How the Chicago Bulls' Offense Got Worse Under Fred Hoiberg
Last offseason, the Chicago Bulls fired Tom Thibodeau after five seasons as the team’s head coach.
In his first season, the Bulls won 62 games and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat.
They were the 1 seed in the East his first two years at the helm, and even with two separate knee injuries to Derrick Rose, the Bulls weathered the storm. Thibodeau drove those teams to three separate seasons of at least 50 wins and playoff appearances in all five seasons.
However, his wonky rotations and more importantly, his clashes with the front office led to his dismissal before the 2015-16 season. The team's Vice President of Basketball Operations, John Paxson, wanted a coach who would improve Chicago’s offense, (or take orders from the front office), which was seemingly the one hurdle this Chicago team needed to overcome to get to the NBA Finals.
The Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg, who had no professional coaching experience despite playing eight seasons in the NBA in hopes that he could be the guy to take the Bulls to the top.
Hoiberg was supposed to elevate this talented team to elite offensive status, but instead, injuries, inconsistency, and regression on offense has led to a full collapse. The Bulls are now in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
With basically the same roster as last season, that begs the question: how did this happen?
When you take a look the team's Offensive Rating (ORtg) and Dean Oliver's Offensive Four Factors -- Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), Turnover Rate (TOV%), Offensive Rebounding Rate (ORB%), and Free Throws per Field Goal Attempt (FT/FGA) -- there is no denying that the Bulls regressed on offense under Fred Hoiberg compared to Tom Thibodeau.
Chicago went from 11th in Offensive Rating to 24th this season. They saw a slight dip in shooting percentage, but the biggest dips came in Offensive Rebounding Rate and their Free Throws per Field Goal Attempt.
In the 2014-'15 season, Chicago ranked 5th in Offensive Rebounding Rate and 3rd in Free Throws per Field Goal Attempt, and this season they fell to 14th and 28th, respectfully, in those two categories.
Injuries, of course, played a role this season. Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic all missed huge chunks of time, with Noah ruled out for the season. However, while injuries surely played a factor, they are not an excuse for why this team fell so far.
While most observers suggested that the Bulls would lose some of their defensive identity they had developed under Thibodeau, the thought in basketball circles was that the Bulls' improvements on offense would offset their regression on defense.
Instead, the Bulls got worse on offense and got slightly worse in defense under Hoiberg.
Here is a look at Chicago's Defensive Four Factors from last year to this year.
The most surprising statistic from this year to last was that the Bulls stayed relatively the same in almost every category except Defensive Rating. They remained in the top 10 in opponent eFG%, Defensive Rebounding Rate and opponent FT/FGA.
While Chicago is giving up 103.2 points per game this season compared to only 97.8 in 2014-15, their Pace has increased to 96.1 possessions per 48 minutes this season compared to 92.8 last year.
However, since the All-Star Break, the Bulls are giving up more than 106 points per game, and they are 9-11 in those 20 games.
Can Chicago Still Make the Playoffs?
Chicago now faces a position they haven't seen in over a decade. Their playoff chances are about slim to none. After losing three straight games, including getting blown out by a Magic team missing their two best players, our projections have the Bulls' playoff chances down to 15.8 percent.
Chicago ranks 19th in our power rankings with a team nERD of 43.1, which is predictive of their ultimate winning percentage, and their chances of winning the NBA championship have hit zero, according to our algorithms.
Needless to say, the Bulls have been the biggest disappointment of any team this season. The Eastern Conference has improved a lot this year, which could have something to do with the Bulls' regression. Excluding the Bulls, the East's winning percentage improved to 49.4 percent this season compared to 45.9 last season.
However, the Bulls once again played down to their competition at times this season. They are only 17-15 against the other non-playoff teams in both conferences.
While Paxson and the Bulls likely won't fire Hoiberg after one season -- especially with all of their injuries and even more because of how badly things ended with Thibodeau -- Chicago is heading into an offseason of uncertainty.
Pau Gasol is likely to opt out of his contract, Noah will be a free agent, and Rose will be entering the final year of his contract. The Bulls could easily reload and make another run at the East next season, but the possibility of going through a sell-off and rebuild during the summer is becoming more likely with every passing loss.