Bulls 'defense a disaster' despite Noah's return

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Bulls 'defense a disaster' despite Noah's return

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011
Posted 8:45 p.m. Updated 10:16 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

TORONTO For James Johnson, revenge was sweet.

A day after getting traded to Toronto, the second-year forwards new team withstood a 19-point fourth quarter by Derrick Rose (32 points, 10 assists) and the Bulls (38-17) dropped a 118-113 contest against the Raptors (16-41) Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

It felt good to win, said a beaming Johnson, who engaged in competitive banter with his former teammates throughout the contest. Just seeing their faces was priceless.

For Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, however, the games result was no laughing matter.

WATCH: Thibodeau steamed after loss

"We gave up 118 points, offensively we scored more but defensively it was a disaster," said Thibodeau, whose Bulls allowed the Raptors to shoot 58.1 percent from the floor, as well as put up a season-high point total for opponents. We got into an offensive game, we tried to outscore them and thats a recipe for disaster. You've got to be ready to play and obviously we weren't, that's on me.

Its disappointing. Disappointing. Going on the road, you cant win like that, Thibodeau continued.

Carlos Boozer (24 points, six rebounds), who went for 34 points in the two teams last meeting at the Air Canada Centre, was a focal point for Chicago in the early going. Despite Amir Johnsons (17 points, four rebounds) countering him with quick cuts and tough finishes off feeds from Toronto point guard Jose Calderon (six points, 17 assists) in pick-and-roll scenarios, Boozers low-post presence was overwhelming in the early going.

Luol Deng (19 points), matched up with former teammate (as in the day before, when he was traded to the Raptors) Johnson (nine points, five rebounds, three blocked shots), showed his former protg starting in his Toronto debut and wearing a new number (zero), as well as a headband, which is forbidden by the Bulls there was good reason he was nailed to the bench in Chicago, as he had his way with Johnson, then continued his efficient scoring as the opening quarter continued.

With the return of Joakim Noah (seven points, 16 rebounds) the centers touch wasnt there, but he managed to grab a remarkable 10 rebounds in his eight-minute initial stint; he also struggled to defend versatile Raptors center Andrea Bargnani (24 points, eight rebounds) the visitors played at a faster tempo than they had as of late and after the first period, the Bulls held a 29-25 advantage.

WATCH: Noah critical of performance in return

Definitely not the result that I wanted, but weve just got to come with a better edge. Tough loss tonight, said Noah, who struggled to convert offensive rebounds. My timings a little off. Im a little tired.

Opined Thibodeau: He missed a lot of time. Hes rusty. His timing is not there. But weve got to get it done.

Boozer perhaps more sympathetic, as he also struggled after a long layoff; the Bulls were blown out by Orlando at the United Center in the power forwards December Bulls debut took a more positive stance regarding Noahs return.

Monster on the glass like normal, great presence in the paint for us and weve got to try to get him back in the groove, said Boozer. Its going to take him a few games to get his rhythm back. I think on defense, he was pretty good. Got a lot rebounds in a short period of time.

Chicagos second unit put the home team on its heels to start the second quarter, as a flurry of steals converted into layups by Ronnie Brewer (11 points, three steals) gave the Bulls a slight cushion.

Toronto, however, stormed back, with swingman DeMar DeRozan (24 points, four assists) finding his groove and reserves Sonny Weems (12 points), Ed Davis (nine points, five rebounds) and Leandro Barbosa (13 points) wreaking havoc off the bench.

Johnson, in fact, tied the contest at 43 with 4:17 left before halftime, when he threw down an alley-oop dunk from DeRozan in transition for his first points as a Raptor. Chicago regrouped and although the home team kept the pressure on, the Bulls went into the intermission with a 58-55 lead, mostly due to Boozers scoring late in the period.

Toronto made a game of it early in the third quarter, quickly knotting things up, subsequently taking the lead and scoring with enough regularity that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau halted the proceedings to make defensive adjustments.

The torrid-shooting Raptors (their field-goal percentage rose to above 60 percent during this stretch) embraced their guests playing a quicker tempo and with Rose struggling from the floor, Chicago was fortunate their inferior hosts werent up by a larger margin.

Scoring contributions from both Johnsons, DeRozan, Bargnani and Davis mostly fueled by Calderons playmaking kept Toronto ahead by a comfortable margin, but Raptors turnovers late in the period again plagued them, allowing the Bulls to slice into the deficit. Through three quarters of play, the visitors trailed, 85-81.

