Bad Bulls’ trends vs Suns that cannot continue vs Raptors and Bucks

Chicago Bulls (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Chicago Bulls (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bulls are on a downward spiral that can break their season if it continues on Monday and Tuesday.

Every season there are throwaway games, where coaches toss the film because there isn’t much to learn from. The Chicago Bulls’ Friday night matchup against the Phoenix Suns was one of those.

The Bulls came out sluggish on offense and didn’t shop on defense altogether. The issue, though? Those issues have been characterizing the Bulls for about a month now. Far too long for this to be going on. And it doesn’t get any easier on Monday night against the Toronto Raptors and Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Chicago has lost eight of their last 10 games and have dropped from third to fifth in the Eastern Conference standings — they are only 2.5 games out of seventh, which would put them in the play-in tournament.

While the Suns are the best team in the NBA (record-wise), the onslaught that began from tip-off should’ve been avoided. The Bulls struggled to get on the same page on defense, doubling Devin Booker late and losing Deandre Ayton on rim runs multiple times.

Though we mentioned lackluster play has been a common theme over the last month, it’s been consistent whenever they play top teams in the league.

With the loss to the Suns, the Bulls:

  • Dropped to 2-17 vs. current top-four teams in each conference
  • Fell 1.5 games behind Celtics for homecourt advantage in the first-round of the playoffs
  • Dropped to one game ahead of sixth-place Cleveland

The Bulls need to avoid these poor trends against the Raptors and Bucks

The same themes have shown up in each loss: stagnant offense, low role player usage, and poor defensive execution.

The defensive issues are oddly the easiest fix for the Bulls. In their games against elite teams, they struggle to stop the bleeding late because they let guys get a rhythm early. They go through the motions and gamble early on, which opens the door for more trouble. This led to Donovan Mitchell dropping 25 points in the third quarter of their game against Utah last week. Booker, similarly, looked like prime Kobe because they let him get easy looks in the first two minutes of play.

Simply blitzing, putting in a box and one, or even attacking top scorers on offense can help alleviate some of this. They just have to do it early.

Chicago Bulls’ role player issues — wake up, Billy Donovan!

Chicago’s primary role players are involved in the offense less than 15% of the time. Since late February, teams have used this to their advantage by no longer defending Chicago’s role players with a great focus, instead exerting all of their energy on the Bulls’ top scorers.

What’s odd about this is that the Bulls’ role players are capable of hitting shots. Coby White shoots 52% from 3-point range on catch-and-shoot opportunities and Ayo Dosunmu shoots 42%. Alex Caruso is still returning to form, but isn’t someone who can be left wide open. Of those three, Caruso is the only one who is a reliable defensive option — something that may be holding Billy Donovan back from giving White and Dosunmu run late in games.

If hiding White and Dosunmu on defense helps the offense, then that’s what has to happen. This is when Donovan needs to throw in some junk defenses. He can try some matchup three-two zone, a box-and-one, or even a one-three-one. It’s easier to defend an area and not have to worry about following a guy around the court. White and Dosunmu should be capable of holding their own in that case.

Seriously … what’s going on with the Bulls’ offense?

The biggest thing they have to figure out, though, is their overall offensive scheme. They’ve become too predictable. The dribble handoff between their guards is stopped by a simple switch. Their flex post-up for DeRozan is followed with a trap. LaVine’s knee has made his drives off the low post less dynamic. Opposing centers aren’t leaving the paint to follow Vucevic up top anymore.

The Bulls offense is predictable and their stars’ aren’t dynamic enough to be “the” system. Players like LeBron James, Steph Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo are offensive juggernauts that can’t be stopped even when you know exactly what they are going to do. These are guys who can be an entire system. Without them, their team’s wouldn’t function properly. DeRozan, LaVine and Vucevic aren’t those types of players.

Instead, the Bulls need a system that works like a well-oiled machine — like the Phoenix Suns’. It can’t be something catered only to their strengths, as it currently is. They need something team-oriented that can have each role filled by the next guy.  That’s why the Suns are successful. It’s not a free-for-all when the stars are out. They aren’t asking Cameron Payne to break down defenders one-on-one to get buckets. Everyone, their stars and role players alike, are constantly moving with and without the ball.

That’ll have to change on Monday and Tuesday or else we could be talking about the Bulls getting sucked into the play-in tournament should they keep free-falling.

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