Opponents’ defensive blueprint is handcuffing Bulls’ offense, so what’s the counter?
Initially, it sounded as though big man Tristan Thompson was espousing some sort of conspiracy theory. But there’s now a larger sample size out there for the Bulls to say, ‘‘OK, now what?’’
Bulls big man Tristan Thompson was definitely on to something a few weeks back.
Initially, it sounded as though Thompson was espousing some sort of conspiracy theory. But there’s now a larger sample size out there for the Bulls to say, ‘‘OK, now what?’’
‘‘Memphis showed it first with how they played us defensively, and it continued on with Miami,’’ Thompson said, referring to a loss Feb. 26 to the Grizzlies. ‘‘And I think that film from Memphis has started to be sent from the video guys to those other playoff teams in the league, and they’re going to have the same game plan coming in defensively. So we’ve got to make those adjustments.’’
Thompson never detailed what the Grizzlies’ blueprint was — for obvious reasons — but it’s been very easy to watch it play out.
In a nutshell, opponents are getting the ball out of forward DeMar DeRozan’s hands by blitzing him with double-teams early in the possession, making sure a defender rotates to guard Zach LaVine and having any other player beat them.
And then when coach Billy Donovan staggers LaVine and DeRozan, like he does throughout the game to get them breathers, giving LaVine the same treatment.
‘‘For sure, no question. Probably the most I’ve seen in my career, to be honest with you,’’ DeRozan, a 13-year veteran, said when he was asked about the double-teams he has had thrown at him lately. ‘‘For me, it’s one of those things that we’ve got to figure it out. It’s on me to help the guys figure it out, as well.
‘‘The best way to learn is to be knocked in the mouth. Now it’s a matter of us responding, letting it click. Once it clicks, we be fine.’’
If it clicks.
With 12 regular-season games left, the Bulls are in a crawl to the finish line. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games, starting to that loss to the Grizzlies.
And the blueprint seems to be working across the board. The Bulls are averaging close to 113 points this season but only 108 since the game against the Grizzlies. DeRozan is averaging 27.8 points for the season but is at 24.9 in the last 10 games.
DeRozan’s assist numbers have gone up during that span, showing that he is a willing playmaker out of double-teams, but his field-goal percentage is only 41.1% since the game against the Grizzlies, showing that his shots have been made tougher. DeRozan was shooting almost 51% before this recent rough patch.
Now, it’s important to note that eight of the 10 teams the Bulls have played during their offensive struggles are legitimate playoff teams, with six of them arguably being threats to make their conference finals.
But that’s why DeRozan is concerned. In the playoffs, this is the competition and the defensive philosophy the Bulls will see every night.
So what’s the counter? Therein lies the problem.
Center Nikola Vucevic’s ability to pick and pop, especially from three-point range, would make defenses think twice, but Vucevic is shooting only 30.2% from behind the arc, which is a five-year low. Forward Javonte Green’s corner three-pointer has dried up a bit. LaVine is playing on a bad left knee and is up-and-down from game to game. And then there’s guard Lonzo Ball, who is shooting 42.3% from three-point range but still is rehabbing from knee surgery.
The Bulls have the players to beat the blueprint, but a lot of them are stuck in mud.
‘‘We need to keep evolving and understanding how we can beat teams and use that against them,’’ DeRozan said. ‘‘Once that rhythm comes, we’re going to be all right.’’
The clock is ticking.
NOTE: As expected, second-year forward Patrick Williams will play in his first game since having surgery on his left wrist when the Bulls host the Raptors on Monday. Williams played in only five games before suffering the injury in October.