As recent, disappointing performances against top-tier opponents Orlando and Boston underscore, the Bulls have a number of weaknesses which need to be addressed. The most glaring is a lack of consistent outside shooting, which, as was the case in the Celtics game, is amplified to excruciating levels when Derrick Rose underperforms (or is contained).
A related conundrum for the Bulls is this: Having acquired one of the more potent pure shooters in the league in Kyle Korver, why have they been so unsuccessful in utilizing his specific skill?
Korver is averaging 12.3 shots per 40 minutes this season, which is consistent with his career numbers. However, as the Bulls best long-range shooting option, and one of the only members of the team capable of hitting consistently from outside, Korver needs to be given more, and better opportunities.
At the risk of parsing things a bit too finely, Korver is averaging 5.4 shots per 40 minutes from between 16-23 ft., while Taj Gibson is averaging 6.6 from the same distances. Now, I am delighted with Gibson’s progress as a mid-range shooter, and as long as his percentage stays high, I want him to shoot open jumpers. I also understand that Korver was brought in primarily as a three-point specialist. But thus far, the Bulls have done a poor job getting Korver good, open looks, and figuring out how to do so should be a high priority.
Given his long-standing focus on defense, it was predictable that Thibodeaux would be quick to implement a successful defensive system, and that effective, creative offensive strategies would (at best) be slower to be developed. It is also the case that it will take some time for the team to adapt to Boozer’s insertion into the line-up. But now – especially now, with the addition of Boozer – the coaches need to find ways to make better use of Korver.
Thus far, the Bulls have run fairly traditional plays in efforts to get Korver open. But, as they haven’t worked particularly well, it seems to me that some creativity is in order. So, for example, it’s worth noting that Korver, when he is well-covered by a defender, has shown an ability to almost instantly return an incoming pass to the sender. It’s an unusual skill to have developed, but a potentially valuable one for a hired gun. I believe that the Bulls could capitalize by occasionally engaging Korver in a two-man game with either Boozer or Noah on the high-post. Both of those players are good passers, and if Korver isn’t open the first time around, he might be able to catch defenders off-guard by immediately returning the pass, making a quick cut, receiving another pass, and firing off a shot.
With so much defensive attention paid to Derrick Rose, I also don’t see why Korver shouldn’t be given an opportunity to handle the ball on occasion, rubbing off screens, and engaging in pick-and-roll plays with Noah and Boozer. Yes, it’s true that Korver isn’t a great ball handler, but the risk of an extra turnover now and then would be outweighed by several extra good looks per game. A tangential advantage of this approach would be that throwing radically different schemes at opposing defenses, all of which are currently geared to key in on Rose, could open up other opportunities.
It appears clear that the Bulls have the talent, desire and coaching to beat lesser teams, even when they have to rely heavily on Rose’s offensive output to do so. But if they hope to reach their full potential, and pose a threat to elite teams in the playoffs, they must make good use of their other offensive weapons. Boozer will obviously contribute in that area; let’s hope that Korver is given a greater opportunity to do so.
About the Author:
Tony C. grew up in Evanston, and cut his teeth on the exciting, early ’70’s Walker-Love-Sloan-Van Lier Bulls. As you might expect, he is thrilled with the direction and development of the current team, as the emphasis on determination, defense and chemistry is so reminiscent of that classic, earlier era.