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The Bulls don’t lack confidence, but they probably should

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what’s left to improve when they feel they’re doing great?

NBA: Preseason-Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls are losers of 9 straight, most recently at the hands of another blowout loss that rendered much of the game non-competitively meaningless. They have the league’s worst record at 3-19, with by far the worst net margin in the league this season and nearing historical levels. Lauri Markannen is showing he’s legit at a very young age, Kris Dunn is still a ways to get even there at a relatively old age, and the rest (acquired under this same regime, this isn’t a clean slate!) is bad and/or pointless. Even for a rebuilding team, that’s incredibly awful.

It’s also mind-numbing to watch, and as Jon Greenberg of The Athletic correctly assesses, seeing head coach Fred Hoiberg’s reactions only lowers any faith that this PATH is going well.

I’m not going to say Hoiberg has set reachable standards for this team, but …

“We talked about cutting the thing to 15,” he said, “and Justin [Holiday] banks the one in to cut it to 15 to start the fourth and they take off. We could never recover.”

Fred Hoiberg’s postgame news conference, presented by a stiff drink. Man, poor Fred. This is bleak.

Consider this Hoiberg quote: “These guys, every day they come in, they’re competing in practices. They’re getting after each other. They’re talking. When the lights come on, for whatever reason, when things get tough, we stop doing the things that make us a solid team.”

If I were to give Hoiberg some media advice it would be to stop talking about how hard the team practices compared to how poorly they play the games that count. Call it the Marc Trestman Rule. I understand why coaches do this, but it’s not really helpful for anyone when your team has lost 19 of 22 games.

At best, this is just Hoiberg playing dumb to not call out his team publicly and merely in the process insult anyone listening. But it could be worse, where he actually thinks everything is going great, and says ‘whatever reason’ is the culprit for their actual state (complete and total suckititude). It’d be one thing if this were a Tom Thibodeau attitude where he’d never critique his players publicly but he’d admit the team’s flaws (usually falling on the sword of ‘gotta prepare the team better and that’s on me’) and the players knew that what they were doing wasn’t good enough.

But instead The Hoiberg Route may be infecting the team, as to a man they seem to believe everything is being done right and they’re all great so what else can you ask for?

Like Kris Dunn, who barely admits he had a poor rookie (after a 4-year college career) season and though he played 1300 minutes over 78 games, sounds like he certainly doesn’t think he received the minutes he was entitled to.

“Last year was a learning experience for me because I never came off the bench before,” Dunn acknowledged. “I wasn’t getting too much playing time. I’m in a better situation now; I try not to even think about last year.”

...

“To be honest, coming in I thought I was going to get a lot of playing time,” Dunn said about last season. “I had a good summer league. I had a good training camp. So I’m thinking I’m going to go in there and get a lot of time. Thibs likes defensive players. That’s what I bring. But he takes it slow with rookies. From my experience, I’m more of a player you have to put me out there and let me learn with the minutes...It’s about being comfortable and confident, being able to play through mistakes. Your comfort level goes up and you start to get more relaxed on the court and start to play your game, the game people expect you to play. That’s always been me: Put me on the court and let me go against the best players and see how I do, see what I did good and what I did wrong and take it from there.”

...

“There were plenty of times I had to ask myself if I’m a good player. If I am, why am I not out there? Why am I not playing?’ I felt like the beginning of the year I could compete with anybody. I felt I had the talent and I had the work ethic. But then I’d get eight minutes, three minutes, 10 minutes, five minutes. I don’t like watching people compete. It was a hard time for me. Maybe even more for my family.”

Then there’s Denzel Valentine, who similarly dismisses past performance and has adopted the Memorial Doug McDermott ‘basically a rookie’ mantle, plus a delusionally-high self-assessment of his defense.

“I can guard the point, I can guard threes, and also rebounding. That’s how I can establish myself.”

“If you watch the game, you’ll see my defense is very underrated,” the 6-6 Valentine insisted. “The only reason people say that (about being weak defensively) is I’m not the typical NBA player with the athleticism who looks like they can go out and guard a superstar. But defense isn’t about that. It’s about heart, will. You’re going to get scored on; it’s the NBA. But as long as you are relentless and willing to buy into the game plan and be smart you can defend out here. I feel like I am doing a great job of playing defense.

Valentine compared his ideal play to ‘prime Dwyane Wade’, someone who would earn more free throws in a game than Valentine does in 6 months. Dunn merely settled for Rajon Rondo as his comp, which is wrong for other reasons. Both the above quotes are from Sam Smith and the house organ, so maybe he cut out any self-reflection or modicum of critical thinking.

Bobby Portis doesn’t have even that excuse, and he is also his own easiest critic.

“I feel I’ve been playing well,” Portis said. “I’ve been rebounding well, playing defense better than I have before. I’m taking great shots, so I’m not forcing anything on the offensive end. Trying to be a great player.”

Portis is indeed producing. But he’s also neck and neck with Dunn in usage percentage, and the opponent+teammates matter. Even with the good box scores he’s 87th among Power Forwards in RPM.

Between the lot of them, you wouldn’t think they were on one of the worst teams of the past 10 years!

This isn’t to be some old person writing a letter to the editor (redundant) bemoaning the ‘participation trophy’ nature of the whole Bulls locker room (even KO-punching is OK, you showed great emotion!), but man I can’t say it isn’t annoying as hell. And that’s fine, ultimately, but this attitude also suggests this team isn’t motivated to show improvement. Like all the way through the organization, admitting mistakes is not good for job security, so just chalk everything up to circumstance instead of preparation and execution. Whether they’ll actually show improvement is not really dependent on attitude as much as their talent and organizational structure (uh oh), but a more sensible attitude may be helpful. Or at least easier to understand.

We may have already lost another one to insanity before he even began:

Unlike Zach LaVine, I know the Bulls are losers. I know this because I see them lose all the time, then also read other peoples records of these losses. I don’t know what Hoiberg and his team are seeing, but it probably isn’t good in the long run to keep ignoring it. Obviously any criticism is couched with them being young, and allowing room for improvement. And I don’t see the harm in anyone just admitting this currently isn’t good enough. As a bonus it doesn’t make them all sound crazy or dumb.