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Is the Bulls defense actually excellent? headlines that end in questions usually mean ‘no’

they’re better, but still lucky

Brooklyn Nets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

You may have heard that the Bulls have the best defense in basketball since January first.

That’s an arbitrary date, of course, but a significant amount of games. You could cherry-pick further, and believe in the locker room magic of Goran Dragic (who’s apparently left the team), and look to December 19th after the Bulls gave up one-fiddy to the Timberwolves.

Since then, 32 games, the Bulls are second in defensive rating.

Now we all know that a team that has Nikola Vucevic at center flanked by DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine is going to be terrible. What this presupposes is maybe it doesn’t?

We’ve assessed the defensive performance recently as pure witchcraft, especially when it comes to opponent 3-point shooting.

Will Gottlieb goes into it at CHGO

Since January, during which time the Bulls are the best defense in the league, the difference is even more stark. Opponents shoot a league low 32 percent on the third highest percent of three pointers allowed in the NBA.

But there’s more to it than that, otherwise I wouldn’t link the Will’s post.

The Bulls are not doing a great job of limiting threes, but they are very good at other ways to slow down an NBA offense: limiting all of transition opportunities, putbacks, fouling (Vuc is a master at this defensive strategy), and shots at the rim.

It’s definitely a strategy, and Billy Donovan is leaning into it by adding Patrick Beverley and Alex Caruso to the starting lineup.

That’s where the addition of Patrick Beverley really helps. Having an additional point of attack defender on the court to help blow up actions before they begin is similar to what the Bulls had with Lonzo Ball. Alongside Caruso, the two could handle so much of the defensive assignments on their own, making everyone else around them look good....Basically, Caruso doesn’t have to do everything himself.

Donovan has good history of putting together solid defenses. You do have to wonder if it’s at the expense of offense. I won’t do the research, but merely hypothesize how a team that doesn’t offensive rebound (28th) and plays a ton of slow, three-averse iso-ball ‘helps’ their defense.

And another idea: how not having any rim protection out of the frontcourt limits the fouls (Caruso reaching status with the officials to let him foul without calling it helps too) but will put a ceiling on actual good defense at the rim?

Essentially, this could be real, but only dregs-of-regular-season real. It still looks to be the case where if an offense is capable to make, like, two consecutive passes they get the shot they want. And eventually those will go in.

The existential question is not how much this is tricking us, but tricking Arturas Karnisovas. Remember, we can no longer accept a baseline that AK knows what he’s doing, so when he cites his team’s defense as legitimate it can’t be assumed he was just grasping for positives but actually believes it. If this continues, does it mean even more of a chance they re-sign Vuc? Beverley coming back? Caruso never traded? Another few years on Donovan’s contract?

Or maybe we just see if the defensive luck, but also strategy and skill, gets the Bulls into the play-in, and worry about that other stuff later.