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.