The Chicago Bulls Need to Find An Identity


It has been as odd of a start to the season for the Chicago Bulls as anyone could have imagined. They’ve beaten two of the best teams in the NBA in the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder, but got blown out by the Charlotte Hornets, a team that is just 2-4 this year.

The Bulls are off to a 5-3 start, which isn’t terrible. But, many would have expected them to be 8-0 like the Golden State Warriors if they knew that they’d win against the Cavaliers and Thunder.

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The fact that Chicago has lost three winnable games (two in overtime) is not the problem. At the end of the season, wins and losses usually even out. You sneak a couple out that you shouldn’t have won and blow a couple against weaker teams. The main concern is how the Bulls have played so far.

Right now, the Chicago Bulls have no identity and it’s hurting them. There were plenty of knocks on former head coach Tom Thibodeau, but at the end of the day, the Bulls knew who they were. They were a hard-nosed defensive team that would not get outworked on the boards and played with 110 percent intensity the whole game. That has not been the case this year.

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I don’t think many people expected the Bulls to be a great defensive team like they were during Thibodeau’s stint. If you look at the team’s defensive rating (98.7) this season, it is still inside the top 10 in the NBA (8th). They also are 10th in opponents points per game, allowing 99.8 points allowed per game.

Statistically, it hasn’t been terrible and it’s not like they’re one of the worst defensive teams in the league, but the dip has already started. Chicago saw a little dip during Thibodeau’s last season, but it has gotten even worse this year.

It hasn’t even been 10 games yet, but Chicago only allowed 97.8 points per game to opponents last season with a defensive rating of 104.3. This year, they don’t look as focused on defense and go through stretches not being able to stop teams.

The Bulls gave up 36 points in one quarter to the Brooklyn Nets, 130 points to the Charlotte Hornets and 58 points to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first half. To expect them to never have a bad quarter, half or game is ridiculous, but when it comes to teams that won’t make the playoffs, it’s a problem. It’s also a problem when the team looks uninterested on defense and gives up open shot after open shot.

If the Bulls want to be an offensive-minded team now, they can’t forget about defense. But, they also have to be better on offense. Not being able to score in overtime against the Timberwolves (outscored 9-0) is pathetic. We saw bad scoring droughts from the Bulls plenty of times under Tom Thibodeau — look at every game in the Cleveland playoff series last season — but they were never shut out during overtime. That’s a rare feat to accomplish and hopefully they don’t do it again.

Chicago’s points per game has gone up, but only slightly. Last season they scored 100.8 points per game, while they’ve score 101.4 points this year so far. Fred Hoiberg‘s offense may be faster and they may put up more shots, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t make them. The Bulls are only shooting 43.1 percent from the field, tied with the New Orleans Pelicans for 15th in the NBA.

As bad as the Bulls are shooting, they are second in the NBA from behind the arc at 38.1 percent. The only problem is, you can’t live and die by the three. The Golden State Warriors had a lot more than just their shooting last season and the Bulls also don’t have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shooting for them. Three-point shooting comes and goes no matter how good you are, and if that’s what the Bulls rely on then, they’re in trouble.

Starting Joakim Noah over Nikola Mirotic may help on defense a little, but at the end of the day, I think they should keep their starting lineup. Fred Hoiberg can’t expect one lineup change to fix it, especially after how Noah played last year as a starter. I still think Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic should get around 25 minutes a game each, but I also think the Bulls need to have a consistent starting lineup. Mirotic is still young and while he has been inconsistent he has once again shown his potential. He’s still getting use to the NBA game and he needs time to develop.

As bad as I made the Bulls sound, they’re still 5-3 and aren’t terrible. Their problem is they’re inconsistent and play to their competition. They show up for big games and then take it easy against teams they’re suppose to beat. Even in wins like Brooklyn, they went up big after the first quarter but let them hang around because a poor second quarter.

Every team has off-nights, but when an off-night is every time you play a team that you’re a lot better than it’s a problem. They played like this at the end of Thibodeau’s stint and have continued it into the Hoiberg era. They’re not a bad team and guys have stepped up this year like Doug McDermott. It doesn’t help though when two of your starters are shooting under 40 percent from the field (Derrick Rose and Nikola Mirotic).

But when it comes down to it, this offense is average, this defense is average and right now this team is average. On paper, they’re as good as almost any team in the league. The Bulls have one of the best starting lineups in the league — especially when Mike Dunleavy returns — and are as deep as any team.

Next: Notes From the Blowout Win Over The Philadelphia 76ers

It’s early in the season and as bad as the Eastern Conference is as a whole, it still has good teams at the top. Chicago has time, but if they’re not able to figure out if they want to be a defensive team like the old or a new offensive-minded team, they’ll fall behind and may end up as the fourth or fifth seed in the East.

The Bulls have the potential and the team to make a deep run this season, and while it’s still early, they need to quickly find out who they want to be or else it could be another rough season for Chicago.