The Bulls and Defense: Notes on Ethos, Personalities, and "Watchability"

As of right now, the Bulls have won 21 more games this year than last. This is huge: for example, a Memphis Grizzlies' blog had this to say in 2009: " The Memphis Grizzlies appeared to take a major step forward in 2009-10, adding 16 wins to their total and nearly reaching the .500 mark with a record of 40-42. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder, with a 27-win improvement, made a bigger step." The Thunder evolved into being a 3~6 seed in the west [no small feat] from being a lottery team, and Memphis into a Playoff team [or, at least, a 6~10 seed, something much better than being perpetually at the bottom]. These prior improvements were mainly the result of absurd improvement [and, in Memphis's case, 'finding' Pau Gasol while magically fixing Zach Randolph]. However, this year, both of those teams have found themselves more or less stuck at that level – they haven't taken leaps upwards. By contrast, we have our Bulls, who were mired at the 8 seed for a year or two: we went from the lowest seed in the playoffs to the highest. In our year.


While the Bulls have improved by a frankly absurd number of wins, the vast majority of it isn't from the new acquisitions that were made over the offseason [though they help, no doubt]. Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver are both backups, Carlos Boozer has been both frequently injured and a disappointment; Omer Asik only plays for around ten minutes a game. Derrick Rose has taken a leap, but to be fair, he was already pretty good. I think a Vinny-coached team would be on the hook for possibly a 8 or 9-game improvement with our personnel, but that doesn't explain the second massive swing. Obviously, since I just mentioned Vinny-who-shall-not-be-named, I'm talking about our current coach, Thibodeau, and his commitment to defence, something shown on the Celtics. [An interesting note, though I can't find the article I read this from, is that Thibs' leaving the Celtics has actually coincided with their offense becoming much more 2-point-jumper reliant and less 3-point-shot reliant, so Thibs may have improved our offense as well, something I'll get to a bit later. I did say these were notes. Also, I realize that the stuff above about how far we'd go without Thibs is opinion. Alas, there aren't really stats to account for it, except if you get into WP or something, which disagrees with me, so screw that. :P]


Now, other teams, like the old Spurs, were criticized as "boring" when they play defensive basketball. is one source I found with my trusty source-finder [see: Google], though there are numerous other instances and, in general, it's accepted. But the Bulls [and Celtics, actually] haven't gotten this treatment. There are two explanations for this: one is that the Spurs are in a smaller media market. It's much easier to poop on something if there aren't too many people who will give a shit*. Granted, there are exceptions [ ], but there are exceptions to every opinion somewhere on the internet: I'm sure that there's a page somewhere arguing in favor of real Unicorns [or something. Feel free to make up a more ludicrous thing that doesn't exist. Ben Wallace being a good FT shooter?]. In general it's very easy to criticize defensive basketball, especially if you aren't a fan of that team.


However, the way that we defend and score is fundamentally different from the old Spurs, who [in their non-running days] slowed the tempo down and had a lot of posessions where Tim Duncan backed people down for a while before shooting an unstoppable 10-foot bank shot, or running a pick-and-roll, or so on. As long as they did it slowly, it was fine. Popovich is a great coach, and he works with the personnel he has, and if Tim Duncan is your star, you're going to have a lot of smart, clean basketball. This is good: I'm a Spurs fan [it feels like I kind of follow a third of the league, and if I counted it up I wouldn't be surprised if that's the case …], and that style is fun to watch at times. But aesthetically, Manu Ginobli is probably the Spurs' best thing going. His stepback three is ridiculous, and the pace he plays at is so unique that he can just get by people without even seeming to try. It's fun to watch. Also, he can hit a bat with his bare hands and is the subject of one of the best coaching interview answers in history . Good times, but he was never -the man- for the Spurs.


By contrast, we have Derrick Rose to break the D down. We don't have anyone else, true, which sometimes turns the Bulls' offense into a game of "How many people can Rose take?", but we have Derrick Rose, THE 'rising young PG'. Unlike Ginobli, he's our main star, and handles the ball the vast majority of the time. Boozer is our secondary star, just because he's good at offense, but not only is he total rubbish at D, I don't even really consider him a star. So screw 'em. This is borne out in Rose's usage rate, which is astronomically high [over 30%!], and … well … just watching the guy play. He's like an athletic Steve Nash who hasn't quite learned the passing trick yet: he has Nash's balance but also major hops and physical athleticism. But, especially this year, his game has become more flexible and refined – the 3-point shot has gotten better, and though his percentages everywhere else have gotten worse he's been able to step up when his team really needs it and knock down shots.

And the offense Thibs has built around Rose is not a slow offense. It's a motion offense. People are noving around with purpose on the offensive side of the ball, cutting to the right places, executing, and opening up space so that we can get efficient shots and, coincidentally, have fun highlights. [My favorite part of this highlight is how the Nets' frontcourt players just kind of jump around like retarded mexican jumping beans until Asik dunks.]

Additionally, our bench crew is lovable. The Spurs have a workmanlike set of people: we have the guy who can't do anything and acts like a moron[The White Mamba!], the guy who can't shoot threes because his arm is crooked and makes up for it by getting 10 steals a game [Brewer!], the DEVASTATOR [Asik!], and an announcer who makes you feel like he's thinking dirty thoughts about all our players in bed. Noah is also a character himself - not just in his play but also in his actions. Even Korver, our 3-point marksman, is interesting in his astonishing ability to look like a Punk['d].

I'm uncertain whether this is just Bulls bias [give it even odds], but I feel like the Bulls have a more interesting team than the Spurs had from a personality standpoint, while also having more interesting player styles on the team. And this means that, even while watching the Bulls ugly the game up, when they do it it's a special event: when the second team comes out and all scoring on the court somehow magically stops, or when Rose splits a doubleteam before finishing over a third person, or when Noah does this . How can you not love it?

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