Coach: Bull-ish on the Offensive Glass
One of the keys for the Chicago Bulls this year has been their dominance on the offensive glass. Quite simply, their combination of personnel and emphasis has taken the league by storm. The Bulls lead the NBA by a reasonably wide margin – the next closest team in total offensive rebounds going into last night’s games was the Sacramento Kings, a team that had played one more game than the Bulls, and their average was also second best, but a full half rebound per game behind.
The ability to lengthen a possession through offensive rebounding is critical for a number of reasons. Chief among these are the way it can mask inefficiencies on the offensive end. Since a possession does not end until there is either a made field goal, turnover or a defensive rebound, cleaning the o-glass allows Chicago be successful on a higher percentage of their possessions.
Chicago’s commitment to the offensive glass as a central facet of their overall attack plan is a function of their personnel but also indicates some subtle skill-teaching and reveals a few key points of emphasis for any team that wants to get after boards the way they do.
Try watching Chicago. I dare you to find any six minute stretch where they fail to attempt a tip-in. This is an obvious point of emphasis that begins with their starting bigs, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer (though Ronnie Brewer and others get their fair share as well). We had the good fortune of working with Noah a few years back, and one thing we noticed early in the first workout was that he had a pre-existing proclivity for tip-ins. Hunting opportunities for tip-ins is huge. Tip-ins are momentum plays (they allow you to either stop the momentum of an opponent or create momentum for yourself). They tend to have a demoralizing, back-breaking effect on an opponent, which is critical over the course of a long 48-minute game.
The Bulls also do a great job on self-taps. Many rebounds end up in a place where either player can lay claim to the ball – the defender, with inside position, and the offensive player, who is boxed out, find the ball directly above them. Guys like Taj Gibson and Luol Deng find themselves in this situation a great deal. They will compete for that ball like they would any other, and when they know their opponents positioning prevents them from snatching a clean offensive board, they will tap-tap-tap the ball away from the defender in order to best control it. Again, this is something they are taught and drill regularly so that it remains at the front of their mind.
Omer Asik and Deng (along with Noah) have also lifted “pinning” technique to an art form. Pinning is a similar situation as below, when the defender does an excellent job from a positioning standpoint and boxes out well. Pinning is when the offensive rebounder now makes physical contact with his counterpart, and pins him on the inside so that any long rebounds will be much easier to control. Essentially, The Bulls do not do the typical thing when boxed out effectively. Most teams turn that situation into spectator mode. The Bulls, however, turn it into aggression mode, pinning their man just in case the ball goes long. This may only result in an actual offensive board every three games, but that is one more than they would have gotten had they not kept their commitment.
With size and quickness, Chicago has a team of guys with a natural sense to aggressively attack possession of the basketball, whether it is above the rim or on the ground. As the ball bounces off the rim harmlessly, many teams see it headed toward a teammate or even toward the sideline, and they do not pursue the ball. The Bulls do not have that problem. They scratch, fight and claw for each orphaned rebound (a rebound no one wants). Whether it is bouncing high or low, Derrick Rose, Rip Hamilton and others swarm to the ball, capture it and then attack if they can.
The Bulls prefer speed and agility to brute strength and overpowering vertical jumps. Teams that succeed on the offensive glass often choose one of two methods to convert clean boards: either they bring the ball down and go to a shot-fake and power-through method or they keep the ball high after the board, and put the ball directly back up and in before the defense has a chance to react to block or bother the shot. The decision to either gather for power or take what I call the “quick bounce” is situation specific, but it is obvious watching the Bulls work that they are inclined, through emphasis or personal preference, to utilize a lot of quick bounce finishes.
Finally, Chicago uses what looks like a 3.5 man system of attack. It appears three players are required (or at least expected) to hit the offensive glass on every shot attempt, and that one more player takes two steps (minimum) toward the rim as well. Their players fly at the glass, often getting a hand or fingertip on the ball, changing its course, and giving a teammate a chance to get a hand on it (if not gain possession or get a clean tip-in). It takes energy and focus to stay on the glass the way Chicago does, but it surely pays both short and long term dividends.
This approach of making offensive rebounds such a high priority changes what the Bulls’ opponents are able to do in transition offense. While conventional wisdom might have you believe that sending more offensive rebounders with such ferocity hurts your defensive transition, in reality, it keeps Chicago’s opponents so engaged on one end of the floor that they do not create the kind of fastbreak chances they might normally like. Simply the threat of giving up offensive rebounds changes the behavior and rhythm of an opponent’s attack going the other way.
Chicago’s success as a unit on the offensive glass gives them an advantage over every other team. Combined with their tenacity and execution on the defensive end and the wizardry of Derrick Rose, the Bulls might just be good enough to defeat all comers this season.
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Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding and served as an assistant coach at Paul VI Catholic High School (Fairfax, VA), a consensus top 15 team in the nation this past season. The Coach’s Notebook is a weekly feature on HOOPSWORLD.