Bulls focused on defensive improvement, but offense will decide their fate

When asked if the Bulls can keep improving, Derrick Rose replied in the affirmative, and you can tell who his coach is by the reply.

Per Nick Friedell

“I think we could become a better defensive team than we did in the past,” Rose said after Monday’s shootaround. “I think all the guys that are working right now, they’re putting their all into the defensive end. Everybody. So for us we just got to stay together getting our chemistry (going) where we’re jelling out there. Really just focus on the defensive end, because offensively I think we’re going to be all right.”

Derrick Rose might be on to something here.

Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, and Jokaim Noah.

That just might be a top five defender in the NBA at every position if you throw that lineup out there. That’s the lineup I anticipate closing most close games for the Bulls this year.

That said, once, just once, I’d love for someone on the team to say “Our defense is rock solid, pretty much best in the league ever year. We might be able to get a bit better there, but we can really improve from our middle of the pack offense, that’s where we’ll really make the difference”.

Whether the Bulls say it or not, ultimately, whether they can move past the Heat this season will rely more on their offensive improvement than anything additional they do on defense. When the Bulls fell to Miami in the playoffs in 2011 it wasn’t over a lack of defense, but a lack of scoring ability.

The Bulls can’t expect to beat elite teams 84-82 in the playoffs. It simply isn’t likely to work.

The good news for Bulls fans is that the Bulls will likely bring the best offensive team they’ve ever had to the court this year as well. Looking at the 2010/11 roster, Chicago is effectively replacing Watson, Brewer, Bogans, Korver, and Asik with Butler, Hinrich, Dunleavy, Nazr, and perhaps one of Teague/Snell/Murphy.

The big loss is primarily in Asik for Nazr, but it’s only on defense and only matters if one of the primary three bigs is hurt. The Bulls probably gained ground on all the three other positions and will likely simply play better players more minutes in the playoffs rather than trying to run a 10 man rotation.

If the Bulls make it to the playoffs with their full complement of players, the Heat will face the best Bulls team they’ve ever seen, and despite a lack of respect and a 4-1 loss in 2011 (close games) and 2013 (no Rose, Hinrich, or Deng), the Bulls have still shown they can play with Miami in the regular season winning at least twice every year since the Heat came together.

Derrick Rose also looks like he’s on a 1996 style Jordan mission to prove to the league that he’s back as he’s averaged nearly one point per minute over the past three preseason games.

New offensive playbook?

Beyond better personnel and a rejuvenated Rose, the Bulls bring a new offense to the United Center. It’s aim is to get more looks in the early offensive set and focuses on quick cuts, attacks from the wing, and moving the ball side to side which doesn’t really seem all that different from the old offense.

From a quick glance in preseason it looks like the Bulls will look to attack from the wing position rather than the top of the key creating more of a strong side/weak side of the court then look to efficiently move the ball to switch sides of the court in an attempt to create defensive gaps.

How is it working? Well any offense probably looks good when Derrick Rose is dominating the hell out of the competition, but we’ve seen Rose get a lot more action off the ball on cuts and he seems to have no problems finding seams when attacking from the wing. In other words, so far so good.

It’s hard to say when going up against preseason opponents whom probably don’t have their best personnel and aren’t that practiced with their schemes yet, but so far the Bulls appear to be finding more space to work with in the new scheme.

In the end, the Bulls might be the second best team in the NBA based on a good offense and elite defense. If they want to become the best, they’re far more likely to do so by becoming a great offense rather than a super-duper-elite defense. Hopefully the improvements in scheme and personnel are enough to get them there.


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    I feel ya on this one Doug. The Bulls can beat most teams in the regular season off of pressure defense and a dominate Rose on offense. But when the post season arrives, good teams will adjust, and play clamp-down defense themselves.
    The Bulls are wearing out their legs by playing defense all 4 qtrs long. This causes them to appear weary on offense. Shots fall short, and the Bulls go through major scoring droughts.
    If the Bulls are to compete for a championship, Thibodeau has to continue his preseason form of rotating players in and out of the lineup. From Derrick Rose to Marquis Teague, Coach has to find mins for everyone this season. This way his defensive philosophy stays in tact while having enough players w/ fresh legs to contribute on the offensive end of the floor.

  • An important aspect of the offense, especially going into the post-season, will be guys other than Rose having confidence taking shots. Even if the offense isn't elite, as long as a few guys can find reasonably good looks when Rose gets trapped, that will go a long way. Hopefully the absence of Rose last season has the team feeling a bit more comfortable in that regard.

  • It works both ways Doug. Likewise, if the Heat make it to the playoffs with their full complement of players, the Bulls will face the best Heat team they've ever seen.

