Bulls give insight into defensive dominance


Bulls give insight into defensive dominance

Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011
Posted: 11:45 AM

By Aggrey Sam

Holding opponents to a league-best 42.3 field-goal percentage and a third-best 92.1 points per game, the Bulls defense has drawn rave reviews from observers. Its easy to credit first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau for the teams focus on defense, but what makes Chicagos prowess on that end of the floor even more remarkable is not only do the Bulls have a new coaching staff and only five holdovers from last season, but the roster isnt exactly full of standout individual defenders.

The playerswith veterans Kurt Thomas, Keith Bogans and Brian Scalabrine being ahead of the learning curve due to their past history with Thibodeauhave had to learn an entirely new system. Theyve embraced the defensive discipline Thibodeau preaches and although the teams offense has stalled at times, the Bulls are winning games with their defensive effort. Nobody on the roster claims that its been easy, but with such emphasis on defense since training campand which continues, even past the halfway point of the seasongutting out so-called ugly wins based on defense isnt considered a bad thing in the least.

Coach Thibs came in right away and said, Listen, were going to be a defensive team first, explained Carlos Boozer. I know weve been struggling on offense the last few weeks, but our defense has been there every night. Were not giving up a whole lot of points. Thats the reason why were winningbecause our defense is only giving up about 80 points a game.

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It was misleading a little bit because we came out of the gate scoring, he continued. You guys were going nuts about our offense, but now, as teams start seeing you a second and third timethey do their homework, too. Were going to work on our offense, but the great thing about it is weve bought into his system. We believe in his system. Its not his system anymore. Its our system. We believe in our system.

To a man, the entire team concurs with Boozers buy-in theory. Even though most players on the team arent the defensive-stopper type, the fact that the squads overall defensive awareness is high can make up for one player not being able to shut down his man on a given night.

I think everybody has improved in some way defensively and I think you can tell by the numbers were putting up, reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer told CSNChicago.com. To be a good defensive team, its all about trust. I think were learning to trust each other. If you go out there and make a hustle play or run at somebody at the 3-point line, you know somebodys going to slide over, take a charge or make them make a second pass and its all about the second, third and fourth efforts. Were making those plays.

Thibs gets on us because we let little plays get by here and there, but at the end of the day, we still play as hard as we possibly can. Sometimes its not always pretty, but Ill take a win any night. Thats what weve been doing. Were winning games and were continuing to get better every night.

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Bogans, who played for Houston when Thibodeau was a Rockets assistant, was more blunt about it.

In this league, its impossible to guard people one-on-one, I dont care who you are. Without the help or help defenders, you wont be able to guard anybody, so as long as we know the help conceptyoure there to help your teammate and the next guy helps the next guywe can cover up a lot. Thats the main thing, he told CSNChicago.com.

Thibodeaus system wasnt an easy adjustment for everybody at first. However, the players who came from different defensive backgrounds accepted it quickly, even if it didnt necessarily play to their strengths.

I think me and C.J. Watson had a problem adjusting at first because thats what we thrived on, thats where we made our living, playing in the passing lanes, having active hands, Brewer said. Now, youve got to be a little more defensively sound, I guess more conscious of the decisions we make. I think it's working out for us. I think were playing better team defense, but at the same time, he still gives us freedom to make plays.

Sharpshooter Kyle Korver, a teammate of Boozer and Brewer with the Jazz, explained further.

Its a way different system. Opposite. In Utah, we forced middle. Here, we force baseline. We didnt do a lot of rotating in Utah. Coach Sloan really preached about taking care of your own man. Here, its a true team defense, Korver said. We work on it every day. We work on defense more than any team Ive ever been on, just as far as preparation, watching film, close-out drills. We dont do a lot of playing in practice. We do a lot of drill work and I think thats really carried over.

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Luol Deng, the player perhaps thriving most in Thibodeaus scheme, shared that the teams work ethic has been at its high point during his seven-year tenure as a Bull.

