Growing pains: Hoiberg offense a work-in-progress

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Jimmy Butler is matter-of-fact but direct when asked about the Bulls’ offense, which remains a work-in-progress 14 games into Fred Hoiberg’s first season.

“It’s up and down, to tell you the truth,” Butler said after the Bulls shot 34.8 percent (32-of-92) from the field in a 104-92 loss to the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday night. “Execution sometimes is piss-poor and other times it’s really good. It just depends on the night.”

It’s still very early in the Hoiberg era, but at this point the Bulls still look like they’re taking steps backwards to make the big forward leap in offensive efficiency and production that was expected out of the transition from Tom Thibodeau to Hoiberg. The Bulls are 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency (97.3) — ahead of only the hapless Lakers and 76ers. They are 25th in field goal percentage (42.2).

“To be honest with you, I don’t want to get into the whole Thibs-Hoiberg thing,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said when asked about the difference in preparing for the Bulls’ new coach compared to their previous one. “They’re both great coaches. They both preach defense and they both both are good offensive coaches.

“I don’t think Thibs was a bad offensive coach. Freddy’s doing some different stuff. But Thibs’ stuff worked, at a very high level for many years. I just think they’re both great coaches.”

Hoiberg is confident this team — as presently comprised — eventually will get where he expects it to be. It’s just a matter of time.

“I thought we did a good job of finding Pau late for baskets [against Portland], which we didn’t do against Golden State when we had a mismatch. That’s growth,” Hoiberg said. “It’s watching film and trying to get better. And we did that, by getting him the ball.

“I’m confident [we’ll get there]. This team has a lot of weapons — different guys are going to have it going different nights. And we’ve got to make sure we find the hot hand.”

On some nights, though, there just aren’t enough hot hands. In an uninspired performance in the final game of the four-game circus trip, Nikola Mirotic (25 points, 8-of-14 shooting) was the only thing close to having an offensive rhythm. The Bulls, who had 10-point first-quarter leads against the Pacers at home and the Suns, Warriors and Blazers in the first three games of the trip, fell behind 30-18 after one quarter against the Pacers.

“You don’t want to use [the long trip] as an excuse,” Hoiberg said. “We had been coming out of the game very well and building double-digit leads. But you have to give yourself a chance. You can’t dig your yourself a hole like that.”

Overall, Hoiberg is upbeat about the Bulls’ offense. The big issue? “We’ve got to keep the ball moving. We’ve had too much ball stoppage. We’ve got to get the ball swung,” he said. “We’re doing it in practice. We’ve got to carry it over to the games.”

And even with the stagnant offense, the Bulls are 9-5 heading into Monday night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs at the United Center.

“You have to be pleased to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “Everything’s new to everybody. That’s not an excuse for losing games. But guys are coming into their roles. Guys are continuing to work hard on their game. We just need everybody to be confident and keep going. [You’re going to] lose some. We want to win more than we lose, obviously. But we’ll be OK.”

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