Bernstein: Bulls Defense Can't Look Like That

The Bulls' rotations were a mess in a 126-125 loss to the Hornets in their opener.

Dan Bernstein
October 24, 2019 - 1:29 pm
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(670 The Score) Bulls coach Jim Boylen has made toughness a central theme of his first full season on the job, stressing repeatedly the importance of stopping opponents from scoring as easily as they did too often last year.

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"We have to become a better defensive team," Boylen told reporters earlier in October. "We have to be better."

And in the most Boylen of ways for the Boylen-est of reasons too. 

"I just want us to compete every play for the city, for the heritage and history of the Bulls," he said. "People look at me when I say that like I am a complete dummy."

I'm not sure how to look at any defensive priorities after Chicago's season-opening 126-125 loss in Charlotte on Wednesday night saw the lowly Hornets make 23 of their 44 3-point attempts. As noted by Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago, a Bulls defender was outside of four feet away from the shooter on 39 of those attempts and six or more feet away on 20 of them. Rookie forward PJ Washington went 7-of-11, setting a new NBA record for most 3-pointers made in the first game of a career. He tied the mark set by Jake Layman and Donyell Marshall with his fifth one, which came in the first half.

When the ball popped out to the perimeter after a Hornets penetrator drew attention inward, there was often an initial attempt by the Bulls to close out to the open shooter. What happened thereafter, however, was a bit of a mess. Reversals, rotations and skips to secondary and tertiary options around the horn seemed to bewilder the visitors, and defensive rotations were all but nonexistent. Allowing unguarded shots in rhythm is no way to live life in the league, even against a franchise that looks like it just might be tanking for draft position.

If Boylen is going to traffic in all his signature tropes of heart and spirit and soul and pride -- and make sure you understand that it's not an act, that he's a genuine true believer in all of it -- such things can and must manifest themselves in defensive effort.

Get a hand up. Anticipate and hedge. Fight over, around and through ball screens. Communicate. Help and recover, then help and recover again. Get out to the shooter quickly but under control. Know the opposing personnel and their individual tendencies, and remember the rules for each matchup. Stay in a balanced position, prepared to react. Try to deflect every pass and then hit the floor for the loose ball. Make rotations second nature, so doing so multiple times in a single possession is easy instead of impossible.

Here endeth my inner monologue of Tom Thibodeau motivational slogans.

The Bulls don't have to set any records for defensive efficiency to to be a competitive team as this core evolves, but they indeed have to be better than whatever that was.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.