PORTLAND – At some point, and one that needs to come sooner than later as far as Jimmy Butler was concerned, the Bulls would like to figure out what exactly they are.
Are they a defensive team with that Tom Thibodeau DNA still flowing through them? Are they the up-tempo offensive team that Fred Hoiberg has been preaching since he grabbed the coaching reins last offseason? Are they something in between?
Identity crises anyone?
“It’s a making in progress,’’ Butler said, when asked about that search for an identity.
Butler and his teammates know what they used to be. That was never a secret.
Under Thibodeau it was a hard-nosed, blue-collar squad that was often forced to define resiliency because of injuries leaving them short-handed.
Hoiberg is smart enough to try and keep that mindset instilled, and meanwhile kick the offense up a gear, but it is yet to come all together.
The Bulls entered the game with Portland 10th in defense, allowing 99.4 points per game, but 18th in offense, averaging 100.5 points per game.
“We’ve got a long way to go,’’ Butler said. “We should probably figure it out pretty soon. But if we get back to playing hard every night, and we get back to playing hard every day in practice, I think we’ll get back to being that hard-nosed … maybe not so much an underdog team anymore, but just a group of guys that are going to fight.’’
The good news in all of this? Despite Mike Dunleavy [back surgery] yet to play, Derrick Rose out – and as of Tuesday against the Trail Blazers back in – of the starting lineup with injuries, as well as several key players searching for a defined role, the Bulls are winning.
“The good thing is, yeah, there’s a lot of room for growth with this team, and hopefully we’ll continue to get better and better as the season goes on and play our best basketball at the end of the season,’’ Hoiberg said. “But yeah, the execution’s got to continue to get better. I know our guys have been kind of in and out of the lineup, we’ve had some difficulty with that, but it shouldn’t matter who’s on the floor. You should be able to go out and execute your plays.
“So again, that will improve. It will get better. I’m confident in that.’’
Hoiberg has reason to be confident just because of the talent level he’s seen so far.
What the players continue to try and figure out, however, especially on the offensive end, is a scoring pecking order.
It’s no longer just Rose’s team, and it’s been heading in that direction for a few years. So it’s on the players to recognize that, as well as be willing to ride the hot hand, especially late in games.
“I think on this team anybody can score the ball,’’ Butler said. “I don’t think offense has been our problem. I think it’s been on the defensive end or it’s coming out sluggish, coming out with no energy. The offense is always going to be there because we get so much freedom. The defense and making sure we’re ready to play every night is the thing we’ve got to make sure we bring.’’