Tom Thibodeau has never been known for his offensive tactics, it’s always been on the other side of the ball. For the most part, when his offensive schemes are brought up it’s usually never anything in the positive light, more so clamoring about how bland and boring it is. This season with the roster makeup of the Bulls, most have begged for more creative lineups as a means of taking advantage of the unique mix of players. To some degree we’ve seen that lately with regards to rookie Nikola Mirotic.
Within the last two months of the season Thibs’ trust in the rookie has grown immensely, specifically as Mirotic is putting up Rookie/Player of the Month-esque numbers in the month of March. Nevertheless, we’ve recently seen Thibs use Niko at both the small forward and power forward positions. Niko has been enormously successful at both positions, and has been able to score in multiple ways; spotting up, posting up, isolation etc. However, there is one scenario that could be effective moving forward, which is using Niko in the pick-and-roll with Jimmy Butler.
A scenario as such hasn’t been possible until now. Butler is healthy after missing several weeks with an elbow injury, and Niko is playing superb basketball with Thibs’ trust in his hands. With Butler’s improved play making abilities along with his knack for getting to the free throw line combined with Niko’s own abilities, putting these two in a pick-and-roll could create numerous disadvantages for the defense.
Prior to Derrick Rose getting hurt, Thibs would at times elect to using Butler and Rose in a side 1-2 PnR. It was a nice development in Thibs’ offensive playbook, and was good play late in games. Here’s an example from earlier in the year against Washington:
That’s an alright play, the spacing wasn’t the best, but Rose made a tremendous play nonetheless. But, as we can see there are three Wizards surrounding Rose as he goes up for his layup, with two more eyes locked in. The spacing in the particular play isn’t ideal, with Taj Gibson on the block, Pau Gasol in the corner and Snell (who wasn’t hitting anything at the time) on the wing.
Now, let’s pause for a second and imagine a different scenario.
Imagine this same type of play with some minor adjustments (given that Rose is currently out) with say, a lineup consisting of Brooks/Butler/Dunleavy (or Snell)/Mirotic/Gasol. Instead, we have Mirotic and Butler running the side PnR with Brooks around the top of the key and Snell/Dunleavy out on the wing with Gasol either in the short corner or even behind the three-point line. Think about how many disadvantages that creates for opposing teams.
With Brooks, Dunleavy/Snell and Gasol spotting up, defenders have to respect every one of them as they are all capable of knocking down the long range shot. Then you have Butler and Mirotic running the side PnR, that’s a tough cover as it is. The defender guarding the roll man, Mirotic in this situation, has to decide whether or not to stay with Butler driving to basket, or follow Mirotic who is popping back out to the short corner or three-point line. What does the man guarding the ball handler do? Then you have those defenders guarding the other three guys around the arch, do they help contain the drive in turn leaving their man open for a wide open shot?
Butler is getting to the line at a league high rate and shooting the ball at a career high clip, and Mirotic is scoring in a variety of ways with his crafy, herky-jerky movement. The combination of the two in a PnR will present varying challenges to opposing teams. Defenses will have to make some serious decisions in their coverages, their rotations will become even harder.
It’s these types of tweaks offensively that Thibs’ can further implement to take advantage of the unique blend of skills his team contains. Even more, if and when Derrick Rose returns, putting him in a PnR situation with Mirotic will create just as much, if not more disadvantages to opposing defenses. Nikola Mirotic is blossoming, Butler has returned and Rose is nearing, it’s time for Thibs’ to take advantage of it.
Twitter – Tyler_Pleiss