Rose shares Thibodeau's old-school mentalities

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Rose shares Thibodeau's old-school mentalities

Coming out of the mouth of a basketball purist, it was surprising.

I love it, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, when asked about the zone defense the Toronto Raptors played against his team a tactic other teams have employed, presumably to force players other than Derrick Rose to be scorers for a portion of Saturday nights win.

Thibodeau then elaborated about why he adores a strategy long believed to be the bane of most NBA coaches, though the Dallas Mavericks last years champions and the team for which new Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was an assistant success in utilizing it may well put it in vogue in a copycat league.

I love it because I think we have all the things to attack a zone. We can change. We can put more shooting on the floor, we have guys who can penetrate and we have great offensive rebounding, so whenever we see it, we like it and then we have some great cutters. We have Lu Luol Deng, who can cut from behind the zone. We have some guys that are very good attacking the zone from behind, so thats all part of it, he explained.

Thats all well and good, but defensively, would the guru of that end of the court ever consider it?

Well, we have zone principles. We really do. Were not a passing-lane steal team, were a hard ball-pressure type team, but then we protect the paint behind the ball and basically, thats a zone principle and we may play zone. I like it. I like the concept of it, said Thibodeau.

Going back to Saturdays victory, Thibodeaus postgame analysis showed that one of the aspect of his teams performance that he was dissatisfied with was the Bulls failure to play up-tempo basketball on a consistent basis.

I dont think we played with the type of pace we would have liked to tonight, from start to finish. The pace was OK in the first quarter and then we slowed down. Weve got to do a better job of continuing with the fast pace, particularly if were defending well and rebounding well, weve got to get out and weve got to throw ahead and weve got to run through, and weve got to run to the rim. Everyone says they want to be a running team, but to have the discipline on every possession, it takes a lot of work, he observed, even in the face of a shortened schedule with little time to rest. Well, its the challenge you face and if you want to be a quality team, a championship-caliber team, thats what you have to do.

So, to recap: Thibodeau continues to surprise people. Not only is he not adverse to zone defense though it remains to be seen if hed actually institute it but the perceived control freak wants his players to run more, something hes said since last season, but apparently isnt just paying lip service to.

The second-year head coach is considered to be so disciplined that the Bulls often ugly style of play is seen as a result of his lack of creativity on offense. However, hes actually an astute play-caller on the fly (not to mention possessing a textbook-thick offensive playbook) and encourages the Bulls to run as long as they tend to their defensive responsibilities.

Youre going to hear it every single day, every single practice, revealed Derrick Rose. He might text it to you, but youre going to hear it, no matter what.

Rose was joking, but the point guard has been drinking so much of the Thibodeau Kool-Aid that his postgame comments admittedly sometimes sound like his coachs.

Were still slacking. We can always get better. We can always get better. I know I sound like Thibs, but we can always get better, he said after Saturdays win, when asked how the Bulls can improve defensively. The Bulls can contest shots harder. Contesting harder and staying consistent towards the end of the games. I think we tend to let teams get open shots towards the end of the games, knowing that weve got the lead by so much and thats something that we cant do.

Rose has no illusions, however, that regardless of how stifling their defense can be, the Bulls dont play the most aesthetically-pleasing style of basketball.

We feel the same way you all feel. It was ugly, but were winning, Rose acknowledged. We dont have anything to complain about. Were just trying to get as many wins as possible.

Given Thibodeaus influence and his roots as a New York Knicks assistant coach, it shouldnt be a shocker to students of the game that the Bulls have an old-school sensibility to them, even with the departure of Kurt Thomas, who played for those late-90s Knicks squads.

Were definitely old school. Thats our whole mentality. Weve still got that old-school mentality, where we play hard. We dont care about our stats or anything. As long as we win, were good, said Rose. "Were physical, we play with a lot of emotion, a lot of confidence and thats what we need on this team. Thibodeau is always talking about his teams, how certain players, when they came to the locker room, how they concentrated on certain things to get their team involved and get their team ready, prepared for the game. He talks about Knicks center Patrick Ewing and all the other great players that he had, and it kind of rubs off on you.

But Rose, ever conscious of skipping steps, as Thibodeau would say, qualified his statement.

Were not near those teams. Those teams made great runs. Were just up-and-coming.

Meanwhile, Rose is ready for his return to Memphis - where he played his lone season of college basketball and remains a fan favorite - Monday for the Bulls afternoon-matinee game against the Grizzlies on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

It means a lot. Returning back to my old town, Memphis. Its a great city. I know that its going to be something special, said Rose, who visited the civil-rights museum in Memphis commemorating Dr. Kings assassination in the city, at the former Lorraine Motel. Its very nice. We went when we were college students. I think Coach Cal took us. Its super historic. It kind of makes you think about certain things when you go there. It was great, just seeing what went down, of course that tragedy, but just being there was something special.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”