It was always said that Hoiberg ran an NBA offense at Iowa State, but what exactly was it?

Editor’s Note: The video below reflects Coach Nick’s opinion only, not of the ensuing article’s author.

After dismissing head coach Tom Thibodeau after five playoff seasons, the Chicago Bulls promptly set their sights on Fred Hoiberg, the former head coach at Iowa State University as his replacement. Hoiberg’s candidacy has been long-rumored and today, it will become official.

Playing for the Bulls for four of his ten NBA seasons as a player (1999-2003), Hoiberg obviously forged close relationships with Bulls general manager Gar Forman, as well as Vice President John Paxson. As a result, Hoiberg was the one and only candidate to replace Thibodeau.

After his playing career, Hoiberg spent some time as Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. But his sole coaching experience at his alma mater, Iowa State, has been successful. The Cyclones have won 67.3% of their games and appeared in four NCAA Tournaments in Hoiberg’s five seasons in Ames. His Cyclones reached the Sweet Sixteen in 2014.

Hoiberg’s ascension to the NBA has seemed inevitable. He has an NBA coaching demeanor and his offense is described by many as “pro-style.” That style has produced results. Iowa State has ranked no lower than #11 (and as high as sixth) in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, per during Hoiberg’s tenure. Compared to the rest of the NCAA, which seems to be plodding its way towards offensive ugliness, Iowa State has played a free-flowing game with scoring and tempo.

Hoiberg and his coaching style will be a departure in philosophy from the defense-first Thibodeau. This hire’s message is that an offensive makeover is forthcoming. Bulls’ management targeted the “anti-Thibs” and Hoiberg is that. What does that “pro-style” offense look like, and what are the Bulls getting in Hoiberg? ? Let’s dive in and take a closer look.

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Hoiberg has been a proponent of the NCAA reducing its shot clock from 35 seconds, mostly because it would benefit his program and their style of play. Take a look at Hoiberg’s team in action below. As you can see, the Cyclones look to score early with little false action. Most of these shots are coming within the first seven to eight seconds of the possession.

Hoiberg uses drag screens and “pistol” action early in the possession to generate shot opportunities. With drag screens, Hoiberg wants his point guard to receive a high outlet and push ahead. If nothing is there in transition, the drag screen is set soon so that it stresses the defense. In the graphic below, you see 5 move to his “room” mirroring the ball as it comes across the screen.

The low post defender has to chose between going with his man or helping in the short roll from 4.

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If the point guard rejects the ball screen, he goes into a handoff with 2. The drag screener then sets the ball screen on 2. This handoff into a ball screen is commonly called “Pistol” action. It is used often in the NBA, and Hoiberg used it freely at Iowa State.

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No doubt, the Bulls will speed up their tempo under Hoiberg. Early offense is a Hoiberg hallmark. Setting an early screen puts stress on the defense before they are fully set.

Back-to-the-basket post play has not been a Hoiberg concept. In fact, Iowa State rarely uses this tactic. Instead they follow a Hoiberg doctrine for post play Hoiberg calls “going to your room.” The post player’s “room” is an area behind the defense two to three feet off the baseline.

Below you see Iowa State post player Jameel McKay in the box denoting that area Hoiberg calls the post players’ “room.”


With a bevy of drag screens and high pick-and-rolls, Iowa State threatens the lane with dribble penetration or short rolls and force the post defenders to choose between helping up to stop the threat or sinking back and becoming vulnerable to the drive. Some of the actions illustrated in the diagrams above are in the following video.

The early drag screen offense shows that Hoiberg prefers longer athletic finishers over true on-the-block post players. Back-to-the-basket post play is something Bulls fans can expect to see less of during the Hoiberg tenure.

Another Hoiberg staple is weave action. Dribble handoffs are Hoiberg’s preferred method of creating mismatches. Often, Iowa State would weave the ball until they got the desired pick-and-roll match up the want to exploit. Versatile forward Georges Niang was most often the desired ball screener or the mismatch they were looking to isolate.

This “wing weave” action is Hoiberg’s main tool for finding or creating mismatches then isolating them.

For the last two seasons, Iowa State point guard Monte Morris has led the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio. Morris is for certain one of college basketball’s best point guards, but this statistic can be deceiving.

For one, Iowa State played at a much faster offensive tempo. Possessions were shorter, meaning fewer passes and lowered opportunities to commit turnovers. Secondly – and this is another Hoiberg staple – the Cyclones often use a “point-forward” concept. Morris has a low usage rate (16.9%) when compared to other point guards – often, Niang initiated action and directed traffic.

Below are two possessions that illustrate Niang in the role of “point-forward” in Hoiberg’s offense.

Hoiberg may decide that Derrick Rose should handle the ball less going forward. With his injuries and their impact this could be good for Rose, but is it a role he’ll be willing to accept?

However, Hoiberg’s playbook is not exclusively free-flowing early offense. In fact, Hoiberg might have had the deepest offensive playbook in the NCAA. He was one of the best coaches in the NCAA coming out of time outs, and there have been quite simply too many offensive sets and quick-hitters to detail in one article. 

Common NBA actions such as “Horns” are part of Hoiberg’s arsenal as well. For examples, the video below shows several of Hoiberg’s “Horns” sets.

Since coming into the college game five years ago, it has appeared that Hoiberg was destined to return to the NBA. His time in Ames seemed like an internship that was preparing him for the NBA stage.

On the court, his team has played with NBA style. His sideline demeanor is much more “Brad Stevens” than the rest of his fiery NCAA counterparts.

Even his preference for combing the transfer and junior college market for players has seemed much more like NBA “roster assembly” than NCAA recruiting. When his Cyclones were in need of a shooter, he went out and found one on the open market that was ready to play. If they needed a rangy post player to play behind opposing defenses, they shopped the transfer wire until they found one.

Iowa State has been in many ways a mini-NBA franchise under Hoiberg’s direction. It has seemed as if it was only a matter of time that Hoiberg would be on an NBA sideline. The question has only been, which franchise would hire Hoiberg first. That franchise is the Bulls, and now it is time to see if Hoiberg’s NBA model will work in Chicago.

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Randy Sherman

- Owner & Founder of Radius Athletics - A Basketball Coaching Consulting Firm
- NCAA Contributor to and
- 197 wins in nine seasons as a head basketball coach at the interscholastic level

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