Chicago continued to gradually close on the Raptors in the beginning of the final stanza, with Rose asserting himself offensively before taking his customary early fourth-quarter rest. Toronto let the Bulls stay within striking distance until approximately the midway point of the period, when they opened up a seven-point lead Weems was key during this stretch prompting Thibodeau to call a timeout with 6:14 remaining, shortly after Roses return.

It seemed as if the familiar story of Rose coming to the rescue would immediately take form a typically lightning-quick, acrobatic drive and finish momentarily quieted the enthusiastic ACC crowd but Toronto had other plans, as DeRozan and Barbosa scored timely buckets to give the home team some breathing room. Chicago countered with Boozer and his inside presence was again too much to handle, helping the Bulls narrow the gap.

Out of a timeout, Barbosa scored on a baseline drive and was fouled, completing the ensuing three-point play with 3:04 to play, making the visitors uphill battle even tougher. But consecutive successful trips to the line for Rose made it a one-possession and after a Raptors turnover, the All-Star point guard nailed an open three-pointer in transition to tie the contest at 107 apiece with 1:59 on the clock.

Following a Toronto timeout, DeRozan scored on a cutting layup, but Rose responded with a layup of his own on the next possession to even the count once again. DeRozan somehow got free off on a inbounds play out of a timeout; he was fouled while attempting a baseline dunk and hit two free throws to give the home team a 111-109 lead with 1:15 to play.

Someones beat, youve got to help, noted a frustrated Thibodeau. Were a help team, we guard with all five, we were a step behind on everything, we lacked discipline and when you lack discipline, its going to lead to all kinds of problems.

History repeated itself the next time down the court, as Rose was fouled on a driving layup. The third-year pro made both attempts to knot up the score at 111 with 1:05 left in the game, giving him 11 consecutive points.

The specific back-and-forth between Rose and DeRozan persisted when the Raptors swingman was fouled with 49.3 remaining and he knocked down a pair of foul shots. Rose was the first to blink, missing a jumper off the dribble.
Derrick Rose drives for a basket in the fourth quarter against Toronto. Rose scored 19 of his 32 points in the final stanza while attempting to lead the Bulls back from an eight-point deficit. (AP)
As impressive as Roses dominant performance down the stretch was, he admitted that his busy All-Star weekend affected him earlier in the contest.

I had to get in rhythm. Not really practicing in four days, then coming back and practicing for a day and a shootaround, it was hard. My shot wasnt there, my rhythm wasnt there and I wasnt trying to force shots, Rose explained. I was letting my guys really handle the game. Then, towards the end, thats when I was trying to get to the line and drive the ball.

Defensively, we just werent there. When we needed stops towards the end, we just couldnt get it and you know us, towards the end, thats where our defense really gets better. But tonight, we just didnt have it, he continued, describing where he felt the Bulls were lacking on this evening. If we would have stopped them at least one or two times towards the end, I think that we would have won this game, but offensively, I think we were there.

Toronto took advantage of the opportunity when Amir Johnson went to work in the post, converting a point-blank shot over Boozer with 16.6 seconds to go, giving the home team a 115-111 advantage. Amir Johnson then blocked a Rose layup attempt and James Johnson was fouled.

The former Bull split the pair of ensuing free throws and after Noah threw away the inbounds pass following a Chicago timeout, it was all academic, especially after Weems knocked down two foul shots to make a comeback virtually impossible.

I know everybody would think that my motivation was playing my former team that wouldnt give me minutes, but I would definitely say the opportunity - a team that wants to fight for you, to get you and have you playing right away, that just shows what kind of trust they have in my game and me, and thats what gave me the motivation, not to let them down, said Johnson, who learned he would start after the Raptors Wednesday afternoon shootaround.

The game felt just like Bulls practice, really. The hardest thing about todays game was not trying to outlet it to Derrick.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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.”

Position battles to watch for at Bulls camp

Position battles to watch for at Bulls camp

After the Bulls traded for veteran center Robin Lopez and signed guards Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in free agency,  the starting lineup for the 2016-17 season was 80 percent complete with Jimmy Butler moving over to small forward. The only real question remained: will Nikola Mirotic or Taj Gibson start at power forward?

Arguments can be made for both players, but early in camp it appears Mirotic will have the edge, based on his three-point shooting ability. The Bulls need to create floor spacing for their wing players (Wade and Butler) who are most effective driving to the basket, and Mirotic has the ability to knock down the three (.355 for his career, .390 last season). Mirotic is also an underrated defensive rebounder with decent size at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds.

