Bulls experimenting on defense?

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.

What's changed?

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.

Final thoughts

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.

Filed under: Coaching

Tags: chicago bulls, defense, nba

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  • Well, I find that encouraging. Obviously their defense has slipped a lot in the last 10-15 games, at least at times, but if they are trying new wrinkles for the playoffs, that explains it. Maybe we don't need to worry so much about the defense!

    The Bulls are also playing the bench guys more because they are forced to. If there is no big trade, a 10-man rotatioon for the playoffs might save Rose, Hamilton, Deng, etc, giving a better chance at fewer early losses. Naturally, they would then have more energy against the Heat.

  • "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."

    Thanks for the astute observation Doug. I started noticing this when Derrick was guarding Tony Parker, and it almost seemed as if Derrick forgot how to play defense.

  • http://basketball.realgm.com/wiretap/219639/Report_Howard_Preventing_Trade_To_Bulls

    Is this deal even feasible without adding Noah? Paying a player 13 mil to come off the bench... ouch?!

  • In reply to Jmax:

    Yes, it's possible to do Boozer/Deng/Asik for Howard/Turkoglu.

    http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=7xyanqf

    The Bulls obviously do this trade if Howard is willing to sign an extension. Start Noah at PF! That's a seriously intriguing scenario. If that doesn't end up working, the Bulls probably trade Noah in a deal that nets them a starting PF and a backup C. For example, we could get David Lee and Kwame (or Jeremy Tyler) from GSW for Noah. Trading with GSW would be interesting because we could try to get Ellis as well in a larger deal. But now I'm just speculating on speculated speculation...

    Personally, I think if the Magic add Ryan Anderson to the above proposed trade (the numbers still work), the Bulls have to at least CONSIDER pulling the trigger without getting an OK from Dwight. That seems insane but we'd "only" be giving up a PF we're considering amnestying in the future; an amazing but one-armed all-star; and an unproven young center with an extremely limited offensive skill set.

  • In reply to bzoooty:

    Here's the original link:

    http://www.cbssports.com/nba/blog/ken-berger/17732655/keep-dwight-not-if-the-magic-could-trade-him-to-chicago

    "The Bulls (34-9) also have the best record in the league and are "built for long-term success," said one person familiar with their strategy, making a trade for Howard a non-starter without his blessing. Bulls officials do, according to sources, privately have concerns about whether they have enough to get past Miami in a playoff series, but are content to take a shot at it with the group they have."

    Keep it up Gar/Pax. Just better hope Derrick doesn't start to turn against you both. 34-9 , reining MVP, premier defense, doesn't mean squat. Beating the Heat with superior talent does. I will not congratulate my Bulls for meeting the Heat in the ECFs and putting up a "good fight". I will instead turn my disappointment to Gar/Pax.

  • Great, great post. It's nice to think they're getting in-game practice for the range of offenses that they'll see in the playoffs. I don't entirely understand the distinction between hedging and not-hedging in terms of matchups, though.

    Is hedging on screens especially good for dealing with strong 3-point shooting teams?? Orlando, NYK, OKC, San Antonio would probably fit here if so.

    Is not-hedging better for dealing with team with mobile big men? Maybe Memphis and the Clippers. Or is it something else?

    And obviously zone is good for dealing with slashing teams like Miami, Indiana, and Philly.

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