Let’s start with one good thing from Wednesday’s debacle in Milwaukee.
Kris Dunn’s shooting reputation means basic pick-and-roll defense of him should be a game of probabilities. Against a career 30.9 percent three-point shooter, the strategy should always be to go under every screen, every time, forcing him to shoot. It’s a simple and effective approach, one that makes defending the Bulls guard easier than most.
That is why this shot from Dunn from Wednesday was so important.
Down only 12 points early in the second quarter, the game had yet to escape the Bulls, even if it appeared like it would. Advancing the ball after a score and initiating the offense with Zach LaVine as the screener for Dunn, the Bucks made the right play: Focus on the noted threat, go under the screen, and encourage a bad shooter to launch.
And he did. This time, though, it went in.
Both teams will view this three-point make differently. The Bucks will live with an off-the-bounce made jumper from a bad shooter — the odds are in their favour. For Dunn and the Bulls, sinking an important three and cutting a growing lead to only eight points theoretically kept the game alive. Holistically, though, it was more than that. For a moment, ignore the made shot. What’s key here is what happens before. Dunn recognising the defense would let him shoot, and still confidently walking into a three is a significant development. It’s small progress in a player who isn’t far removed from registering one of the worst offensive rookie seasons ever recorded.
Typically, an otherwise rudimentary pull-up jump shot shouldn’t be noteworthy. But in a 34-point loss to the new-look Bucks, where so few positive moments existed, Dunn drilling a confident three was an important moment, for this game, but more importantly, for his long-term progression as a player. More of this, please.
This singular play may have only lasted for eight seconds, but it was the best and most encouraging possession amongst a flood of concerning and predictable sequences. Let’s look at a few of those.
The Jabari Parker Experience
Returning to Milwaukee was always going to be difficult the first time round — having to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t make it any easier. It may only be preseason, but this was a significant game for Jabari Parker. It was a chance for his former team to rue the decision to let him walk to Chicago in free agency. Yeah, about that...
A two-point, 1-from-12 shooting night in’t the type of performance that forces a former team to reconsider their position. It’s unlikely Parker replicates such a horrid offensive line all season. Those numbers are an aberration which will soon be forgotten.
What should be expected, though, is what we saw in the opening possessions of the game. It was the full Jabari Parker experience, and gave insight into how this experiment may unfold.
Parker was brought here to score buckets (just ask him). There was only one such bucket for Parker in this game, but it came from a nice 2-4 pick-and-roll set with LaVine. Setting a light screen and flashing out high, Parker showcased his natural ability to create points, finishing effortlessly at the basket above outstretched arms.
An ability to score may have inflated his pay, but on the next defensive possession after his make, the forward showed he’s capable of producing defensively. For most, containing Antetokounmpo in a one-on-one matchup can be considered a near impossible task. Somehow, Parker did exactly that, staying in front of his former teammate the entire time, forcing him to give up the ball. It didn’t end there. After stopping his own man, Parker’s instincts to to help his teammate were sound. He may have been a little late, result in getting dunked on, but it was encouraging to see him give effort.
Looking for retribution on the next possession, an overzealous Parker would take a contested three-pointer early in the clock.
It wasn’t a good shot, but you can live with it if a poor attempt is followed up seconds later with smart defense that leads to a transition opportunity.
Missing a contested layup against a bigger body wasn’t an issue. Not hustling back on defense certainly is. Only moments before, Parker had put together two good and encouraging individual defensive possessions. To follow that up with little to no effort in running back to pick up a player, or faintly closing out to an open shooter in the corner, is incomprehensible.
These early, consecutive sequences of play spanned just over one minute of game time. In that minute, we were given a glimpse of it all: An array of offensive moves, good post and lane defense, and some of the worst transition defense you’ll ever see.
The Bucks were well aware of the player they let go. In a string of possessions, the Bulls may have learned that, too.
Announcement: The Bulls won’t be good on defense
Sometimes we over-complicate things. In the case of the Bulls defense, simple maths is all you needed to predict the Bulls would be a porous defense: If you have more bad defenders than good, you will be bad.
That includes countless possessions of miscommunication, slow rotations, and too many uncontested shot attempts. Take this possession, as an example.
The initial on-ball defense was good enough to force a pass. The moment the ball swings to the weakside, that’s when trouble sets in. Thankfully, the shot missed, but it was a good, clean look from the corner. Something to important to note on this possession: The Bucks had isolated Chicago’s two best defenders on the strong side of the ball, leaving their three worst defenders bunched together away from the ball.
Thon Maker, the player who attempted the three, was left open after Bobby Portis entered the paint to help, despite Parker already being in the vicinity to be the nominated help defender. Then there’s LaVine on the weakside arc, having to pay attention to a defender without the ball, a position he’s most vulnerable in. By design or chance, the Bucks had engineered the perfect offensive possession by exploiting all the flaws of the Bulls’ weakest defenders.
This isn’t a problem that will go away – after several seasons in the league, you often are what you are. There’s only so much resistance two noteworthy defenders like Dunn and Wendell Carter Jr. can provide when they share the floor with three other negative defenders. Coaching will eventually be questioned – why play all three together if you know this will happen?
The obvious retort: What other option is there? Again, when you construct a roster with more bad defensive players than good, you will be bad. It’s that simple.