Things have to get better if the Bulls want to be taken seriously in the Eastern Conference this season.
Veteran forward Thaddeus Young thinks they will.
The Bulls’ defense still has had more questions than answers this preseason, but Young is seeing improvement on that side of the ball, with a big test coming Sunday in Toronto.
‘‘We knew coming into this season that we need to be challenged as a team defensively,’’ Young said. ‘‘Coach [Jim Boylen] has done a great job of challenging us each and every day to be better defensively. [Assistant coach] Roy [Rogers] has done a great job of putting together a defensive scheme and putting a defensive mindset into us.
‘‘We know that defense is going to win games. I’m just that voice that’s going to keep putting it into the guys’ heads that we’re going to have to keep playing defense in order to win games. Yeah, we can score 120 or 130 points. But if we don’t play any defense, you’re not going to win.’’
Young, who signed a three-year, $41 million contract as a free agent during the offseason, has been on his teammates since voluntary workouts started in early September.
Tough love? Maybe. But he will continue to make sure his teammates understand the importance of defense and becoming two-way players.
‘‘When you have it going on offense, sometimes you think the offense can carry you,’’ Young said. ‘‘That’s not the way this league works. At some point, you’ve got to play defense. The better teams play defense, and that’s what wins games for them.
‘‘Golden State, as good as they are offensively, they’re just as good defensively. Houston, we talk about how Houston has a high-powered scoring offense, but they were good defensively also.
‘‘We just have to make sure we play both sides of the basketball. All of us have to be two-way players, as opposed to being one-dimensional.’’
So far, the Bulls have been mediocre defensively in the preseason. They were shaky at best in their opener against the Bucks. Their intensity was better against the Pelicans, but the Pelicans also missed a lot of shots around the rim that could have skewed the numbers.
Throw the game Friday against the Pacers out the window because Young, Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr., Tomas Satoransky and Lauri Markkanen sat out.
But all systems will be go against the defending champion Raptors, and the hope is that the Bulls will be up to the test with the start of the regular season about 10 days away.
Young is doing all he can to make sure they are.
‘‘I’m very vocal,’’ he said. ‘‘I talk to the coaches, I talk to the front office, I talk to the players. I’m kind of that in-between voice for everybody. I just try to be as vocal as possible but also try to understand I’m not the only voice. All the guys voice their opinion, and we all listen.
‘‘That’s what everybody has to believe in. We all have to believe each and every person has something to give to this team and each and every person is going to want to do something for the betterment of the team.’’
Boylen has liked what Young has brought to the team so far.
‘‘What we’ve asked him to do, he’s exceeded — leadership, work ethic, educating the younger players, playing the game the right way,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘He’s one of those ‘Amen’ guys. [When] I say something, he gives me the ‘Amen’ all the time. And I love that. You need that.’’