Since training camp, the way we practice has been the hardest and most consistent since Ive been here. Its just showing up in how were playing, said Deng. We keep saying, even before practice, Just do what youre supposed to do. If Im supposed to help and my guy back cuts, Im expecting somebody else to pick him up. It makes it so easy, just the trust is way better.

With the way we play defense, you can have a guy thats not known for his defense and guys will cover up, and you wont even know. Were in a position to help each other, he continued. If youre going to beat us, youre going to beat us with contested shots. We really try to take the paint away and take those easy baskets away, he continued. Were committed to our defense, especially in the fourth quarter. Theres times where we give up leads and stuff, but in the end, it comes back to our defense, not necessarily our offense. In the fourth quarter, when the game gets close, we lock up and turn our antennas up.

Deng, who his teammate Boozer believes should receive recognition for on one of the leagues all-defensive teams at seasons end, has fully accepted his role as a player Thibodeau utilizes on opposing teams primary scorers, from bigger shooting guards to face-up power forwards (he matched up with Dirk Nowitzki in the Bulls recent win over Dallas) and of course, his natural position of small forward, where some of the NBAs top scorers (such as Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony) play.

I really work hard on defense and Im really committed to it. Whenever someones hot, I go over to Coach and try to take that responsibility, said Deng. But in terms of recognition, as long as my coaching staff and my teammates are happy with the job Im doing, I really dont care.

That team-first mentalityon both ends of the courtis evident with this Bulls team and their aspirations.

We want to be one of those top-tier teams that continues to work and get better, and always improving, whether its offensively or defensively, Brewer told CSNChicago.com. I think Thibodeau is on us more defensively to get better and its every dayevery practice, every film session, even on off dayswere working to try to get better.

Added Boozer: We work on defense the first hour of practice. The last 45 minutes, we shoot a little bit. Before you all the media get there, its all defense. Thats the reason we keep getting better and the great thing about it, were not even peaking yet because hes Boozer points to injured center Joakim Noahs locker not even back yet, and hes our best defender! Wait until our anchor comes back! To meand I think Thibs will echo this to youwe can only get better at defense. Were one of those teams, that all were going to do is keep improving, especially when we get that monster Noah back.

Hes a monster and were doing all this without him. Imagine when we get Jo back. Hes our anchor, so no matter what happens, hes back there to block shots, make people adjust their shots. When youre missing a shot-blocker like Joakim Noahhe could be leading the league in blocked shots if he was still playing, he continued enthusiastically. I just cant wait to get him back.

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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Looking ahead to opening night matchup against Celtics

Bulls Talk Podcast: Looking ahead to opening night matchup against Celtics

In our latest installment of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill get you set for opening night against the Celtics. 

They debate realistic expectations for the team and break down the decision to start Taj Gibson at power forward. Later, Schanowski and Gill analyze the team's biggest concern, defense. 

Finally, CSN New England's Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely joins the panel to discuss what Rajon Rondo has left in the tank. 

Check out the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast below: 

Mark Schanowski's 2016-17 NBA playoff predictions

Mark Schanowski's 2016-17 NBA playoff predictions

With the 2016-17 NBA season tipping off tonight with three games, here's a look at how the playoff races might end up.

Let's start with the West, where Kevin Durant's move from Oklahoma City to Golden State may have shifted the balance of power for the next half decade.

1. Golden State (Projected record, 67-15). Sure, it might take the Warriors a little time to build their on-court chemistry, but if you watched any of the preseason games, that lineup is absolutely lethal. Durant looks relaxed in his new environment, and will get more open 3's than he ever could have imagined in Oklahoma City. The "Splash Brothers", Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, should be more rested come playoff time since they won't have to do all the heavy lifting during the regular season. Add in do-everything forward Draymond Green, underrated veteran center Zaza Pachulia and elite sixth man Andre Iguodala, and it's pretty clear Steve Kerr's guys will run away and hide from the rest of the Western Conference field.

