Maybe it was the frustration of nine consecutive losses or the fact that he was a combined 8-for-26 in his last two games.
In any case, when asked about the Bulls’ defensive problems since Justin Holiday was traded to the Grizzlies on Jan. 3, guard Zach LaVine wasn’t exactly heaping credit on Holiday.
“I mean, Justin is a good player, but I don’t think it’s just Justin, you know?” LaVine said. “I don’t know what it is. Justin is a real good player, but I don’t think he’s something like where you take him off the team and he’s like LeBron James.”
No, he’s not. But the numbers since Holiday’s departure are eye-popping. The Bulls were 5-9 and allowed an average of 103.3 points in the 14 games in which coach Jim Boylen had Holiday in the starting lineup after Fred Hoiberg was fired Dec. 3. With rookie Chandler Hutchison taking over Holiday’s role of main defensive stopper since the trade, the Bulls are 0-7 and have allowed an almost ridiculous 122.6 points per game.
It’s a small sample size, sure, but one that can’t be ignored.
“I think one thing is we traded one of our best defensive players, and we’re looking for someone else to step up,” Boylen said. “That’s an issue. We had a veteran guy that could guard, he’s a lockdown defender, and we’re looking for our young guys to grow into that role. We’ve had moments where they have. . . . We’re learning about them, they’re learning what they have to do better, and that’s all a part of this season — a season of discovering what we have, what they can do and what they need to work on.”
Hutchison has been doing his best to pick up Holiday’s minutes, but going from Boise State to guarding the best-scoring wings in the world each night is a big ask. Wayne Selden, who came over in the Holiday deal, has seen his minutes increase off the bench, but again, he’s no Holiday defensively.
“Of course we miss [Holiday], but we can’t look back on that,” forward Lauri Markkanen said. “We’ve just got to try and replace him.’’
The Bulls do so under a cloud of concern: If losing a player like Holiday can completely disrupt the outcome of games, how talented was this roster in the first place?
“We have our game plan and what we want to do, but it’s not about that,” Markkanen said. “We’ve got to play tougher.
“I feel like we’re not playing as tough as we played when [Boylen] first started as head coach. We’ve got to fix that for sure. I still feel like everything starts with defense.”