Pace and Space: The Right System for Chicago?

Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co Creator


Let’s face it, the Bulls have had a decidedly mediocre first half of the year under new head coach Fred Hoiberg.  And this isn’t due to a lack of talent or depth. Fred Hoiberg was brought in to make the Bulls’ offense better by running the “Pace and Space,” the offensive system he ran successfully at Iowa State.  And while Derrick Rose’s game has improved and Butler has been elite this season, the Bulls’ offense ranks 23rd in offensive efficiency. This is unacceptable.

The “Pace and Space” offense cannot work with two ball-dominant players a la Rose and Butler. That is, unless both players can shoot the three pointer. At 26.7% and 31% respectively, that’s simply not the case. This isn’t a new scenario. Take the Mavericks: before acquiring Rajon Rondo, the 2014-2015 Mavs were setting historical records for offensive efficiency running the pace and space offense. Let’s take a look at why their personnel allowed this scheme to flourish:

1.      A big man that can set screens and finish at the rim (Tyson Chandler)

2.      A lethal scorer who can command the defenses’ attention at all times (Dirk Nowitzki)

3.      Guys that can shoot the three, drive, and kick (Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Devin Harris,Jameer Nelson, and JJ Barea)

In this system, a playmaker (Dirk, Ellis, Barea) will run a pick and roll with the big (Chandler) and attack the basket looking to score or lob it to Chandler for a dunk.  If defenses help off their man, the ball handler will kick it out for an open three. Everyone on the court besides Chandler can drain that shot and make defenses pay for gambling.  But last year, once the Mavs added Rondo, defenses could now cheat off of him due to his inept shooting ability, and their efficiency dropped from historically good to fairly average.  The Bulls, attempting to run this offense with Derrick Rose, look more like the Rondo version.

Look at the Bulls starting lineup and their three point shooting percentages:

Derrick Rose: 26.7%

Jimmy Butler: 31%

Tony Snell or Niko Mirotic: 37.4%, 34.7%

Taj Gibson: (has not attempted a three point shot this season)

 Pau Gasol: 33.3%

The Bulls have one starter above the league average (35% this season) in Tony Snell.  When they start Mirotic they have none.

You can’t run the pace and space offense when none of your players are threats to shoot the three. For example, Derrick Rose gets a high screen from Gasol, and the people open are Gibson, Butler, and Snell.  That’s not championship level shooting in a system predicated on baiting defenses into leaving shooters open. Likewise, when Butler runs the pick and roll, Rose doesn’t add value since he cannot spot up and shoot. They can’t be on the floor together in this system. 

Statistically speaking, in order to run Fred Hoiberg’s offense, the Bulls should be starting the following lineup (three point percentages included):

Kirk Hinrich: 42.2%

E’Twaun Moore: 41.9%

Jimmy Butler: 31%

Doug McDermott: 43.2%

Pau Gasol or Bobby Portis: 33.3%, 31.6%.

In this setup, Jimmy Butler receives a screen from either Gasol, a savvy scorer who commands attention, or Portis, an athletic rookie who will make you pay if you leave him.  When Butler drives, his kicking options become three guys who all shoot over 40% from three. While the above lineup may not look that sexy, statistically speaking it’s the best shot at running Hoiberg’s system.

The Bulls face some tough decisions as the trade deadline looms.  Everyone but Jimmy Butler is on the trading block as the team realizes they have little to no chance to win a ring this year. As they sort through how to best configure this roster, it’s time the front office recognize that they brought in a coach to run the pace and space. And it won’t work with guys that can’t shoot.