Chicago Bulls: Defensive problems on display in loss to Spurs

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Bulls’ first post-trade deadline game couldn’t have gone worse. On paper, a game against a rebuilding San Antonio Spurs Spurs team that just bought out LaMarcus Aldridge would be the perfect opportunity for the Bulls to snag a win to start the Nikola Vucevic-era. Instead. Spurs center Jakob Poeltl dropped a team-high 20 points and the Bulls are now 0-10 against teams over .500.

Not exactly the bold “The Bulls are back” declaration we’d all been hoping for.

In fact, it was the exact opposite. Despite the interior talent added at the deadline in Daniel Theis and Vucevic, the Bulls failed to fix their biggest problem: defense.

The Bulls’ defense is abysmal. They allow the sixth-highest defensive field goal percentage in the NBA, allowing opponents to shoot 47.5 percent from the field. They also give up the seventh most shot attempts within five-feet, letting opponents take 31.6 shots there per game.

The Bulls let teams take whatever they want on the pick and roll. Opponents know this, running pick and roll plays that end with a shot from the roll-man 7.8 percent of their times down the court, the second-highest in the NBA (according to

Problems for the Chicago Bulls against the Spurs

When Jakob Poeltl (7.5 PPG) goes for 20 points, you know something is wrong with your pick and roll defense. 88.6 percent of his shots this season are coming from within 10-feet of the basket, and 91.6 percent come after he touches the ball for two or fewer seconds. His offensive game is extremely limited, and because of this, the Spurs use him as solely a roll man.

Somehow, despite his limitations, Poeltl scorched the Bulls for 20. Of his eight baskets, seven of those made shots came off of an assist. The Spurs continuously used screen and roll plays to get the offensively limited Poeltl open shots at the rim, embarrassing the Chicago defense.

Like Wendell Carter Jr. before him and Lauri Markkanen beside him, Vucevic is limited in his movement abilities. He struggles to keep up with smaller players off a switch or with rolling big men coming off a screen, something that could spell disaster for Chicago.

That’s an especially big problem when guards like Zach LaVine and Coby White aren’t exactly perimeter stalwarts. Getting past the Bulls guards is easy, and beating their bigs is too, giving opponents easy scoring opportunities through punishing them together.

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The Bulls made some massive upgrades at the trade deadline, but if the Spurs made one thing clear last night it’s that they may not have upgraded where it counts. Head coach Billy Donovan has to reshape the entire defense if they want any chance at making noise this season.