The Bulls put forth a pretty shameful performance against a shorthanded Pacers team on Sunday, losing 108-95 despite the absence of Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. The loss dropped the Bulls to a disappointing 2-5 despite a relatively easy, albeit road-heavy, schedule to start the season.
There have been plenty of issues plaguing the Bulls, from awful shooting to league-worst rebounding to a terrible defensive scheme.
But Jim Boylen, as he did early and often last season, has gone to the ‘toughness’ well after this latest loss, calling out his players for not being prepared enough.
“I think they need to take more responsibility for their preparedness. I think they need to take more ownership of their readiness to play. The head coaches in this league have never been expected to coach effort. Effort has to come from each guy.
“We had a good September and October, good training camp. I think we set the course of what we want to do. We had a poor game (Sunday). Let’s see if we respond.”
Per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Boylen added that there are players who innately have these kinds of intangibles, and it comes down to the individual to make the choice to play hard and with grit:
“So, yeah, I think you can talk about it, coach it, expect it, demand it, but playing more physical is an individual, conscious decision. Playing hard is an individual, conscious decision.’’
Boylen is right to a degree about all of this, but to say head coaches in the NBA “have never been expected to coach effort” is just not true. And ironically it’s something Fred Hoiberg would say too. Players do have to take some personal responsibility here, but it’s also on the coach to have them motivated and prepared for their opponent. It’s a mix Boylen somewhat acknowledges, but clearly he’s putting a lot of onus on the players.
When talking about what he does to try to motivate his players, it turned into a whole thing about not being afraid to hit guys and “growth plates” (an apparently new Boylenism):
“I show them on film the situation. I show them in practice the situations where I thought they could have a higher level of urgency or physicality or competitiveness or toughness. That’s how I do it,” he said. “And in those moments I hope they learn that it’s acceptable, it’s OK to hit somebody once in a while within the game. It’s OK to be physical. And as they learn and get stronger and feel more comfortable, they grow into that tougher mindset.
“Where we have struggled I think is at times we’ve been willing physically, but we’ve been weak mentally. That’s also part of our development with this group. And we can make excuses for that. We can say we’re young, we can say we’re new. A lot of the league is young and a lot of the league is new. We can say we’re going to have played nine games in 14 days, we’ve played the most road games in the league. Is that pulling on our mental and physical toughness? Is that pulling on this group that’s never really been through it before together? Maybe it is. That’s the growth plate. That’s the learning moment.”
After all the positivity of this offseason and stories of time clocks and punch cards, to have this kind of talk happening just seven games into the season is grim. The Bulls have had issues with toughness and playing hard and winning 50/50 battles at times, but there’s no doubt coaching is also a culprit here, especially when it comes to the defense. Yet after every single loss there isn’t any reference to what the coaching staff can improve.
Boylen conceded that he’s looking at changing up his defensive game plans to better fit the personnel of this roster, and he should be looking at tweaking his rotations as well now that Chandler Hutchison is available. While Bulls players do bear a large portion of the blame for this slow start, Boylen also needs to look in the mirror and fully acknowledge his own culpability.
Hopefully, the Bulls will put forth a better performance against the mighty Lakers on Tuesday.