I’m not exaggerating when I say the Chicago Bulls are struggling to start the season. Starting the year off with a 3-6 record, they have a whole litany of issues that other teams have managed to exploit. The most concerning part of all this, however, is that these issues were entirely predictable.
It’s not exactly a surprise that the Bulls have had problems scoring the basketball this year. Last season, they weren’t great either, as they posted the 22nd best offensive rating in the NBA. Chicago’s current scheme and personnel just aren’t generating easy shots. But that’s not even the worst of it, as even bigger issues lie on the defensive end.
Last season Chicago ranked 5th in defensive rating through the season and 1st after January 1. This year, the wheels seem to have fallen off as their once stout defense has dropped all the way to 21st in the league. Something needs to change before it’s too late.
The Bulls’ starting lineup has significant issues defensively. Coby White is a mediocre defender who doesn’t fight through the screens, which leaves the bigs exposed. You need scoring from DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, so you can’t put them on opponents’ top creators. Nikola Vucevic has never been a plus defender. He’s okay in the post, but you can’t switch with him. It’s either flat or step-out on the pick-and-roll with him, which gives all sorts of options for opposing guards. With all of that, you don’t have a rim protector.
That left none other than Patrick Williams to shoulder the brunt of the defensive load in the starting five. But with his offense faltering, even he was pushed to the bench in favor of veteran forward Torrey Craig. Personally, I thought that Williams would make a stride forward on both ends this season, but thus far, he hasn’t done that.
This season he’s averaging 1 steal and 0.6 blocks per contest. But the box score doesn’t tell the full the story, as the larger problem lies in his inability to stay in front of more skilled attackers. During the Bulls’ loss to the Mavericks, Williams was assigned to do the seemingly impossible and defend Luka, but his size advantage didn’t prevent Doncic from getting too deep in the paint, where he kicked out to open shooters. That’s why Dallas made 20 threes in that game.
In the game against Utah, you would think that he could bother Lauri Markkanen, but he finished with 29 points. If the Bulls can’t bother the opposing team’s wings, they’ll have problems. Take into account, that Patrick is having struggles offensively and you have the whole package. But the Bulls desperately need him to step up, if they want to be in the playoffs.
Putting Craig into the starting five, gave Chicago some benefits. Even though they’re 1-3 in that stretch, two of those games were lost in the final seconds. He’s giving them more toughness, gives an equivalent level of defenseive effort, and doesn’t require the ball to be effective.
The Bulls need to implement a few changes to repair their porous defense.
What else can be done to patch up the holes in the defense? Maybe it’s time to consider making Alex Caruso a starter again. By inserting Alex into the starting lineup, Chicago would become more physical. Since the main creators on the team are DeMar and Zach, the Bulls don’t rely on their point guard to run the show. Caruso could dribble the ball over half-court and then let DeRozan or LaVine do their stuff.
Alex could make life harder for opposing team guards at the start of the game. He fights through the screens, moves his feet, and can switch. At this current moment, he’s Chicago’s best defender. He can bother the guard in the first phase of the offense. If it’s pick-and-roll he can deny first screen and make guard work for his shot. The key is to make the opponent as tired as possible entering the last quarter. Caruso could do that.
Offensively, the Bulls would lose some creativity, but you have DeRozan and LaVine to do that. Sometimes Vucevic can create from the post, so it won’t be an issue. Caruso is a decent driver to the right, so you could put him on the left wing offensively. Also, he’s a good enough shooter, that you can’t help off him.
It could also help Coby White. Playing with the second unit, he could be a premier scorer. It would allow him to be himself. Maybe, this way could get back his shooting form. By making these changes, Chicago would sacrifice their offense a little bit, but it will make them a much better defensive team. Containing penetration is extremely important in this team since they don’t have a rim protector. Only Andre Drummond can protect the rim a little bit.
It gives little value by keeping your top defenders on the bench to start the game. The second unit is a smaller threat, so the key is to start the game, by not letting opposing teams’ top scorers get going. If Chicago can get back to being at least top 10 defense in the league, they could have a chance to at least make the play-in. If not, it’ll be a long season for the Bulls. And doing some lineup changes could really improve Chicago’s defense.