It was a dismal opening night to the 2020-21 NBA regular season for the Chicago Bulls, they came out of the gates flat and the Atlanta Hawks immediately made them pay. Chicago allowed their opponents to score 83 points in the first half (which was a new record for the Hawks) in what ended up being a 124-104 loss.
Atlanta had seven players who scored in double digits and had a true shooting percentage of 66.8 percent. But it was Trae Young leading the way with 37 points and seven assists (in only 26 minutes and on a record-low 12 field goal attempts). Initially it was Zach LaVine who was matched up against Young but he didn’t have much success. Coby White was later switched onto him and it didn’t make matters any better.
Young’s shooting ability meant the Bulls had to go over every screen that was in front of them. It would make no sense to force one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA to take easy attempts from deep. But the problem was Chicago’s guards were not getting over the screens quick enough. Combined with the Bulls playing a less aggressive defensive scheme which saw their centers dropping back instead of stepping up to force Young off the three-point line, Young had enough time and space to dissect their defense. Even if Chicago gave him an inch of space, Young would fire up a three-point attempt.
Young was able to use the Bulls defensive scheme against itself and draw fouls.
On this play, Atlanta has two screeners for Young as soon as he gets across the halfway line. The Hawks used a lot of high pick and roll to force Chicago’s guards into making decisions quickly on defense. White sees Kevin Huerter coming on his left and thinks his man is going towards the baseline. However he doesn’t see Danilo Gallinari on his other side and that’s exactly where Young goes. White is caught off guard and is late going over the screen, forcing him to chase Young around the screen.
Wendell Carter Jr. is playing drop coverage, which is exactly as it sounds: dropping back and defending the paint in order to prevent Young to get to the rim. This means that Chicago is willing to concede the space in front of the paint as long as Young doesn’t go any farther. WCJ does a good job of holding him up there, but White is still there behind him and comes at full speed around the screen. Young senses this, waits for White to bump into him and draws the foul.
This happened on multiple occasions with Bulls guards getting caught on making contact with Young in the PNR and him getting to the line because of it.
Not getting over the screens fast enough at the point of attack also put the centers in no-mans land when they are playing drop coverage, as shown below:
A lot has gone wrong but the Bulls tonight, but if you can't guard PNR and stay connected on the ball-handler after screens, you have no chance.— Mark (@mkhoops) December 24, 2020
Plays like this haven't been an isolated occurrence, but a constant so far.
There's nothing Carter can do if the POA is this bad. pic.twitter.com/IOWNmaj9NG
Above, Carter has one of two choices: either let Young run freely into the lane or step up and allow an easy dunk for John Collins. He chooses the latter and the possession ends in an alley-oop.
It wasn’t just Young who had success in the PNR. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter also got their share of points by taking advantage of mistakes by the Bulls defense.
Here Bogdanovic is using Gallinari as a screener and again Carter Jr. stays in the paint. Both him and White double team the ball handler before the ball is kicked out to Gallinari at the top of the arc. Now the Bulls are in scramble mode. Otto Porter Jr. comes over to help on the drive and Carter Jr. is already at the restricted area guarding the rim. But White is also there which means the Bulls are helping with one extra defender than they need to. Bogdanovic is left all alone in the corner with nobody even close to him. All Gallinari has to do is pass it over for a catch and shoot three-pointer for the Hawks.
Not only were the Bulls poor in their pick-and-roll defense they were also allowing way too many easy points in transition. Atlanta had 23 fast break points and a lot of it was due to lack of communication or even effort.
The Bulls were abysmal in transition.— Mark (@mkhoops) December 24, 2020
LaVine calls for White to pickup Collins so he could stop the ball, only he doesn't pressure Young at all.
If you going to give Young this amount of room to make reads, he's going to kill you. pic.twitter.com/0QF9UBb7L6
This one may have been the worst of the night.— Mark (@mkhoops) December 24, 2020
In a halfcourt set, the Bulls (White, Porter) had no idea who was guarding Hill and Huerter.
No communication -> easy, open three -> Donovan timeout. pic.twitter.com/ZSLwMjGf9U
It was a game of defensive mistakes for Chicago and it led to easy baskets for Atlanta. While it’s only the regular season opener, these are the same mistakes we have seen the Bulls make over the past couple of years. They aren’t expected to be a lockdown defense team but they also weren’t expected to be leaking points like this either. Hopefully they can turn this around in the games to come.