Over the weekend I wrote about a particularly great piece of play by the Chicago Bulls that resulted in a wide open slam out of a standard play call. The kind of thing that good teams need to do, especially in absence of their primary offensive options; Derrick Rose was not in the game.
On Saturday night the Bulls hosted division foes, the Indiana Pacers. Again, absent Derrick Rose. In his absence, but within the same system, they ran a playbook essentially identical to the last game that we referenced against the Toronto Raptors. This is, of course, not uncommon. Playbook variation is not as important as execution. Considering the season is early, it is more about getting everyone set in the system so that the execution drastically improves. Let's take a look on their variation from the previous play we highlighted.
1. Set. Nearly identical set, running some different personnel. Notably, Gasol for Gibson. Noah again lingering at the arc.
2. Initiate motion. This play runs exactly the same set and initiates the same type of motion. The variation begins immediately by Gasol setting a back screen for Dunleavy. Against the Raptors, Aaron Brooks split the defenders at the top of the lane with a false screen from Taj Gibson. Dunleavy cuts baseline on Hinrich's side instead of running down the middle of the lane for a curl out. That is a big difference in potential outcomes, except it isn't in this set.
3. Curl, Screen. Dunleavy curls away from ball and up around Butler in exactly the same pattern as Brooks does against the Raptors just a few nights earlier. Gasol drops to Hinrich to set a ball screen, a slight variation from Gibson's false screen where Gibson proceeded to drop left block.
4. Ball Screen Separation. The screen from Gasol is not a roll, he firmly plants the pick allowing separation. Noah is stationary, Butler is stationary, Dunleavy curls in much the same way Brooks did. Hinrich's angle will allow him to drive toward the center of the court, and toward the foul line instead of drifting back which was the result of the risk of a trap in luring out the defender against the Raptors. The scheme that is run here is merely the slightest of variations and results in Hinrich setting for an open look.
5. Execution. The play was run in a nearly identical format but the ball handler and his screener perform distinctly different roles, even if subtle. It works perfectly because the Raptors showed aggressively, leaving Gibson alone. The Pacers leave Hibbert anchored as he is an elite big man at altering shots and creating problems in the paint. Knowing this, the play is run to create separation at the top of the key for a Hinrich jumper. He hits his spacing with precision as a fully extender Hibbert can't create interference or alter the shot. The Bulls created too much space, this time for the ball handler instead of the screen/roll big.
Essentially, what we are seeing is the Bulls reading the type of defensive sets they are facing and the aggression tendencies of those teams. This allows them to run two entirely unique outcomes from sets that would look nearly identical to the defense. This variation provides the same outcome as the other set, a score for the Bulls from what ends up being an open shot. Execution of the playbook, without their primary scorer on the floor, with a positive result. The Bulls evolution continues. I feel safe in continuing to refer to them as the Spurs of the East.