With frigid cold in Chicago today, the Bulls cancelled shootaround. It deprived us of one of the only good things remaining with this season: head-scratching Jim Boylen time.
We can do this every day, and it may seem like we already do, but Boylen continues to not only have a poor-performing team that would indicate bad coaching, but then his analysis of the situation only confirms he’s in over his head. He is not in that unique of a situation, as leaders of fellow-garbage-teams in Cleveland and New York are also losing their minds, but Boylen seems especially delusional.
And more interesting is the difference in what the players are saying.
To Boylen, it’s consistent harping on immeasurable and likely unhelpful traits like ‘toughness’. Even after his team’s total faceplant against the Hawks, it was never on himself or the scheme but instead the players. He started to veer into tactical issues like ‘missed assignments’, but then:
Lets cut to the real chase of it: Our grit and toughness needs to be better, our edge to start games needs be better.
Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic put out a very interesting article based on this very quote. Mayberry attempted to get Boylen to address the actual coaching, and remarked on how this has not been done by the media very well:
So based on almost everything I’m hearing, and have heard for 24 games now, everyone and everything seems to be the issue except the coaching staff. I’m not buying it, and I’m not sure why everyone is so hesitant to speak candidly about the coaches. I get that it’s deemed unprofessional to throw a comrade under the bus. But that’s not even what I’m saying here. Nobody wants to say anything. And Boylen keeps talking more about grit and toughness rather than the schemes and tactics that it’ll take to get this team out of this mess.
Mayberry tried to frame his query to Boylen in the best likelihood that the coach would respond. Boylen did, but it was kinda still Boy-brain gobbledygook:
I judge this thing on how we practice and how we play. I don’t judge it on what we lose by. We can win by 20 at Cleveland or whatever it was, 16, 14, and I thought we made a lot of mistakes with 18 turnovers and didn’t play very well. So I’m not judging everything on the final score. Obviously, that’s important and we’d like to win games, of course. But that’s not what is on my mind.
There was then more on him not knowing the stats and going by his gut. He “thinks” the ball is moving better. He “feels” they’re doing a better job on pace.
I was hoping that during day-after practice, after a day of analysis and his beloved ‘introspection’, there would be questions and answers about strategy, deciding to so aggressively shadow and trap Trae Young, backfiring like his ‘plan’ against the Nuggets’.
Instead it was, literally, “effort and physicality”.
[I do wonder how he thinks that manifests itself, if at all (or it’s just another ‘feeling’). Does he believe something like defensive rebounding is simply effort? They’re worse at it under him than Hoiberg.]
It speaks to the lack of information used by this coaching staff and overall organization. Here was Boylen with a fairly illuminating quote before that Hawks game:
I don’t have a stat that correlates to, ‘If we take this many [threes], what our chances of winning are.’ I haven’t done that. I’m sure we can figure that out.”
Then after they were nearly doubled-up from three point line again in that very game:
We lose the three point line by 21; that’s a lot to overcome. Sometimes it comes down to making shots. In Cleveland, we made 15 (threes) like they did tonight.
If they were making 15 threes in that game, that would’ve necessitated a 57.6% percentage on them.
Now let’s turn to the players, a group that Boylen has already thrown shade at continuously in his tenure. He’s since bemoaned both the loss of Justin Holiday and Wendell Carter Jr., the latter of which he said the team really misses...though he spent the prior sentence lamenting how young everyone is.
Bobby Portis, who seems like he’s fully in alignment in the ‘tough but dumb’ Boylen brand of hoops, indeed mentioned after the Hawks loss they were being ‘outworked’. Kris Dunn tried to dip his toe into questioning things - he’s referenced ‘the new system’ before - but insisted plainly ‘we gotta guard’. So there was some talk about what Boylen constantly references, but other players were talking strategy.
We weren’t going under (the screen) and blitzing. They killed us on the switch; that’s what we were doing today and we have to make the in game adjustment.
We are trying our best every day and it is not showing in the scoreboard, so it is frustrating.
and the most vocal critic so far who’s previously said ‘you can’t fault effort’, Zach LaVine:
You look up and you’re down fifteen or twenty, it’s like a snowball effect... I know I’m going to go out there and fight to the end of the whistle...[The Hawks] were out there moving the ball, playing well with pace, and that’s what we should be looking like. We have to get to that.
The players seem to know what’s going on, and are becoming more vocal about it. And it’s probably factoring into the on-court performance, less so that they’re not ‘playing for BULLS across the jersey’, but they don’t trust that the coaching staff can help them win games.
It’s possible Boylen knows the true issues as well and is just messaging poorly. But that’s likely giving too much credit: both he, and management that not only promoted but publicly backed him (emphatically!) are not putting in their own effort to figure this out.