DEERFIELD, Ill.—When asked about the Bulls’ chemistry, something that’s obviously still in the process of forming, All-Star center Joakim Noah brought another subject into the equation.
“Everybody has something to say. It’s funny. This isn’t math, you know what I mean? Just because he averages 25 points and this guy averages 12 points, and this guy averages 20 points and 10 rebounds, that’s not how basketball works. You don’t add those together and that’s what we’re going to get. It’s basketball,” he explained after Sunday’s practice at the Berto Center. “I think our starting unit before this season had never played a game together. So I think we’re all learning we’re all playing together. I think it’s going to get better every game. There’s no excuses. We’re being patient, we’re working hard and we’re excited about tomorrow.”
Regardless of whether it has anything to do with science, math or neither discipline, it’s clear that the Bulls are still jelling and perhaps taking longer than expected to do so. One could point to Derrick Rose’s slow start to the regular season, Noah getting up to speed after playing in only one preseason game or Jimmy Butler adjusting to being full-time starter, but with so many familiar faces on the roster, the Bulls were expected to be a cohesive unit, not one averaging 19 turnovers a game in their 2-3 start to the campaign.
“Offensively, I think we have to get the turnovers down. If they’re live ball turnovers, it’s hard to get your defense set. So that’s something that needs to be corrected. The first thing you have to do is eliminate all the ways you beat yourselves,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Football, its fumbles. Baseball, its errors and walks. Basketball, its turnovers.
“Usually it’s trying to thread the needle. Turnovers usually fall into one of two categories, either trying to thread the needle or too much one-on-one. You want to try to minimize those and ideally have 13 or less,” he continued. “You get chemistry from working together, playing together and practicing together.”
“We didn’t do that in the preseason. Now we’ve gotten guys back and we need to keep working.”
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Thibodeau has insisted that Rose’s early-season struggles will eventually cease, but for the time being, the coach wants his point guard to make sound decisions when faced with the constant double-teams he sees on a nightly basis.
“Great players in this league face traps. That’s part of being a great player. It should be easy offense because anytime you put two on the ball, you have to move the ball freely. And the team has to function well together. I think that’s why there’s such a premium on shooting. You have to surround your best players with shooting. If there’s pressure, anytime you commit two to the ball, you’re saying, ‘What are you willing to live with?’ You have to weigh that and you have to make shots,” said Thibodeau, who spent time watching film with Rose after practice ended. “When there’s two on the ball, you have to hit the open man and oftentimes, it’s the second pass, not the first. You have to beat the rotation. You should be able to get a high percentage shot. Then you have to get a balance of three-point shots, drives and post-ups.”
Similar to his coach, Carlos Boozer was supportive of Rose and made the case that the former league MVP’s mere presence creates opportunities for his teammates.
“I love playing with Derrick, man. We have fun. He puts so much pressure on himself, it makes it easier for the rest of us because he can do so much. Obviously, whoever we’re playing against, their entire defense is set up to try and stop Derrick or slow him down,” said the power forward, the Bulls’ leading scorer thus far. “We end up getting open shots. Joakim gets open dunks and layups, myself as well. Luol and I get open jump shots. You can play off Derrick, he’s becoming a really good play-maker. Don’t let the stats fool you, don’t let people talk to you with their theories. We all benefit from having Derrick on the floor with us.”
“We’ll be all right, man. Everybody has got an opinion. We’re a hard-working group of guys, we’re playing together. Everyone obviously means very well. We want to win, play well, shoot the ball well, with our offense scoring as many points as possible. Our intentions are terrific. Hard work always pays off, and we’ll start putting up better numbers. I’m not really concerned with it,” he added. “I’m happy with how I’ve started the season, but not satisfied. Have a lot of work to do, a lot of hard work to put in and I’m looking forward to more games.”
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Taj Gibson, the team’s top reserve, acknowledged that there’s been a drop-off since last month, but claimed that neither chemistry nor Thibodeau’s notoriously grueling practices are to blame for the team’s sluggish start.
“It can be sometimes, but we’re used to it,” he said of how tiring the Bulls’ practices can be. “We understand how to take care of our bodies. You’ve really just got to focus on eating right, staying out of clubs and staying away from all the negativity. Just being in the gym and focusing on your craft.
“I don’t think it’s the chemistry. I just think guys have to get themselves going,” Gibson continued. “When your shot doesn’t fall, your timing’s kind of off. People don’t understand that the preseason and the regular season are totally different speeds. Guys tend to try to get their bodies going during that time. But it’s all about guys getting good reps in practice and breaking through.”