The Chicago Bulls look much different on defense the past couple of games which caused me to question whether they were attempting to apply new defensive principles or whether they're simply playing defense poorly.
How does the defense typically work?
Traditionally, when an offense throws a high pick at the Bulls, Chicago will choose to go either over or under the screen based on the quality of shooter handling the ball. If they play over the screen, the big man defending the picker will hedge the screen [slide over to delay the ball handler and give the perimeter defender time get back in front of him after the pick, but not move to a full trap/double team].
When Noah or Gibson defend the opposing big man, Chicago will also throw a switch wrinkle into their defense, trusting their big men to defend perimeter players for extended periods of time in isolation.
Recently, the Bulls have been fighting over screens on everyone, or at least the caliber of shooter required to go over the screen rather than under it has dipped considerably. They played over all screens against Orlando with Jameer Nelson handling the ball and over them all with Brandon Jennings handling it as well.
The other difference is they haven't been hedging the screen when going over, but simply releasing the guard to do his best and attempt to pick up the guard at the hoop if he drives.
The lack of hedge/switch has caused Derrick Rose to get destroyed off the dribble over and over again making it appear as though he can't stay in front of anyone while in reality, the role of the support player has changed rather than his individual defense has.
I can't figure out why the Bulls would choose to abandon the hedge, as they haven't traditionally been beat up by opposing big men due to the hedged screen, and opponents have taken advantage of the Bulls defense falling apart once the defense at the point of attack fails.
At the same time, I also can't see Chicago fundamentally failing at something as simple as a screen hedge repeatedly during games, it strikes me as though it has to be a conscious choice.
The zone experiment
A couple weeks prior to the all-star break, we saw Chicago slip into the zone for a couple of games and try out a zone defense to see how it worked against opponents which makes me wonder if Thibodeau is simply picking a few games here and there to add defensive wrinkles to the playbook.
A zone wrinkle could prove invaluable against the Miami Heat in short bursts, and it could also help against Indy and Philly whom rely primarily on slashing more so than shooting to get their points.
Given that the Bulls have shown they'd experiment in the past, and they're typically too well disciplined to make the same mistake about 15 times in the game, I'm going to assume they're trying something new. I'm not sure who would be the target of this new wrinkle though as the primary teams the Bulls would play in the playoffs are ones which Chicago shouldn't dare release their perimeter players in this fashion.