Year 2 of coach Billy Donovan’s offense will mean a running of the Bulls
With a full offseason and a full training camp, Donovan thinks the Bulls’ offense will be in position to maximize the strengths of the roster.
Accountability isn’t a curse word for Bulls coach Billy Donovan. Maybe that’s why his arrival last season was so refreshing.
Donovan is confident enough to admit when things go wrong under his watch, proving his position is not only about teaching but about learning.
So while assessing why his offense bogged down at times last season after opposing defenses stopped the first couple of actions in a possession, Donovan didn’t duck blame or give some confusing reply.
‘‘I agree with that, especially after the trade deadline,’’ Donovan said Thursday. ‘‘I really thought that was a challenge where I thought we got slowed.’’
Was it an indictment of Donovan’s offensive philosophy that was echoed at times during his tenure with the Thunder or just a perfect storm of tough circumstances?
Bet on the latter.
There were times with the Thunder when critics thought Donovan’s ball-movement offense was limited after a few actions and turned into isolation far too often. But when looking at his personnel, it’s easy to see why.
In his first season, he had Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant — two elite scorers who do their best work in isolation.
Durant then left for the Warriors, meaning it was down to the Westbrook show. And when Westbrook wants to attack a defense, he is going to attack a defense.
Now focus on Donovan’s 2019-20 season with the Thunder. Westbrook was gone, leaving players such as Steven Adams, Terrance Ferguson, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and, of course, Chris Paul. The preseason odds had Donovan and the Thunder winning 32 games and being near the bottom of the Western Conference. They finished 44-28 before losing to the Rockets in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
The Thunder were tough to defend because of multiple actions and ball movement, and they played great defense.
That’s the model that should have Bulls fans excited when breaking down Donovan as a coach. They shouldn’t rely on what he did early in his tenure with the Thunder or even after the Bulls acquired big men Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis at the trade deadline last season, forcing Donovan to throw together a revamped offense with almost no practice time.
‘‘If we didn’t get [Vucevic] in the post or Coby [White] on kickouts, Zach [LaVine], we definitely got stalled,’’ Donovan said of last season.
So what about this season? With a full training camp, a new-look roster and plenty of practice time, what does Donovan have planned offensively to make sure there aren’t those lulls late in a possession?
Without simply handing over a playbook with all his sets for the entire league to see, Donovan was pretty forthcoming about how he wants his offense to look.
‘‘I think the biggest thing for us is we’ve got to play faster,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘We’ve got to run. I think that’s Lonzo [Ball’s] strength, throwing the ball ahead. I think Zach and
DeMar [DeRozan] are good in transition. I think utilizing [Vucevic] maybe a little bit more as a dynamic passer up top.
‘‘Sometimes [last season], because we were playing with two bigs, it was, ‘What do you do with the other big?’ We’ve got to figure those things out. We use the terminology keep the energy in the ball . . . keep the thing moving instead of it just getting bogged down.
‘‘There’s always a time and a place that, with certain guys, elite players offensively, you’re going to iso them, put them in situations. But I do think if we can play faster, starting with getting in great shape . . . hopefully that can help keep the possession moving.’’