2. L.A. Clippers (55-27). It's now or never for Doc Rivers' crew, with a number of key players potentially headed for free agency next summer, including starters Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick. Griffin got off to a fast start a year ago, but then saw his season ruined by injuries and a suspension for fighting with a team employee. Paul is still an elite point guard, but may decide to leave if things don't go well this time around. Lots of talent on this roster including first-team All-NBA center DeAndre Jordan, and Rivers again tweaked his bench with the addition of free agent stretch five Marreese Speights (from Golden St.), forward Brandon Bass and swingman Alan Anderson.

3. San Antonio (53-29). Never underestimate the ability of Gregg Popovich to put together a championship contender, but with Tim Duncan retired and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker past their prime, the Spurs don't seem to have the ingredients to survive three brutally tough playoff rounds in the West. This team now belongs to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, with former Bulls center Pau Gasol taking over for Duncan. The Spurs are trying to get younger, but it looks like the championship window may have closed.

4. Houston (50-32). Interesting experiment by first year coach Mike D'Antoni to put ball-dominant guard James Harden at point guard. I guess D'Antoni figured since he has the ball in his hands all the time, what's the difference? It's no secret Harden did not get along with big man Dwight Howard (who's now in Atlanta), and he could put up MVP-type numbers this season with the freedom he'll get at the offensive end. More importantly, the addition of three-point shooting threats Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon in free agency could make the Rockets one of the most entertaining teams to watch on League Pass.

5. Portland (49-33). How about another first round playoff shootout between the Blazers and Rockets? We could do a lot worse. C.J. McCollum cashed in big-time after winning the league's Most Improved Player Award, and you can pencil the Blazers backcourt in for about 50 points a night with Damian Lillard emerging as a top 10-15 player in the league. Portland could use a little more punch in the frontcourt, but with wingmen Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe also capable of scoring points in bunches, they should be okay with a big man rotation of Mason Plumlee, former Illini Meyers Leonard, former Warrior Festus Ezeli and young power forwards Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh.

6. Dallas (46-36). Rick Carlisle is one of the NBA's best coaches, and he'll figure out a way to build another playoff team around the skills of all-time great Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas added Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut from the Warriors, and should benefit from a full season from Wesley Matthews. Former Illini star Deron Williams returns to run the point, and the bench is decent with J.J. Barea, Justin Anderson, Dwight Powell and Seth Curry, who played very well late in the season with Sacramento.

7. Oklahoma City (44-38). Russell Westbrook is determined to keep his team in the playoffs without Kevin Durant, which means you can count on Russ playing at an MVP level this season, possibly averaging 30-8-8. I like the addition of Victor Oladipo at shooting guard, but the Thunder sacrificed power forward Serge Ibaka in the process. OKC still has its big man duo of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, but a lot of question marks with depth on the perimeter.

8. Utah (43-39). After just missing the playoffs a year ago, the Jazz should find a way to break through this time around. Gordon Hayward is one of the league's most underrated talents, and Utah should really benefit from the addition of veteran point guard George Hill, plus proven winners like Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw to help out their talented young players. Derrick Favors has quietly emerged as a rock solid power forward, with the "Stifle Tower", Rudy Gobert anchoring the defense from the center position.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Now to the East, where everyone's chasing the reigning champions.

1. Cleveland (58-24). The Cavs should really go over the 60-win plateau, but LeBron James understands it's all about the playoffs, and will sit out a number of regular season games to stay fresh. The roster is almost identical to last year's, except for the addition of former Bulls' forward Mike Dunleavy and rookie point guard Kay Felder. Don’t be surprised though if the Cavs wind up signing former Heat point guard (and James teammate) Mario Chalmers when he’s fully recovered from injury. Assuming everyone stays healthy, look for Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith to take on a lot of the scoring load during the season, and let LeBron put on his Superman cape for Round 3 against Golden St. in the Finals.

