Are the Bulls Wing Defenders Enough to Beat Small Ball?

Mar 14, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) goes to the basket and scores past Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) and forward Tony Snell (20) at Air Canada Centre. The Bulls beat the Raptors 109-107. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 14, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) goes to the basket and scores past Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) and forward Tony Snell (20) at Air Canada Centre. The Bulls beat the Raptors 109-107. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Bulls have several wing defenders on their roster to help keep perimeter threes at a minimum and to guard both stretch-fours and stay in front of scoring guards. Are they enough to defend fast NBA small-ball teams next year?

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Bulls general manager Gar Forman may have just slipped by saying the team needed to be “younger and more athletic” going into next year. He grappled for words to describe a game plan without giving anything away so the Bulls could recruit their targets and keep under the radar.

In the Las Vegas Summer League, Fred Hoiberg observed while assistant coaches Charles Henry and Pete Myers actively coached the team’s guards and wings to actively defend opposing playmakers to disrupt opponents offensive sets and gain as much mileage off turnovers and bad shots turning into run-outs on offense. The Bulls big men will surely hold their own in the middle, but the team’s wings need to keep the opponents’ long range shooters from finding a rhythm and slow down the driving scores of opponents.

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With the Bulls adjusting their team culture and mindset to turning on the heat on opponents for fueling their pace-and-space offense, the team will look to their defensive wings in addition to their big guards to hold down the fort.

Scottie Pippen and Ron Harper were the progenitors of the Bulls’ old doberman defense and fans expect as much swagger and bite from this year’s version of the Bench Mob.

In this age, Draymond Green is the break-out, modern, three-and-D wing that all NBA teams are now scrambling to find all over the draft pool and the D-League. Forman has recruited a set of new wing defenders from trade and the draft to add to current wing defenders Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell.

The Bulls had a field day beating traditionally-built teams last year, but lost badly against small-ball teams like Boston, Charlotte, Detroit and New York. Let’s look at all the pieces the Bulls have and see if they are a match against opposing NBA small-ball teams next year.

Jimmy Butler

Butler is better than Draymond Green as a defending wing even if he cannot shoot the three at par with the best three-and-D players in the league. On offense, Butler is a beast in the paint from lobs, drives and off-ball offense as well as in certain one-on-one situations, but what brought him into the league for the Bulls was his stellar wing defense.

Last year, he proved to be one of the few Bulls who could shut down opposing team’s All-Stars like Paul George and DeMar DeRozan. Butler has also been more than a decent match for LeBron James and James Harden, as well as beating Kevin Durant‘s team twice last year by limiting KD’s outside shooting. The eye test surely shows us that Butler will continue to be the Bulls’ best stopper on the most prolific scoring guards or wing shooters of opponents.

If he is a fit on the team this year with his new teammates, the Bulls will be more than a match for small-ball NBA teams.

Dwyane Wade

Wade is a shooting guard who can play defense on the wing and on-ball D against the best of them, but he’s 34 years old and has had a spate of injuries that will keep him from going all out. Wade might just be conserving his game to periods of scoring spurts and just funneling his mark into Robin Lopez or the help defense so he doesn’t wear himself out by the end of the season.

Wade had a tough time in the playoffs against the Toronto Raptors because his Heat team had exhausted themselves against the Charlotte Hornets and had to contend with a Raptors team who wore down Hassan Whiteside.

Wade will still bring his A-game for the entire regular season, but he will be playing as a veteran who will need the young Bulls wings to help him do his job on defense for a grinding 82 games.

Tony Snell

Snell was an enigma last year after turning in a stellar performance at times off the bench for the Bulls during Tom Thibodeau’s final year with the team. His production was sporadic at best and instead of being assertive on offense, he kept deferring to his teammates.

In spite of that, he remains on the team because Hoiberg and Forman are retooling the team to be more aggressive at blitzing and double-teaming opposing playmakers and Snell might redeem himself by becoming as aggressive and effective as Justin Holiday was last year.

Snell still has the athleticism and length, but his defensive and offensive game is highly dependent on Hoiberg finding a fit for him on the second unit with either Denzel Valentine or Jerian Grant as the veteran combo small forward-shooting guard defending an opposing wing.

Denzel Valentine

Valentine is a big worry for the team because his thin legs and average athleticism have been a big liability on defense even for during his time in college. Valentine does play active defense by watching the ball, going for weak passes and being successful in that mode, but as an on-ball hawk, he simply had a hard time matching up with guards he matched up against in Vegas.  The Bulls will get more mileage out of Valentine as a combo point forward-scoring guard, but they have to hide his weakness with on-ball defense like they do with Doug McDermott.

Jerian Grant

He’s not a wing, but Grant will be the primary point guard defender aside from Rajon Rondo that’s used more as a defensive guard to cover the opponent’s best scoring guard. He proved he was no slouch against crafty scorers like Isiah Thomas when he played for the Knicks and in the Bulls’ summer run, he shut down Minnesota Timberwolves lead scoring guard Tyus Jones in the championship game.

If fans were disappointed at losing Justin Holiday, Grant will be more than a reassuring replacement as primary on-ball defender for the Bulls’ second unit. Grant needs to work on his long range shooting in training camp (and lose all the bad habits he learned from a triangle offense system), so he doesn’t play empty minutes and he should get plenty of playing time if the team wants to see him develop as a strong roster piece who can turn it on on both ends of the court.

Paul Zipser

Paul Zipser has me excited for the Bulls in the way Cristiano Felicio got me stoked the first time I saw him dive off a pick-and-roll and slam it home several times as a surprise NBA stud.

Zipser is strong for his size and he is an active wing defender who has a strong and efficient offensive game that fits Hoiball. He defends the paint like a power forward shot blocker and his length and athleticism can help him cover shooters like he did in the Bundesliga, Germany’s pro-ball league.

As a young stud, Hoiberg would do well to pace his starters by letting young players like Zipser and Grant play big minutes as the team crosses the midpoint of the regular season to get them primed to play and remain healthy for a run at the postseason.