  • In reply to RichG:

    The Bulls will take that trade since the heat have been essentially healthy when it counts, while the Bulls have been essentially decimated every year.

    I still don't think that the Bulls have what it takes to beat the Heat, especially given our starting power forward, but a completely healthy Rose and Noah would go a long way toward making it a remote possibility.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    The Heat have not been healthy when it counts. Wade was hobbled in each of the last two playoff runs.

  • In reply to RichG:

    There is still a huge difference between being hobbled but still playing, and watching from the bench in street clothes, something Rose, Noah, Deng, Hinrich and even Asik have done over the past 3 years.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    No doubt about that! I recall when the Bulls won their first ring in 1991, Phil Jackson remarked that they were injury free in the playoffs and that played a big role in their victories - tho, honestly, they only lost 2 games, and those were by one point each!

    Korver missed some games, and I think Watson did too. Even one key backup out can cost a game - a lot of these are decided by a point! In fact, two of the Bulls game 6 wins in the Finals were by a point.

  • In reply to RichG:

    I don't see this Heat team as better than last year's Heat team in any notable way. I suppose Camby/Oden might give the Heat more big man depth, but I think assuming you get anything meaningful from either guy is probably a stretch.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Don’t forget, Dwyane Wade wasn’t healthy in last year’s playoffs. In addition, If Greg Oden can give them anything, it would provide a dimension not afforded the Heat in the Big 3 era. Substitute Roger Mason for Mike Miller, and the Heat essentially bring back the same team. If Wade and Oden both pan out, the Heat are significantly better than last year. Even if just one of them exceeds last year’s output, the Heat are notably better.

  • There's two things that past Bulls teams have done poorly. transition scoring and getting to the line......with athletic jimmy butler and derrick rose and a rejuvenated luol deng attacking the basket, this offense does look different. The 3 point shooting is getting better but I like to see more corner 3s, Hinrich and Deng actually look good taking that shot. Boozer seems to be finding his way offensively and we know Noah will get you a 10 10 game. The rebound domination against Riley's thugs will be the key if this offense holds up. We know the defense will be there.

  • Transitional (fast break) offense is an area that we can improve Greatly. Just remember there is risk to this if it means lots of quick shots that miss---changing the style of a game. That said.., I think we need to go a little in that direction because in certain games we can't score 85 and win.

  • In the end this is about being able to beat the Heat. Back in the 2011 ECF, the Heat did a great job defensively on the Bulls during crunch time. They made sure that Rose didn't beat them. In addition, and this is very important, they did not allow Korver to breathe, let alone catch the ball, let alone shoot the ball, let alone make a basket.

    To beat the Heat a team needs a penetrator, and at least two guys who can shoot from distance. The Heat can take away one of those guys, but two shooters presents a much tougher problem for them, as the Spurs demonstrated during last year's Finals. Will the Bulls be able to find those shooters? I think in a close game in the final moments against the Heat the Bulls will have to go small with a line-up of Rose, Butler, Deng, Dunleavy and Noah and hope that between them, Butler, Deng and Dunleavy can knock down jumpers.

  • In reply to bjb57:

    spot on, bjb57. Dunleavy and Butler and Deng will need to hit their open shots. James and Wade and really play D when it counts and they suffocated Rose in crunch time back in 2011. Korver could not get any space. We need shot makers. It would also help if Butler can get to the lane and possibly the line like he did in that first couple preseason games.

    Butler and Dunleavy could be the difference from the 2011 loss. Those games were all tight and the Bulls could have won 3 out of 7 easily. (OT loss in Miami in game when Rose had last shot to win on regulation and missed, and the game 5 late game Miami comeback... Bulls were up at least 8 with barely over 2 minutes to go.)

    I think Dunleavy should be able to get open better than Korver. Butler should be way better than Brewer/Bogans across the board - shooting/driving/defensively.

  • In reply to Granby:

    And, Rose should be a better shooter than he was in 2011. So, better shooters all around.

  • In reply to bjb57:

    I also recall Rose being completely gassed from playing all 24 minutes of the 2nd half and then being asked to be Superman with LeBron and a second defender on him. IMPOSSIBLE Situation Rose was placed in. Thibs must have better minutes management to put Bulls in a position to win. Bulls are deep enough that nobody should be near 40 mpg.

  • You are definitely right, Doug, the Bulls need to up their scoring. Actually, just 3 or 4 points per game makes a huge difference - in the playoffs, a lot of games are decided by that margin. Recall the Finals last year.