2. Boston (52-30). The Bulls' opening night opponent should be stronger than ever with the addition of All-Star big man Al Horford and lottery pick Jaylen Brown. Former Butler coach Brad Stevens didn't take long to master the NBA game, and has waves of perimeter talent to run at opposing teams, led by All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas. Small forward Jae Crowder stole a page from his former Marquette teammate Jimmy Butler on how to be a force at both ends of the court, while big men Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller work well in Stevens' system.

3. Toronto  (50-32). Another 50-win season is in the cards for the team from the Great White North. The Raptors kept shooting guard DeMar DeRozan with a huge contract in free agency, and he'll again team with Kyle Lowry to form one of the league's best backcourts. Toronto needs more production from talented, but inconsistent center Jonas Valanciunas and a full season of health from defensive menace DeMarre Carroll. Depth could be an issue, especially with free agent addition Jared Sullinger already sidelined because of foot surgery.

4. Indiana (49-33). The Pacers decided to make a coaching change after last season's first round playoff exit because team president and Hall of Famer Larry Bird wanted to play faster. So, former assistant coach Nate McMillan replaces Frank Vogel, and the Pacers traded for long-time Hawks' point guard Jeff Teague to push the pace. Paul George is primed for the best season of his career, and Indiana made a great under-the-radar pick-up by acquiring power forward Thaddeus Young from Brooklyn. Second-year center Myles Turner should also have a big impact as a scorer and shot blocker. The Pacers also have scoring power off the bench with Al Jefferson, Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles. Great offseason for Larry Legend.

5. Detroit (47-35). Stan Van Gundy has done a tremendous job changing the culture in the Motor City, getting shoot-first point guard Reggie Jackson to buy in to his philosophy, while staying patient with Andre Drummond's free throw shooting woes. Drummond is a monster on the boards, and one of the league's best centers overall. Van Gundy also has done a good job on the personnel front, stealing talented forward Tobias Harris from Orlando at the trade deadline last season, and picking up Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson in the draft. Jackson will miss the start of the year after foot surgery, but the Pistons should take off when he returns.

6. Atlanta (46-36). It will be interesting to see how the Dwight Howard experiment works in Atlanta, because Howard destroyed team chemistry with the Lakers and Rockets. Howard looked good in the preseason, but will he start to pout in a 3-point heavy offense? Former Bull Kyle Korver is still going strong at the age of 35, Kent Bazemore is a better than average two-way wing player and Paul Millsap is an All-Star going into a free agent season. Biggest question for the Hawks: Is Dennis Schroder ready to be the full-time point guard, or did Mike Budenholzer make a mistake by trading Jeff Teague?

7. BULLS (45-37). One thing we know for sure, the Bulls won't be boring this season with the addition of strong-minded veterans Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. Wade seems genuinely excited about playing in his hometown, and Rondo spent all summer at the training facility getting to know head coach Fred Hoiberg and his new teammates. Jimmy Butler will be asked to increase his scoring from his two previous All-Star seasons, and the Bulls are counting on Doug McDermott to emerge as an offensive force off the bench. Robin Lopez will provide an upgrade over injury-plagued Joakim Noah in the middle, and the power forward tandem of Taj Gibson and Niko Mirotic should be solid. If newcomers Michael Carter-Williams and rookie Denzel Valentine can gel quickly as the reserve backcourt duo, the Bulls have the potential to be one of the NBA's biggest surprises.

8. Charlotte (43-39). Hornets coach Steve Clifford is a Tom Thibodeau disciple, emphasizing defense over everything else. Charlotte lost productive veterans Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee in free agency, but the cupboard is hardly bare. Point guard Kemba Walker could make the All-Star team this season, and perimeter players Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams all bring something different to the table. Depth will be the biggest issue with former Bull Marco Belinelli and Chicago-area product Frank Kaminski being asked to provide offense off the bench.

I would like to tell you we should expect some big surprises when we get to the playoffs in mid-April, but it’s hard to envision any team beating Golden State or Cleveland in a best of 7 series. Round 3 between the Warriors and Cavs will find Kevin Durant celebrating his first NBA championship after a Game 6 win at Oracle Arena.