Fred Hoiberg embraces triumph beyond the arc

CHICAGO -- The tenor for Fred Hoiberg's offensive system was set during the first preseason game of his professional head coaching career Tuesday night.

His new team jacked up 39 3-point attempts in a 105-95 win over the Milwaukee Bucks -- a number that likely would have made former coach Tom Thibodeau's skin crawl. But this is a new era for the Chicago Bulls, an era of more offensive freedom, and it's a pace Hoiberg doesn't want his group to shy away from. The Bulls aren't going to race up and down the floor throughout the night, but they will take plenty of looks from long range when given the chance, a point Hoiberg underscored after it was over when asked if 39 3-point attempts was a number to expect in the regular season.

"If they're open, and they're good looks," Hoiberg said with a bit of a chuckle, "then, yeah."

That is music to the ears of a locker room full of players -- and front office executives -- that felt constricted at times under Thibodeau's old system. Hoiberg doesn't appear to be a micro-manager the way Thibodeau was during a game. Players aren't constantly looking to the side of the floor to hear their coach bark out instructions for each play. After five years under Thibodeau, the players are enjoying the new line of thinking.

"It's a blast," Bulls second-year man Doug McDermott said of the new Hoiberg system. "He makes it fun. He makes it a lot of fun for us. We just move the ball real well, real unselfish, get open looks. He's not going to pull you out if you [take] a bad shot. It's one of those deals where he just lets you play your game."

Hoiberg acknowledges that 39 3-point attempts may not happen every night, especially once the Bulls get Pau Gasol back after the Spaniard sat out Tuesday's game to get some extra rest, but the first-year coach wants to drill into his players' heads that "if you get those open looks, those are great shots."

That was a point McDermott seemed to take to heart. In many ways, the Creighton alum is one of the poster children of the Hoiberg regime. He struggled to find a role in Thibodeau's rotation and played with little confidence on the floor when given the chance. In the first half Tuesday, he looked like the same player -- missing his first shot attempts and looking unsure on the floor. In the second half, he turned his game around and ended up going 8-for-19 from the field and 5-for-11 behind the arc. The fact he did most of his damage against the Bucks' reserves is notable, but for a player who struggled to find his confidence all of last season, it is a huge positive to see the ball go in the basket.

As a group, the Bulls are enjoying the early returns from a coach, and an offense, that is more lenient than it was in years past. This system is breeding more confidence in McDermott and his teammates.

"Oh yeah," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. "Because you've got the freedom to shoot it whenever you get open. Ain't nobody going to be mad at you for that. Even if it's a bad shot. I was always told the difference between a good shot and a bad shot is whether [or not] it goes in. But you know, even if you miss, you go down there and get a stop, hell you can probably come down and shoot it again."

Butler was the best player on the floor Tuesday, looking every bit like the kind of player that signed a max extension in the summer worth over $90 million. Like many of his teammates, he can see the differences in mentality early in camp, and he likes the way things are opening up for him early.

"I think it just gives me a lot of space," Butler said of the offense. "I think the spacing that we have, you've got shooters everywhere on the floor, so a lot of driving gaps, a lot of chance for isolation, and then of course getting up and down in transition. I think it fits everybody's game, not just mine."