Mirotic got off to a fast start last season in a starting role, but eventually went to the bench after a late November-early December shooting slump. His second NBA season was also sidetracked by an emergency appendectomy in late January that caused him to miss almost six weeks of action. Mirotic finished the season strong, and went on to play a lead role with his former Bulls teammate, Pau Gasol, on Spain’s national team at the Rio Olympics. Mirotic will be a restricted free agent at season’s end, so he has a lot riding on establishing himself as a bonafide NBA starter.

It's a similar story for Gibson, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and is looking to land one more big contract when he turns 32-years-old next June. Gibson is known for his relentless work on the boards and his ability to defend power forwards and centers. He’s also 100 percent healthy after dealing with the after-effects of ankle surgery last season. But given the Bulls’ spacing issues, it makes sense for the coaching staff to go with Mirotic alongside Wade, Rondo and Butler, and to pair Gibson with young perimeter threats like Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine and Isaiah Canaan on the second unit. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg could use Gibson in a backup center role, with McDermott getting minutes at power forward in small ball lineups. Gibson will play, but don’t be surprised to see his name come up again in midseason trade rumors.

So, where does that leave 2015 first-round draft pick Bobby Portis? Portis looked good in Las Vegas Summer League play, showing off improved low-post skills and a consistent three-point shot. But unless Portis has a big preseason, it’s hard to imagine him getting consistent rotation minutes early in the season. Portis could earn some time as a stretch five backing up Lopez, but those minutes might also go to Gibson or second-year center Cristiano Felicio. Portis worked hard all summer, and should be a better all-around player in his sophomore season, but he faces an uphill battle to earn regular minutes. It will be interesting to see how many of the Bulls young players wind up logging time with the Bulls’ new D-League team in Hoffman Estates. Portis might not be involved as a No. 1 draft pick, but Felicio and second-round selection Paul Zipser might want to get familiar with the trip out to the Sears Center.

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The other major training camp battle involves the backup point guard spot behind Rondo. The coaches have a wide variety of options, starting with former Notre Dame star Jerian Grant, who came over in the Derrick Rose trade with the Knicks. The soon to be 24-year-old Grant is the son of long-time NBA player Harvey Grant and nephew of former Bulls star Horace Grant. The Bulls were interested in selecting Jerian Grant in the 2015 draft, but he went off the board a few picks before their turn in the first round.

Grant was a big-time scorer at Notre Dame, but struggled to get on the court in his rookie season with the Knicks. After Kurt Rambis replaced Derek Fisher as head coach of the Knicks, Grant finally got some consistent playing time, averaging 16.8 ppg over the last four games of the season. He’s not a great three-point shooter, hitting just 22 percent from beyond the arc as a rookie, but his ability to get to the basket and create open shots for teammates would give the Bulls consistent point guard play throughout the game.

Canaan was signed late in free agency to give the Bulls another long-range shooting option. He hit 36 percent of his 3’s with Philadelphia last season, averaging 11 points a game. The 25-year-old Canaan figures to be specialist with the Bulls, much like Aaron Brooks who could score points in bunches, but didn’t excel at running a half-court offense. Even though Canaan only stands 6 feet tall, he’s really a shooting guard in a point guard’s body, much like Brooks, D.J. Augustin, Nate Robinson and C.J. Watson who proceeded him.

6-foot-6 Spencer Dinwiddie was considered a potential lottery pick at Colorado before suffering a devastating knee injury that dropped him into the second round. Dinwiddie didn’t get a lot of playing time for Stan Van Gundy in Detroit, but he’s completely healthy now and showed during Summer League play he’s capable of scoring over smaller point guards in the post. His size, scoring ability and defensive skills might push him ahead of the other candidates when all is said and done.

The wild card in the backup point guard derby is this year’s first-round pick Denzel Valentine. Even though he played a wing spot at Michigan State, Valentine was the floor general for Tom Izzo, and is an exceptional passer with outstanding court vision. Since playing time behind Wade & Butler might be limited, Valentine could wind up running the point on the second unit, with Butler on the court as the primary initiator on offense. Valentine’s shooting ability gives the Bulls another floor spacer, and at 6-foot-5, he’ll have size advantage over smaller backup point guards.

Boiling it all down, Hoiberg and his assistants figure to do a lot of experimenting during the preseason to find out which players execute best together. But once the ball goes up for real on Oct. 27, Hoiberg has to decide on his best 9 or 10 players for a consistent regular-season rotation. Matchups could dictate which backup point guards find the floor, but even this early in camp it’s pretty obvious the Bulls are intrigued by Valentine’s potential, and he should get consistent playing time in his rookie season.