Through their first three games, the Chicago Bulls are giving up 112 points per game. They’re letting opponents shoot 46.2% from the field (21st in the NBA) and a whopping 41.7% from three (26th in the NBA).
Small sample sizes aside, and more importantly, the Bulls look unprepared defensively. Head coach Jim Boylen is talked about as a defensive mind, and so is new assistant coach Roy Rogers, tagged as Boylen’s defensive coordinator. I’m not sure if it’s overcomplicating things, or their way of teaching the players, but the Bulls have been a mess defensively.
Good defensive teams are on a string where everyone moves in sync with one another. Players are communicating with each other, pointing out rotations, and so forth. But to this point the Bulls are missing on all of those areas.
There are a few players, namely Zach LaVine, who I’m going to single out. In the half court as a defender you have to be attentive to not just what’s happening with the main action, but everything that’s happening on the weak side as well. Too many times we’re seeing Bulls’ defenders ball watch, losing their assignment that leads to either an open 3, or a backdoor cut for a layup:
In this clip we see the pick-and-roll happening on one side with Cody Zeller and Dwayne Bacon, and on the weak side Otto Porter Jr. and LaVine get caught ball watching. Neither of the two know what’s happening with their two assignments, nor do they communicate with each other, as PJ Washington sets a flare screen for Miles Bridges. Before they realize what’s happening, Bridges is squaring up for 3.
Really trying not to be too critical three games in, but Chicago may have the worst pick-and-roll defense in the league. Time after time through the first three games, opponents are either getting clean looks at the rim for the roll man, or good shooters are getting great looks from beyond the arc.
LaVine literally has no idea that Jae Crowder is behind him in the corner. In theory, he should know that, and drop back with the pick-and-roll seeing as Porter is covering the roll man. That would put him in position to close out to either defender on the wing, allowing the other Bulls defenders to rotate from there.
Here Thaddeus Young is late getting to the roll man. He’s tenured, and smart enough to be able to see that play developing, meeting Jaren Jackson Jr. right as he catches the pass.
And third example:
In this final clip, LaVine should have two feet in the paint ready to stop Serge Ibaka. I understand not wanting to leave Norman Powell in the corner, but as the closest defender LaVine has to stop the ball first then rotate out to the shooter.
Every coach will have their own scheme and philosophies for how they want to guard the pick-and-roll, and coverages change on a game-by-game basis. However, the Bulls aren’t able to defend the pick-and-roll by any means. Either no one is there to cover the roll man when they need to be, or if they are, they’re missing rotations out on the wings leading to open triples
Take a second look at all three of those clips, and notice the one defender who’s involved in all three pick-and-roll plays. Trust me, there’s plenty more.
Chicago is giving up 22 fast-break points per game through three games. Again, small sample size, but that ranks 28th in the league:
There are a few things at play here with the Bulls’ transition defense. One is that it appears everyone wearing a white jersey is more concerned about their man rather than where the ball is and protecting the basket. The most basic aspects of transition defense taught is sprinting back to the basket, find the ball and stop it. From there, talk, rotate out and match up. Finding your individual matchup out of transition is not the priority. But that isn’t the case with the Bulls.
In this second clip, LaVine and Kris Dunn do great job of getting back in transition, and Dunn even communicates with LaVine on what to do, telling him to pick up the ball:
If you go frame-by-frame in this clip, you can actually see Dunn directing LaVine to Graham before he has even crossed the half-court line:
But for whatever reason, LaVine isn’t fully aware and waits until Graham is at the 3-point line before sprinting out to contest last minute.
One more example:
This action takes place out of Charlotte’s secondary break, and is another great example of how the Bulls are consistently behind defensively. Too many times, especially in transition, Bulls defenders are late reacting to passes, rather than anticipating. Porter, Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen are all late on their rotations, leading to a made 3-pointer.
From the highest level of basketball to the lowest level, the one main ingredient to having a great defensive team is communication. Even when you’re not the best defender on the team, simply being able to communicate with everyone else on the floor can allow you to be passable.
The biggest issue in my eyes, outside of the fact that they’re poorly coached, is that the team doesn’t communicate on defense. Tomas Satoransky is maybe the only individual who I’ve seen consistently talk to his teammates on where to be on their rotations. But because they’re not talking with one another, it’s leading to the multiple issues we’re seeing on this end. If the Bulls want to start making minimal improvements on defense, an easy way to do so is by communicating.
This post isn’t to say that the Chicago Bulls are filled with bad defenders. I don’t think that’s the case. Guys like Satoransky, Porter, Carter, Dunn and Young are all average to above-average defenders. I won’t sit here and pretend that I know all of the intricacies and schemes of an NBA defense, but most of the things they’re whiffing on defensively are basic concepts that can be fixed with the right coaching.
Therein lies the biggest issue in my eyes.