Robin Lopez hesitated as he tried to pick out the best word to describe the Bulls’ defense of late.
“Quiet,” he said.
Coach Fred Hoiberg had a different word.
“Awful,” Hoiberg said after the Bulls lost for the fourth time in their last five games Saturday against the Pacers. “We were awful.”
Not that anyone associated with the team should be surprised.
Defense was an issue in the preseason, and halfway through the regular season it’s the biggest problem most nights. Even in victories.
Forget the fact that the Bulls entered Sunday tied for 23rd in points allowed per game with 107.9. Just look at the last week. They allowed at least 124 points in four consecutive games, a franchise record, and have allowed at least 30 points in five of their last six quarters.
Start the excuse line here.
“I do think our communication is a problem at times,” Lopez said. “I do think we have times where it’s a little quiet out there, where when we’re at our best, we’re talking very well.”
But it’s more than just a lack of communication. It’s young players still trying to learn the league and the tendencies of opposing players. It’s also young players trying to do too much at times.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily taking plays off,” veteran Justin Holiday said. “It’s just literally doing the little things and the basics every time is sometimes the hard thing to do. Because a guy might be so athletic, so fast, that he thinks he can get a stop just by pure ability. Sometimes that might be the case where it’s, ‘OK, I’m cool, and I’m just going to get this stop,’ but you have to do the basics.
“We have to do the things we know every day. There’s a reason they’re put into the game plan. That’s the hardest thing to grasp and get every time down.”
The Bulls changed their defensive philosophy entering the season. While putting together the defensive game plan is a group effort among the coaches, associate head coach Jim Boylen has the final say.
According to several former Bulls players, Boylen’s defense was often too confusing and wasn’t consistent from game to game. When the team did have success on defense, it was often because it used the defense run by former coach Tom Thibodeau.
Not only did that not sit well with Boylen, but once Jimmy Butler — the last student of Thibodeau’s teachings — was traded in the summer, Boylen quickly wanted his thumbprint on the defense this season. But that thumbprint has been rather smeared so far.
“Our defense obviously has taken a hit,” Hoiberg said. “We’re working on getting back that defensive intensity. And you have to have that for 48 minutes. That overall consistency on that end has to improve.”
According to Hoiberg, the turnaround needs to start with point guard Kris Dunn. Dunn prides himself on his defense, and the hope is that if Dunn leads in that department, the rest will follow.
“It always starts with your point guard,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll get some practice time here in the next few weeks, which we haven’t had a lot of, to hopefully address some of the issues.”
Until then, Dunn believes he’s ready to be the player who turns the defense around.
“I’ll take that,” Dunn said. “I feel like I can be an elite defender in this league. I’m going to take on that challenge.”
NOTE: As expected, the Bulls confirmed that David Nwaba’s contract will become fully guaranteed Jan. 10.
Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.