    So, this means doing all the things that seem little but aren't. Shoot a three instead of a very long two; find shooters in the corners; open shooters need to shoot, not pass (pay attention Snell); study how the ball caroms to get more rebounds; square up for the shot.

  • The Bulls best hope for improving their offense comes from what you said about Rose coming back with a 1996 Jordan mentality to kill everyone and prove that he is still the best.

    Besides his physical health, that was my number one question about Rose's comeback. Did/does he have it in him to be like 1996 Mike.

    The initial results look promising, but we need to see it in the regular season to believe that it is for real.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Wow, I love the 1996 Mike comparison. This is why I think Rose will be MVP this year. You know the Bulls will be in the hunt for regular season top record if Rose is healthy and there are not too many untimely injuries. (Even in 2010/11 and 2011/12 the Bulls had a bunch of injuries and still had best record.)

    It is a regular season award. I'd make that bet any day because Rose looks to be 100% back and locked in. On the other hand, the playoffs is a different story and I'm not a true believer yet.

  • I'm definitely also getting that 1996 vibe from Rose. Like Doug mentioned, he's averaging about one point per minute played while still figuring out his timing and shaking off rust. I see the Bulls suffering through the typical injuries that they have with this team. But I see Rose being the constant throughout and beating teams regardless who else he has playing with him. The team has pretty decent depth. I'm really encouraged by what I've seen with Taj and Butler. To add insult to injury, ESPN just gave Rose a ranking of #9 in the league, which is just completely wrong. The top three players in the league are LeBron, Rose, and Durant. Those three are miles away from the next tier. This is the kind of thing that Rose will notice and will give him some extra juice to deliver the beat down.

  • In reply to sonofabiscuit23:

    Sports media outlets are also finally getting their wish in declaring Chris Paul the best PG in the NBA. I even read one clown who said Rose was never as good as Paul.

    Everyone loves Paul because he's more of a "pure" PG who runs an offense and distributes the ball, makes a lot of flashy steals, and is obviously a great player.

    But Rose is better at both ends of the floor.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I agree that it seems like a lot of the media really want Paul to be the best. It is particularly annoying that his defense is always credited. He can't guard well at all. He's only 6' tall. He gambles a ton and uses his hands a lot, so he gets a lot of steals. In head to head match-ups, Rose typically destroys other top tier guards on both offense and defense. For sure, Paul is a top 5 point guard in the league, but Rose is a top 3 player in the league.

  • The Bulls have put a lot of eggs(money) into their 'all-star' basket of Noah and Deng along with Taj. If Derrick had more offensive star power around him to make teams pay for extended double teams the way he looks right now and has looked in the not so distant past he could be a force to possibly rival LeBron.

    Deng, Dunleavy, and Butler are not going to get it done IMO. The Bulls do seem more offensively viable simply due to the weakened state of the league including all the ACL slash PED injuries. Still, they'd be one of the weaker offensive teams to win a championship in the last decade. I don't see it.

    They'd have to do a mid-season 'blockbuster' for Dirk with Cuban realizing short term he's got no chance to contend and thereby do Dirk and the Bulls a solid with a non-gutting trade(Charlotte pick, Deng('s salary), Mirotic, Bulls No.1, maybe Jimmy Butler. They'd be short at SF, but Dunleavy and dare say Snell would have to make do. They will not win a Championship without a second legit HOF scorer for Derrick. Get him one Gar/Pax you tight pantsed eunuchs.

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    First, Cuban says he won't even consider trading Dirk. So unless Dirk goes to him and asks for it, it isn't happening.

    Second, while I have always agreed that we need a legit second scorer, how much does Dirk move the needle at this point, especially if both Deng and Bulter are gone, basically decimating both wing positions leaving only bench/role players Hinrich and Dunleavy.

    Third, there you(someone, anyone goes again) trading half or more of the team/assets for a very short term solution(Dirk) and you don't even get rid of the biggest problem(the BozoHole), never mind paying $35 million for 2 power forwards who don't play D and can't be on the floor at the same time, unless the goal is to break the record for points allowed per possession.

    I wonder how many Bulls fans or NBA GM's would make that trade even if you were guaranteed one NBA championship. I'd say about 50/50 on both counts. Remember, Cuban broke up his championship team to attempt to rebuild for the long term.

    Finally, I thought that you were Mr. Draft pick, and yet you want to give up 4 or 5 #1 picks for a guy who is literally on his last leg(as he only plays on one at a time). With the equivalent of 5 picks a draft guru like you could create a championship team from scratch in 2 drafts, maybe even one.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I could see trading Deng and the Charlotte pick for Dirk, but I doubt Dallas goes for that. But I agree with you, BigWay, to include Butler and Mirotic? NO WAY! They are key parts of the future. In fact, Mirotic might (notice might) be the next Dirk.

