By Mike McGraw
A week ago, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau talked about the early preseason contests providing a baseline for where the team stood.
Now, after three games and 2 losses, we know the Bulls' starting point is much closer to, say, the dust of New Mexico than the Earth's stratosphere.
As a team, the Bulls are shooting 35.7 percent from the field and are an abysmal 6-for-46 (13 percent) from 3-point range. They're averaging 22 turnovers per game, which Thibodeau pointed to as a cause for alarm.
The starters have been better than the reserves, which makes sense since the rebuilt "Bench Mob" is trying to get used to Thibodeau's system and each other.
On Saturday against Minnesota, two starters sat out (Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton), and the result was an ugly 82-75 loss to the Timberwolves that was at least competitive until the final six minutes.
"The thing offensively, we've got to get our turnovers down," Thibodeau said Monday at the Berto Center. "We have to execute better, do a better job of setting screens, coming off screens, keeping the ball moving. Those are the things I think we can get better at.
"Offensively, in the Minnesota game, in the first three quarters, we did a better job of getting the ball inside and playing inside out. I think that's what we have to do."
Of the Bulls' many newcomers, Kirk Hinrich and backup center Nazr Mohammed have played well. Everyone else looks uncomfortable.
Shooting guard Marco Belinelli, who started in Hamilton's place at Minnesota, is shooting an even 30 percent from the field and is 0-for-6 from 3-point land. His playing time Saturday was limited by foul trouble.
"We've got a lot of plays. We've got a new system on defense," Belinelli said. "Everything's new for me. I don't want to use that like an excuse.
"I know it's not easy for me right now, but everything's going to be good. I'm just working out every day, trying to understand the system. We'll see. It's going to be easy after maybe this week."
Backup point guard Nate Robinson also is having trouble finding the net, shooting just 23.3 percent (7 of 30). Forward Vladimir Radmanovic hasn't gotten as much playing time and scored just 1 basket in 24 minutes.
Second-year forward Jimmy Butler isn't new to the team but is playing a larger role this season. He's also shooting poorly (22.7 percent) but has gotten to the foul line and is averaging 7.0 rebounds.
"I think it needs to come around sooner than later," Butler said. "We're working on it. Every day in practice, we're getting to know each other a little better. I think whenever it comes, I think it's going to be really good for us to connect."
Deng sat out against Minnesota after suffering a slight groin injury the previous night in Champaign. He practiced Monday and is planning to play against Milwaukee at the United Center on Tuesday.
Asked how long it will take the newcomers to get comfortable, Deng supplied a positive message for his teammates.
"Thibs' system is really simple," he said. "Once you get it down, it's the same thing over and over again. I think those guys are brand new to it.
"At the same time we're doing a lot in practice. No excuses for missing shots or anything, but this time of year your legs are heavy. Guys will get their rhythm and start feeling better."