Bulls finding ways to win despite poor defense
While the Bulls are finally starting to show some progress in the rebuild, they seem to be on a side quest of proving defense is overrated.
The Bulls have gone 6-5 since an 0-3 start and will try to stretch their win streak to three in a row on Friday at Charlotte.
But their defensive numbers are among the worst in the league. The Bulls rank 28th in points allowed (120.0) and 26th in defensive field-goal percentage (.478). Not surprisingly, Tom Thibodeau's New York Knicks lead the league in both categories.
Is first-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan giving impassioned speeches in the film room about how defense wins championships, or just glad to see some wins on the board.
"I think defense and offense win championships," Donovan said. "I've never seen a team that's been a great, great defensive team that's been really, really poor on offense win. And I've never seen a great, great offensive team that's been really poor defensively win.
"You've got to be good on both sides of the ball, in my opinion. We are not where we need to be at all defensively. It's something we spent a lot of time on (in practice)."
The Bulls have allowed an average of 112.3 points in their wins and 125.8 in losses, so better defense has contributed to victories. They've also won twice despite giving up 120 points, including Monday when they beat Houston 124-120.
Donovan pointed to the Bulls' high rate of turnovers as one issue that contributes to the poor defense, although the Bulls are not giving up a high number of fast-break points.
Donovan has been using a young starting lineup for most of the season and the Bulls have played their best defense, in terms of field-goal percentage, in the fourth quarter when they usually have a mix of veterans on the floor.
There's also a matter of getting used to a new system. Last year under Jim Boylen, the Bulls aggressively trapped most every screen and their defense ranked in the top five until injuries set in at midseason. This year, Donovan is using a variety of pick-and-roll coverages.
"I feel like one thing we need to improve on is our pick-and-roll defense," center Wendell Carter said Thursday. "I've had conversations with (assistant coach) John Bryant and Billy. For the bigs, we've got to have more presentation when it comes to the pick-and-roll, being up higher, just showing a crowd against these guards, especially the talented ones like Luka (Doncic) and Damian Lillard,"
A Bulls opponent has scored at least 32 points in four straight games, but the Bulls have won two of those and could easily have a three-game win streak now without the late collapse in Oklahoma City. Atlanta's Trae Young still holds the Bulls' opponent season-high with 37 points on opening night.
The Bulls have had someone score at least 29 points in six straight games, so they're able to win some shootouts this year.
"(Defense) is something we've talked about and have focused on and have tried to make some tweaks or adjustments to help the group a little bit more," Donovan said. "I think we've made some strides offensively and done some good things offensively outside the turnovers. But we've got to take some steps defensively to be good on both sides of the ball."
Carter is listed as doubtful for Friday's game in Charlotte because of a quad contusion suffered in Wednesday's practice, but he said the injury felt a lot better on Thursday.
Donovan said Patrick Williams (hip) returned to practice Thursday, and the Bulls expect to have Tomas Satoransky and Chandler Hutchison available for the first time since Dec. 29 now that both players have recovered from the coronavirus.