Fred Hoiberg hasn’t had a wealth of success during his tenure as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls. After making waves at the helm of the Iowa State Cyclones, Hoiberg has struggled to duplicate that success in the NBA. With the newest version of the Bulls set for 2018, Hoiberg has to show development to keep his job moving forward.
At Iowa State, Hoiberg amassed a total record of 115-56. That’s a winning percentage of .673. In his five seasons, his teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament four times. But it isn’t just his winning percentage that allowed Hoiberg the opportunity to gain notoriety as a coach.
During his tenure as coach, the Cyclones put used spacing and an up-tempo offense to put up some gaudy offensive numbers. While in Ames, Hoiberg stressed spacing and shot selection. His Cyclones were notorious for shooting layups and three-pointers, but not much else. This analytical approach was undoubtedly something that Hoiberg learned during his stint in the front office of the Minnesota Timberwolves directly before taking a job as the head coach at Iowa State.
By the numbers, during his final season in Ames, three-pointers accounted for roughly 40% of the Iowa State’s shots. In comparison, three-pointers accounted for only 35% of the Bulls’ shots last season.
In addition to not shooting threes all that often, the Bulls shot only 35.5% from behind the three-point line last season. That was good for 22nd in the NBA. It’s safe to say that a lack of three-point success has played a part in Chicago’s struggles of recent memory.
Given Hoiberg’s offensive style, many roster moves by the Bulls front office have been curious at best in recent years. The signing of players like Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade certainly didn’t fit with Hoiberg’s scheme.
However, recent trends show a movement in the right direction for the Bulls. After moving on from Jimmy Butler last summer, the Bulls brought in forward Lauri Markkanen by way of the draft and guard Zach Lavine by way of trade. Both are players who fit Hoiberg’s system in ways their predecessors couldn’t.
Markkanen fits the mold of the stretch big Hoiberg’s offensive system needs to be successful. During his rookie year, Markkanen shot just over 36% from three-point range.
In addition to Markkanen, Zach Lavine provides an aspect to the offense that Hoiberg sorely needs. When healthy, Lavine is an explosive slasher who can play above the rim. He also is comfortable as a standstill shooter, when required. If Lavine can return to full strength following a return from an ACL injury late last season, he will have plenty of slashing lanes in Hoiberg’s offense.
Questions remain about whether the likes of Jabari Parker and Kris Dunn are fits into Chicago’s offense. But it shouldn’t take long to make a judgment. If Parker embraces a role of being a perimeter shooter and slasher and Dunn proves a robust creator within the offense, the Bulls could be cooking offensively.
All this being said, for the first time in his NBA coaching career, Hoiberg has a lineup that most closely fits the scheme he wanted to play. The Bulls have rim protection, slashing, and shooting. For Hoiberg, it is critical to show the right type of development to keep his job.
For Hoiberg and the Bulls, that means maximizing their two anchors: Markkanen and Lavine. Outside of those two players, the Bulls have a relatively easy out with almost the entire roster. If Hoiberg facilitates Markkanen and Lavine settling into their roles, the foundation will be laid for an exciting offensive attack. If not, the Bulls may be faced with starting over and that likely means the removal of Hoiberg.
It seems fairly obvious that the Bulls won’t be making drastic improvements in the win column this season. But wins and losses likely aren’t the way the Bulls should measure success this season. The upcoming season should be considered a foundation-laying season for the Bulls, who have some cap room and financial flexibility heading into the summer of 2019.