    Even if Mirotic is "only" a solid starter, he will be better than Boozer. A lineup of Rose, Noah, Mirotic, Taj and Butler will be strong on both ends of the court. How much more will the Bulls need then? If Mirotic or Snell or the Charlotte pick or another pick or a decent FA signing hits, that's it - the Bulls will be contending for years. I would not blow up all those possibilities for Dirk.

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    Way,Way too much for Nowitski. The guys 35 years old. This is crazy idea. I'm not married to Deng.., but Deng and our No. 1 would be plenty.

  • Speaking of Defense, or was it offense.

    From Grant Lowe at Grantland

    29. The Derrick Rose–Jimmy Butler–Luol Deng–Taj Gibson–Joakim Noah Lineup Will Hold Teams Below 90 Points Per 100 Possessions

    I got the shakes just typing those names together. Perspective: The Pacers had the stingiest defense in the league last season, allowing 96.6 points per 100 possessions. The 6.6-point gap between Indy and the magical 90 mark is the equivalent to the space between Indy's no. 1–ranked outfit and Philly's 15th-ranked defense, per NBA.com.

    Only eight lineups leaguewide last season logged at least 100 minutes and yielded fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions. Only three such lineups cracked 200 minutes: the Clippers' best bench group, the Spurs' starting lineup (how freaking scary is that!?), and the Memphis starters after the Gay trade. This Chicago group — so long, springy, and downright mean — has a great shot to slip under the 90 mark, even though it figures to see a lot of crunch-time action against opposing starters. I was tempted to call for a sub-85 figure, but that basically doesn't happen.

    He's not the only one on that bandwagon, as Bulls fans we can only hope to see a lot of that lineup, if health permits.

  • I think past injuries have clouded people's understanding of how much one additional scoring threat, even in a moderate sense matters to a well balanced style team. OKC struggled like hell when Westbrook went out. Bulls struggle like heck when even one position is not a potential threat in the big games. Korver playing 25 minutes with like 3 shot attempts a game 3 yrs ago killed us. Ok we understand you're under duress, then you need to sit yourself down. That won't happen with Jimmy cause he's strong as hell, fast, young and very controlled - he'll just go to the rack and get fouled. Watch.

    Based on what all the Bulls players have been saying and doing in the preseason (vs previous seasons) they actually seem like they finally know and have addressed every concern everyone is talking about here. We're not going to get significantly better than Deng or even Boozer at this point without some craziness happening.

    Furthermore I don't know that we need to even try. This team is damn near undefeated when the core 4 play (and that was before Jimmy, before an improved Rose, before a wrist injured Deng, without Hinrich to bother superstar guards, before a healthy and improved Taj and before an All-star Noah).

    Give them a couple months. Watch. You're all gonna be surprised. There are a ton of little factors that make this team have far more offensive power than most of you think. They're trying to figure out how to play together now. There are times in preseason when they click offensively that they are better than I've ever seen them in post Jordan era. It's there. They just need to work on consistency.

    When you put them together, if these guys are healthy you'll all see. I don't think we need anyone else. We just need to be healthy. Most star players bigger than Deng average more because they're given that burden, but even still they usually don't do all the other stuff he does, so if you were to sub one in then I don't know that the overall dividends are even worth it. If Boozer (as much as he aggravates me) asserts himself on any given night he and a healthy Deng can easily put up 25 and all sorts of other line stat contributions and both get their own shots. I don't know what makes people think we have players that can't get their own shots. That's not why we've been under performing in the post season.

    Plus, Dunleavy is starting to finally get comfortable. He's going to be better here than I thought. This Bulls team typically makes players better - you all know that. Hinrich without the full burden of running a whole team is going to be much deadlier than people think...if he stays healthy of course and when it counts the Bulls will fix that this year to ensure they get him to the post season. Wade will not be Wade if we can throw a healthy Hinrich and Butler at him. And then let's see Miami does with one superstar. Lebron gets winded when he has to carry the team all game. So how we approach D with the Heat and take at least Wade out and contain their weak ass supporting cast will be key.

    The Bulls know what's on the line. Give these guys a chance. Let them get healthy. It took the Jordan Bulls a minute to get over the Piston hump. And look what happened when they did. Scottie didn't always put up superstar numbers, but after the results we now understand that he was much more valuable than his numbers. If we don't trade Deng, stay healthy and win then I think that totally will happen with him too. Not saying we'll regard him as that high of a player, but we'll recognize that we already had a player who really overall was just barely a super star the whole time.

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