This Bulls team is full of wackiness when looking at just how they’ve been effective. Most of the focus has been on the offense, which is effective without shooting particularly well due to a couple factors, most notably the insane offensive rebound rate.
But their defense has also been better than expected, fluctuating a bit in this early season but currently 10th in the league in defensive rating. But what’s weird about it is they’re first in the league at preventing Free Throws for the opponent, measured by the amount of FGs they allow in comparison. Sean Highkin of The Athletic went into this in terms of both strategy and personnel:
“We communicate a lot better as far as switching,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We’re moving our feet a lot better. My foot speed is a lot better, and I’m just using my length. Being aggressive in practice is kind of helping us have less fouls. It’s hard. You hear coaches talk about it all the time, but Fred emphasizes it night and day. We talked about it last year, but guys are just a lot more locked in this year.”
This mindset is a lot different than just a couple weeks ago, when the results were trending the other way. Maybe it’s helped that we’ve seen less of Rajon Rondo and Doug McDermott in the intervening time. Their numbers in the fouling department aren’t too bad, but it’s notable that the Bulls foul the least as a team when Jerian Grant (the main beneficiary of minutes as a result of these injuries) is in the lineup.
What’s even weirder is that the Bulls are claiming to be a more physical team this year. Which is certainly evident in their rebounding dominance, and makes things even more impressive in that they aren’t sending teams to the line more as a result.
Maybe it’s just that they have better defensive veterans. Gibson is having a great all-around year, and Lopez replacing Pau is obviously a big change. Though adding Wade, and even moreso with Rondo, may have the team fouling less more because they play a more gambling and casual defensive style (and they’re respected by the officials and don’t get the same calls against them?).
I suppose that’ll be what we should look for going forward, if the lack of sending teams to the line reveals to be a symptom of bad defense rather than good, but for now the Bulls are pretty steady overall on that end by holding firm but not fouling.