The Ball brothers didn’t have much of a choice.
As Bulls guard Lonzo explained it, dad LaVar often had them playing up, so they often were on the court with bigger, stronger kids.
If they wanted the ball in those youth leagues, they had to take it.
That’s where Lonzo started working on his craft. When taller players grabbed a rebound, he would position himself underneath them as they brought the ball down and slap up. Against players his size, he used his long wingspan to tap at the ball and always played with his hands out.
Fellow Bulls guard Alex Caruso’s journey was a bit simpler: Just be an irritant by any means necessary.
Both have become artists at deflection and disruption, and they just might be painting their ‘‘Starry Night’’ for the Bulls. For the opposition, however, it looks more like ‘‘The Scream.’’
‘‘Hell, yeah, it disrupts the rhythm of [the opposition], even if they’re not getting steals,’’ guard Zach LaVine said.
The goal for Ball and Caruso is to get their hands on the ball as often as possible defensively. If it leads to a steal, like many did in the Bulls’ 97-82 victory Saturday against the Pistons, great. The Bulls finished with 13 in the game, with Ball and Caruso combining for eight of them.
But disrupting opponents’ offensive rhythm is the true goal. After a handful of intrasquad practices and three games, LaVine is a believer in the benefits that chaos causes.
‘‘[Ball and Caruso are] so active [defensively], you’ve got to be aware of them,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘Even for guys like me and [forward] DeMar [DeRozan], it helps us be in the passing lanes more [and] get some extra rebounds because then guys’ rhythm is off. Their effort and energy bleeds throughout us as a team.’’
Yes, it’s only three games. And, yes, beating the Pistons twice and the Pelicans doesn’t scream contender yet. But the Bulls are allowing only 94 points a game so far after finishing with the best defense in the preseason.
‘‘It’s just trying to change the culture,’’ Caruso said of what he’s trying to add defensively. ‘‘Defense is all care. It’s just care factor, effort and execution. Our effort and our care factor is high; it just comes down to execution. We have all the tools, players and desire to do it.
‘‘I think Lonzo and I have the same mindset on defense: Just try and be pests, blow up plays, get deflections, anything to start the break. Because when we’re in transition, you’ve all seen we’re really lethal. It’s just about getting stops and getting out there.’’
Caruso was averaging 4.7 deflections a game through Saturday, which was third in the league. Ball led the Bulls in blocked shots and was second to Caruso in steals.
And it’s not as though the Bulls merely want them to play that way defensively; they need them to. One of the Bulls’ concerns entering the season was a lack of size. Defensive disruption can mitigate that.
‘‘I think we just know that we’re smaller than a lot of teams, so we have to use our quickness and our athleticism to our abilities,’’ Ball said. ‘‘And that kind of translates into using hands and coming down and doubling and, when you see the ball, going for it.
‘‘I think everybody has that mindset right now, and I think that’s why we’re getting a lot of deflections as a team.’’