How Billy Donovan is using Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan off each other

Some plays from the Bulls vs. Lakers that illustrate how these two combine to be better than the sum of their parts

DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine have both comfortably been in the top 10 in scoring throughout this season, and a lot of that is due to Billy Donovan. He has done an excellent job of getting both of those guys great looks. 

Some of the most interesting actions that Donovan has employed have been when LaVine and DeRozan play off each other. This is oftentimes accomplished by letting them screen for each other to confuse defenses. 

It’s clear that Donovan likes that idea. The Bulls run those types of screening actions multiple times per game, especially when there is a stoppage (after free throws, out of bounds plays, and timeouts) where Donovan can call out what he wants rather than letting the players improvise.

For example, the Bulls have only had one game that came down to Donovan drawing up a game-winning attempt. In a well-designed but ultimately unsuccessful play, DeRozan faked a handoff to LaVine before missing a jumper that would have allowed the Bulls to beat the New York Knicks. 

The Bulls’ most recent win, a 121-103 throttling of the Los Angeles Lakers, provided some more examples of the LaVine/DeRozan screening action that we have seen a lot throughout the season. Here’s what they’re running.

Flex action baseline out of bounds (BLOB)

I’ve mentioned Donovan’s propensity to use flex action on his baseline out of bounds plays before, dating back to the preseason. It’s one of the most common sets the team runs when inbounding under their own basket, and it’s a great way to include Vucevic, LaVine, and DeRozan. 

When you see the Bulls lined up like this on the inbound, with all four players below the free throw line and LaVine getting ready to lob it into the center, you should guess that flex action is probably coming next. 

Bradley (or usually Vucevic, when he’s available) is the facilitator and screener on this play. He’s not meant to score, but rather set things up through the inbound pass. That triggers the two parts of the play including

1) A baseline screen for DeRozan and

2) A down screen for LaVine.

Here’s the full video of the play, with notes interspersed so you can follow along:

And if you want some more practice spotting this play, here are a bunch of examples of the Bulls running it. 

Ghost screens/ slips

Oftentimes when LaVine and DeRozan screen for each other on the top of the floor, they use ghost screens or a slip. That means they’re not really setting the pick, but instead flying off in another direction without making contact. 

This very simple action works because it sometimes confuses defenses, especially when the plan is to switch. Teams will oftentimes switch defensively if there is contact made on the screen, but not switch if the screen is ghosted or slipped.

The tricky part is that sometimes it’s not obvious whether contact is going to be made or not, and defenders aren’t sure if they’re supposed to switch. Add in the speed of the game and the fact that there are only milliseconds to make this determination, and you can see why this action is so effective. If defenders even barely hesitate, as Talen Horton-Tucker did below, or switch when they’re not supposed to, then it will leave an opening for LaVine to get his shot off. 

Split cuts

The Golden State Warriors brought split cuts to the forefront, but it’s pretty widespread throughout the league. It usually involves throwing it into the post and then screening the two closest perimeter guys off each other.

When the Bulls run it with DeRozan and LaVine, it oftentimes creates mismatches that they can take advantage of or, as in the case with the ghost screens above, defenders will screw up the switch and leave one of them wide open.

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