The Bulls go high-low like a wheel of death

Okay, I’m not quite certain what a wheel of death is but I’d imagine it’s something that looks like the play I’m going to show you or when Nikola Pekovic is hold a salad plate.

The Bulls have big men who are talented passing the basketball and great at moving without the basketball. When you have Joakim Noah in your halfcourt sets, you can run so many options out of the low post, mid-post and high post whenever the opportunity presents itself to you. One of the great plays the Bulls have at their disposal because of his unique set of skills is this high-low set they’ve run many times and ran to perfection Saturday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

This starts off as a basic set with the wing players on the weak side of the court and Taj Gibson setting up on Nate Robinson’s left side for a screen and Joakim Noah coming up for a screen on Robinson’s right side.

The thing about this particular execution of the play was it was helped by Dante Cunningham over-hedging on the pick from Gibson. If Noah isn’t there to set a pick on the other side of Ridnour, it’s probably the right play because it forces Nate Robinson back and to the left (does that make Marco Belinelli the second gunman on the United Center knoll?) and makes him throw a pass to Gibson over two taller defenders. However, Noah was there to set a screen on the other side, and it leaves Cunningham retreating and scrambling the rest of the play, in my opinion.

And with Jimmy Butler and Belinelli stretching the floor on the opposite side, you’re about to have a lot of open real estate. Real estate is the key here. It’s why Lex Luther’s dad said “people will always need land.”

After the screen, Noah wheels around to the right elbow area and Taj comes down to set another screen on Robinson’s defender. The opposing wing players have dropped deeper into help but can’t over commit and leave the shooters on the floor. Now you’ve got a side pick-and-roll, essentially, and trouble brewing for the defense.

Dante Cunningham is still overplaying the screen, but with Greg Stiemsma dropping down to defend the baseline, I’m not sure it was necessary. Ideally, you’d have Cunningham switch to Noah so you don’t leave anybody open. This is the confusion this set creates with the opposing big men. It turns into a tee-ball game in which every kid is chasing the ball and abandoning their post.

Robinson comes back up toward the 3-point line and now has a sightline to pass it to Noah.

And this is where the destruction begins. A simple pass from Robinson to Noah at the elbow creates a big mismatch that the over ambitious defense isn’t prepared for. You can possibly peg this on the Wolves not being together for that long and so the defensive communication wasn’t great. Or maybe they’re just trying to be über aggressive and force Robinson into a turnover.

Chase Budinger can’t really drop down too much because then he’d be leaving a hyper-athletic wingman space to cut to the basket and Noah would have a passing lane to him. He’s essentially guarding Gibson and Noah at the same time without guarding Gibson, if that makes sense. The three Wolves defenders on the right side are all focusing on Noah and have completely lost sight of Taj Gibson. There is a lot of open space between Taj and the basket and it’s just going to take Noah avoiding having his hands cut off before he catches the pass from Robinson to complete this play.

And this is where the magic happens. Noah delivering a perfect pass to Gibson in space with plenty of real estate to run freely in.

At this point, unless Taj trips over the painted lines on the court, the Wolves have given up an easy basket in the halfcourt and it didn’t take much time to execute. Nate Robinson started the play at 16 seconds on the shot clock and Gibson is catching the ball at 12 seconds. In the blink of an eye or maybe four blinks depending on how severe that nervous tick of yours is, Gibson is about to dunk the ball and Dante Cunningham is way too late in retreating to his man.

You got Robinson to give the ball up quickly and Belinelli never touched it in the possession. That’s a good recipe for success in the Bulls’ halfcourt while they wait for Derrick Rose to be rebuilt.

Here’s the play in real time:


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