With training camp just days away, Bulls need to start getting defensive
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At the start of training camp, the priority list for the Bulls should be short and sweet.
No. 1: Don’t punch a teammate in the face.
No. 2: Be willing to play defense.
The problem with this collection of players is that the second objective might be the more difficult one to accomplish.
With Year 2 of the rebuild officially underway Monday with media day, then two-a-days tipping off Tuesday, all eyes will be on a defense that continues to search for an identity.
During the 2016-17 season, the Bulls finished sixth in the league in points allowed at 102.4 per game. But that roster was still made up of Tom Thibodeau disciples such as Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, and, according to multiple sources, Thibodeau’s defensive concepts endured because Butler felt they worked best.
Once Gibson and Butler were moved, assistant coach Jim Boylen, who was never pleased with Thibodeau’s lingering influence, was able to put his imprimatur on the Bulls’ defense.
And while the sample size was a small one, it was basically a disaster.
The Bulls finished last season ranked 27th after allowing 110 points per game. The drop concerned enough people in the organization that changes to the staff were demanded.
In Boylen’s defense, the roster was young and makeshift on many nights with the Bulls in full tank mode the second half of the season. The concern, however, was that Boylen had not established an identity.
With road trips, back-to-backs and limited practice time during the season, a team needs to have a defense that travels well and they can all understand. Boylen often tried to game-plan the defense for the opposition rather than have a sound defense that forced the opposition to game-plan for the Bulls. It was confusing to more than a few players, and the results obviously weren’t good.
Welcome to the reboot.
It already was on display during Summer League. The Bulls will look to switch on everything. Pick-and-roll? Switch. Cross screen? Switch.
Coach Fred Hoiberg acknowledged that changes needed to be made during Summer League, and Las Vegas was only the dress rehearsal for what’s ahead.
“We’ve studied a lot since the end of our season as a staff, and we’ve gotten together,’’ Hoiberg said in July. “This is the time to experiment with things, and we’ll continue to do that. . . . We’re going to do some things and see how we like them heading into training camp.
‘‘So, yeah, we have changed philosophies on certain things with the direction the league is going.’’
The player who could benefit the most from the new defensive philosophy is rookie Wendell Carter Jr., not Zach LaVine or Jabari Parker, both of whom will have their on-the-ball defense tested.
Carter showed in Las Vegas that he was agile enough to switch from a big to a guard, and that could eventually push him into the starting lineup over veteran Robin Lopez.
Even more impressive was Carter’s mindset when it came to defense.
“Defensively, it’s just sheer effort,’’ Carter said. “It’s something you’ve gotta want to do, and that’s something I’ve been taught to do ever since I started playing basketball.’’
Hopefully, his teammates were listening.