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Despite what Jim Boylen says, this Raptors game wasn’t a moral victory to be proud of

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Don’t let the score fool you

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, the Bulls technically ‘hung in there’ with an Eastern Conference powerhouse. But as Jason noted in the recap last night, though the Bulls hustled and played competitive defense, the Raptors simply weren’t engaged, missing half of their shots at the rim and only hitting 27.3 percent of their 3-pointers.

While it’s easy to look at the result and assume a good performance, the process was less than encouraging. Especially if you believe the Bulls primary purpose of this season was to develop the young talent on the roster.

Slowing The Game Down Is Self-Defeating

It’s hard to be worse on offense than the Bulls were under Hoiberg. Jim Boylen has made it possible.

Emphasising a slower pace and working more of the offense through the post, the Bulls since promoting Boylen have not only seen their offense be last in the league in offensive rating in that time, they’ve plummeted to nearly three points worse than the next-worst team.

For a struggling offense in need of points, quick and easy scores should be prioritised. That’s hard to do when the coach is hustling hard along the sideline, calling for the progression of the ball to be slowed.

Take this possession as an example. After Zach LaVine forced a stop with sound post defense against a bigger opponent, Boylen visibly instructs Kris Dunn to hold up the pace. He obliges, walking up the ball up and crossing the halfcourt line with only 17 seconds left on the shot clock. If you’re aiding the defense by halting the ball, at least you better run some impressive halfcourt set pieces. Instead, the Bulls opt for a basic pick-and-roll action which results in a missed mid-range jumper.

Already losing the 3-point battle with teams on a nightly basis, gifting an opposing defense an easy stop like this is a sure-fire way to make things even worse.

Moments earlier, the same thing happened: Another good defensive sequence in the post by LaVine ends with a rudimentary high pick-and-roll action that allows Dunn to get into the paint. Credit to him in making the shot, but if this is to be a staple of the offense the Bulls have a long way to go.

Boylen has continually reminded us all that his archaic style of play is something management has asked him to do. I guess we’re to assume turning down transition baskets is also part of the GarPax mandate?

Here, Dunn needs to shot that three. If he’s not comfortable doing so — and his 3-point rate has dramatically fallen under Boylen — then he needs to run the lane to the rim, not the 3-point line.

It’s indicative of the larger problem: The players are being conditioned to play a brand of basketball that isn’t conducive to what the roster was initially designed to do. Running hard, pushing the pace and getting up shots from deep is what young and developing (and we were told more athletic?) teams should be doing.

The Bulls are doing the opposite. Here was Boylen before this game on...Robin Lopez post-ups:

something we can hang our hat on, something we can set our defense to at the offensive end. It’s not a three-pointer that’s bouncing to half-court and we’re getting out-athleticized going the other way. That’s what I like.

True to his word, Boylen has turned the Bulls offense into the San Antonio Spurs:

I suppose congratulations are in order for having a vision and the ability to implement it?Though while a comparison of shot profiles reflects an eerily similar team, the Spurs are one built around veterans with years of experience running the same system. And thus why they own a top-10 offense and the Bulls...do not.

And, yes, Boylen-ball may mean the development of a defensive foundation which did post a 100.0 defensive rating against the Raptors. But if the cost in doing so is a 93.7 offensive rating and the possession count being limited to 95, it’s a heavy price to pay.

Oddball Boyball Lineups

It’s somewhat reductive whenever one criticizes coaches for lineups, but Boylen’s have been so truly horrific there’s little choice but to point them out.

Let’s start with the 5-man unit that closed the first quarter: Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaquille Harrison, Chandler Hutchison, Justin Holiday and Wendell Carter.

The Bulls have two players on this roster who can create shots for themselves and others while be respected as offensive playmakers: Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. With neither in foul trouble or a minutes restriction, the Bulls should never run a unit that doesn’t feature one of these players. In fact, staggering their minutes may be beneficial, as thus far both haven’t looked comfortable sharing the offensive load.

Much more egregious was not seeing Hutchison in the fourth quarter, after what had been arguably his best game of his young career.

In a close game against a legitimately good opponent, these are the type of teaching moments a coach of a rebuilding team should be using to develop his younger players. Maybe management needs to tell Boylen this too? Otherwise he will continue to play Justin Holiday 40 minutes a night while leaning on his veteran for the entire fourth quarter, as he did in this game.

A mirage, and not even a good-looking one

Opting for lineups which favour veterans over younger players, completely removing porous defenders from the rotation, and shifting the game style to one that promotes fewer possessions, these decisions by Boylen look like a coach trying to preserve his job, not develop talent.

And they may allow for more competitive performances, even against good teams if they’re not taking the Bulls too seriously and the pace winds up punishing them into an off night. While the team has improved in record - they’re now 5-8 under Boylen — the philosophical shift that has occurred during the coaching change reeks of short-term thinking. These precious ‘W’s (or self-described moral ones) may provide an encouraging sound bite at the end of the season, but they’re then relying on hope that we forget the overall poor quality of these performances and lack of meaningful improvement.