Is opponents’ shared defensive blueprint what’s dooming Bulls?
Big man Tristan Thompson thinks so, but maybe the team’s five-game skid is attributable to four of the five teams simply being more talented.
PHILADELPHIA — Big man Tristan Thompson has been with the Bulls for only a couple of weeks, but he definitely brings an interesting perspective.
It’s debatable how accurate that perspective is, but it’s definitely interesting.
After the Bulls’ 15-point loss Monday to the 76ers, Thompson was discussing the season-high five-game losing streak the team is on. According to him, there’s a defensive blueprint going around on how to stop the Bulls, and everyone seems to be studying it.
‘‘I’m making an assumption, but I think how well this team started off compared to last season . . . you’ve got to understand that when you come out that hot in the first half of the season, teams are going to start prepping for you differently,’’ Thompson said. ‘‘Instead of treating it like, ‘Hey, a walkthrough, we’ve got the Bulls tonight,’ it’s, ‘Hey, this is a potential playoff matchup, and we’ve got to throw some wrinkles in our scheme to see how they’ll react.’
‘‘Memphis showed it first with how they played us defensively, and it continued on with Miami. 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 didn’t detail what the Grizzlies’ blueprint was — for obvious reasons — but it’s safe to assume the frequent double-teaming and blitzing they did on DeMar DeRozan was what he was referring to.
If DeRozan swung the ball to Zach LaVine, the defense was rotating to LaVine, leaving the corner three-pointer open. Basically, it was smother DeRozan, be prepared for LaVine, keep Nikola Vucevic covered with a big man and make anyone else beat them.
Because of the Grizzlies’ athleticism and length, they did a solid job of messing with DeRozan’s efficiency — he shot 10-for-29 — and the players not named DeRozan or LaVine shot a combined 4-for-15 from three-point range. So there’s some merit to Thompson’s way of thinking.
But where Thompson’s theory loses a bit of steam is that not everyone has beaten the Bulls that way. The Heat have pretty much done that in all three meetings, but the Bucks attacked DeRozan in the fourth quarter with only one player (Jrue Holiday) and the 76ers gave the Bulls multiple defensive looks throughout the night, sometimes double-teaming DeRozan but also throwing different individual players at him.
It’s not the blueprint that has been dooming the Bulls as much as the talent of their foes.
But maybe feeling as though it’s an adjustment here or a tweak there is better than facing the reality that four of the five teams that have beaten the Bulls during their losing streak are just better and more talented.
What coach Billy Donovan has to get the Bulls believing is that while help will be coming with the returns of guards Alex Caruso (wrist) and Lonzo Ball and forward Patrick Williams, the immediate help has to come from players who are healthy now.
‘‘We’ve had 16-some games the entire year with Lonzo, Alex, [Vucevic], DeMar and Zach,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘Our guys are fighting, and we can be better. I agree we have not performed really well against these [elite] teams, and our margin for error against these teams is very small.
‘‘Certainly, Alex, Patrick and Lonzo make us better defensively. That’s not to say they are the cure for all this. And I’m not making excuses because we have to be better because we don’t know if we’ll even get whole.’’