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The mirage has disappeared for the Bulls defense

bad defensive players + low effort = 150 points!

Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves
there’s likely a 50/50 ball Zach is watching, here
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Remember those halcyon days of, uh, a few weeks ago when the Bulls were just considered unlucky rather than bad? That’s now been put to bed after these 2 straight demolitions against the Knicks and a Towns/Gobert-less Timberwolves.

After Sunday night’s game alone, the Bulls defensive ranking went from 9th to 20th.

That defensive rating was seen as a very significant data point for optimism that this team is better than their record. But it’s still somewhat early in the season, and that number was just as variable after a drubbing of the Luka-less Mavs as it was in that pitiful performance in Minnesota.

It was logical heading into this season to expect the defense to be poor, especially without Lonzo Ball. They were a team defense not built around rim protection or fantastic one-on-one wing defenders, but point of attack disruption. Not only was Ball a big part of that, but it is a very precarious foundation overall to build your defense on.

So while the Bulls defense still was putting up results, it did seem like they were giving up easy shots especially if the other team could string two competent passes together. Then over the last 3 games that dam broke:

They certainly miss Javonte Green’s contributions, as he was one of the league leaders in deflections. Now all they have in that disruption department is Alex Caruso, who was put in the starting lineup and unfortunately his +/- influence could not overcome being in with the other regulars in that unit:

They just don’t have a lot of good defenders, with Patrick Williams being a bit above average only in individual matchups against similarly-sized opponents (that’s an improvement, so a bit of silver lining there).

The player rotation can only do so much: Billy Donovan has already unleashed Caruso, and yes while not playing Andre Drummond is a choice that hasn’t produced great results, Drummond is even worse at defending the rim than Vucevic.

Switching schemes is another tactic, but also failed to achieve progress:

Donovan after the game was emphatic that it’s not his fault:

I can switch to zone, I can switch to different pick and roll coverages. But if the compete level is not high enough collectively as a group out there it doesn’t make a difference.

When the Bulls defense was still putting up good numbers, it looked like validation that while they don’t have great personnel they were trying hard. Relying so much on forcing turnovers is also relying on effort.

And like Donovan noted, that has also disappeared lately:

Effort both physical and mental:

This is a disaster for the Bulls in particular, because they don’t have any cushion from some inherent defensive ability to be careless and lazy. Once that’s gone, they went from surprisingly middling to well below average. And I don’t think anything is going to make it better besides a belief that more effort will make a difference. With all the losing, that gets harder and harder to gain back by the game.