Entering the 2022-23 season, you’d be called delusional and borderline insane if you insisted the Chicago Bulls would host one of the NBA’s top defenses. Posting a 113.2 defensive rating last season (112.2 following the All-Star Break), the Bulls held the league’s 5th-highest-rated defense (2nd-best after the All-Star Break) and shocked doubters everywhere.
If you don’t believe the stats, that’s fine, because even other players are beginning to give their flowers to Billy Donovan’s elite defensive schemes. Cam Thomas of the Brooklyn Nets, in particular, was keen to give the Bulls credit for ending his incredible 40-point scoring streak earlier this season.
Despite the offensive gifts Thomas displayed in a three-game stretch in February where he averaged 44.7 points on 56% shooting, Thomas insists the Bulls are the stiffest competition he’s faced in his short career. This is high praise considering what Thomas has accomplished thus far. It’s still a shock to me that he hasn’t found a bigger role moving forward with Brooklyn yet.
Brooklyn’s Cam Thomas sings the Bulls’ praises on defense, specifically noting Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams as difference-makers.
This praise may seem surprising at first glance, especially when you consider the fact that many critics claimed defense was bound to be Chicago’s weakness. After all, Chicago’s big three of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic have earned reputations as poor defenders during their 35 combined years of NBA experience.
But when you take a deeper look at the personnel on this roster, it all starts to make a lot more sense. Alex Caruso obviously leads the charge here, as he’s Chicago’s greatest point-of-attack defender and even earned All-Defensive First Team honors this past season. The Bulls have also surrounded him with a cast of talented and versatile defenders including Williams, Javonte Green, Ayo Dosunmu, Patrick Beverley, and Derrick Jones Jr.
This also helped stymy a perceived weakness with Nikola Vucevic at the center position, as Chicago’s elite perimeter defense allowed the Bulls to funnel attackers into help-defense situations with Vooch. It was actually a rarity to see Vooch leave his feet on defense this season, and that’s not a bad thing.
We’ll see if the Bulls can survive losing Beverley, Jones Jr., and potentially even Green this summer, but hopefully the additions of Jevon Carter, Torrey Craig, and Julian Phillips are enough to keep the Bulls playing like the best defense in the NBA… at least in the eyes of one Cam Thomas.