As I wrote in a previous column, the Bulls offensive problems early in the season really should come as no surprise. Without Derrick Rose in the lineup, they dont have anyone to break down a defender off the dribble or command a double team. That leads to a jump shooting offense that will be susceptible to long cold stretches.
And, outside of Nate Robinson, there really isnt any firepower to bring off the bench. Marco Belinelli still looks lost and Nazr Mohammeds impressive offensive play during the pre-season was obviously a mirage built on feasting against guys who are no longer in the league.
Whats most troubling about the teams 5-5 start is their substandard play on the defensive end, which is supposed to be the strength of a Tom Thibodeau team. The Bulls got off to a good start defensively, holding their first three opponents under 90 points. But theyve been terrible since then, allowing their last four opponents to top the century mark, something thats never happened before in the Thibodeau era.
So, what is the problem? Thibodeau would probably give you a lengthy explanation based on playing the system, making the proper rotations and doing a better job of closing out on shooters while controlling the defensive boards. The reality is this, the Bulls are starting three players with below average quickness for their positions, a liability thats hard to cover, even in Thibodeaus proven system.
Have you noticed the trend developing of Carlos Boozer, Rip Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich sitting on the bench for most or all of 4th quarters? Those are the three players who struggle to stay with their man defensively, and Thibodeau clearly would rather have Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Robinson on the floor to create more ball pressure, and give the Bulls a chance to get some easy baskets in transition.
The problem is, Gibson is suffering through a terrible offensive slump, even after all the extra work he put in this summer at the Berto Center and with the U.S. Select team. Maybe its the pressure of trying to live up to that big money contract extension, but Taj is really struggling right now, and the Bulls need him to get back to his normal productive self. Butler is a max effort player who is strong on the defensive end, but still has a tough time knocking down open jumpers.
Hinrich looked good during the preseason after putting in extra conditioning work over the summer, but hes never been a high-percentage shooter, and right now hes having a tough time staying in front of quicker point guards. Maybe the strained right hip is giving him more trouble than hes willing to admit, but lets be honest, this is Hinrichs 10th year in the league, and its asking a lot for him to defend lightning quick players like Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo.
Same story with Rip, whos having a tough time defending most NBA shooting guards at the age of 34. Hamilton has shown flashes on the offensive end, but all too often, we see him sitting on the bench in the 4th quarter with the Bulls trying to get some stops to rally from behind. Watching Jamal Crawford light up the Bulls in L.A. made me wonder again why the Bulls didnt go with their former player when they were shopping for a shooting guard before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. Crawford is only two years younger than Rip, but he has much more life in his legs, and is able to create a shot off the dribble, something this Bulls team is sorely lacking.
Its always dangerous to make conclusions off a 10-game sample size, and given the work ethic of this Bulls team and coaching staff, Im sure theyll come up with some answers as the season rolls on. But talent wins games in the NBA, and right now, the Bulls look a little short of that precious commodity on both ends of the floor.