”
The offense itself was creating offense, which is the sort of tautological obviousness you’d expect, but which had been lacking the last five years. They also turned defense into offense, generating 20 points off turnovers.
They crashed the offensive glass, notching 23 second-chance points.
Only 7.6 percent of their points were from the inefficient mid-range area of the court with the other 92.4 percent coming from inside the restricted area, the charity stripe or the three point line.
In all, they jacked up 39 threes, which were it a regular or postseason game, would have been a new team record according to Basketball-Reference.com’s Play Index. It currently sits at 34. For now.
McDermott had a rough start, but Hoiberg held confidence in him and let the man play. It paid off as “McBuckets” finally earned his nickname and heated up from three, notching five makes in 11 attempts. Then he parlayed that into getting to the rim. For the first time since the Summer League of 2014, he looked like the player the Bulls envisioned when they drafted him. His final tally was 23 points.
Butler showed his boasts of being a point guard were not overstated as he assisted his teammates six times—a number that would be even higher had it not been for such bad shooting in the starting frame, as evidenced by his 66.7 percent assist percentage. He also showed the high-efficiency scoring that made him a star last year, posting 23 points in 25 minutes with a 66.6 true shooting percentage.
Mirotic was pump faking, and Bucks were biting as he earned 10 free throw shots. He ended the game with 18 points and eight boards.
This is modern basketball. This is now Bulls Basketball.
In the end, Chicago missed a lot of open shots and struggled to launch, but once it did, it was more than just a force; it was an entertaining force. There might be questions about the defense (which wasn’t bad), and the “It’s just preseason” moniker certainly applies here. But one thing we learned from the first game—The Bulls won’t be boring this year.