From secret coaching extensions to reports of player meetings and locker room rifts, this Bulls team needs a little more than some Christmas cheer. Joshua M. Hicks shares his Christmas list for the Bulls as they continue to look for ways to make their early season struggles a distant memory.
Words by Joshua M. Hicks
All I want for Christmas is winning basketball again in Windy City. Of course, I want to bring back championship basketball into the Madhouse on Madison, one of the biggest things the GOAT himself, Michael Jeffrey Jordan, built with two separate three-peats. However, I’m just talking about winning basketball in a general sense that alludes to improvement with consistency and continued playoff success.
Right now, that direction is non-existent.
Looking back at the first 32 games of the Bulls’ season, it has been a roller coaster. The franchise went from making some key offseason additions and expectations of improvement to make a deeper playoff run than last season to inconsistencies, frustration and disappointment as the Bulls are struggling to define who they are outside of their star point guard Lonzo Ball.
From secret coaching extensions to reports of player meetings and locker room rifts, the Bulls are holding on for dear life as their worlds have flipped upside down since the beginning of last season where they took over as the league’s best team.
Though they sit fourth in the Central Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference with a 13-18 record, the Bulls still have a chance to turn things around within their long season. Here are the main things they need to do in order to change the current narrative and become the Bulls of last season’s success.
The Bulls don’t have an identity on either end of the floor, and it shows when the team is constantly playing below average defense and isolation offense. Head coach Billy Donovan has repeatedly told The Bigs the standard of basketball the team should always play: strong defense that can lead to transition and a ball-moving offense that creates opportunities for others. The best way to do that is to consistently play a “4 in, 1 out” offense with running the offense through Nikola Vucevic in the post.
So far, Vucevic has over 315 rebounds and over 50 made 3-point field goals, making him the only player in the NBA season to have those totals. He also has 14 double-doubles, making him one of the 12 players in the NBA with 14 or more double-doubles this season. When Vucevic is engaged offensively from the tip, it makes the offense easier for Zach LaVine, DeMar and DeRozan and the rest of the Bulls role players.
Defensively, the Bulls have to be more engaged with hustle, effort, and knowing their personnel when studying their opponents. The team is currently ranked 17th in defensive rating (112.5), and oftentimes struggle to have strong help side defense when players get beat off the dribble while also leaving key shooters open by providing too much help side defense on the weak side of the court. The team is better when those small effort plays and details are cleaned up. They need to be able to build the discipline necessary that can create the consistency on both ends of the floor.
One of the reasons why the Bulls have had their struggles is due to not playing team basketball. Guard Goran Dragic made that very clear in their blowout loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this week. Basketball is a team sport, and yes, based on the talent you can overcompensate the team’s flaws. In the Bulls case, their flaws are more mental than talent, and it starts with their Big 3, more specifically, Zach LaVine. LaVine is the face of the franchise and the only max player to earn over 200 million dollars in franchise history. His play so far this season hasn't been franchise player-esque, not just from his lack of quality in his shot selection, but also in costly turnovers as well.
With reports surfacing of locker room issues and bench outburst during games, a lot of the attention is focused on LaVine as the core of those issues. Rightfully so!
To whom much is given, much is required, and as the leader of this team, it is up to LaVine to play better and smarter if he wants the team to progress on both ends of the floor. He has to set the stage and the standard through his play night in and night out for the Bulls to have a chance.
Similar to last season, the Bulls have been hit with the injury plague that is keeping key players out of the lineup. Coby White missed significant time to start the season due to knee and quad injuries, with players like Andre Drummond and Dragic missing time due to shoulder injuries. The plague keeps getting worse now with other players on the roster, with Derrick Jones Jr, Javonte Green and Alex Caruso all now missing time. With the Bulls missing their top perimeter defenders in Caruso and Green, whom both are top 2 in the league for deflections per 36, it is going to be important for other role players to step up and help carry the load off of the team’s big 3, especially on the defensive end.
If those 3 things take place, the Bulls can get back into the playoff picture. For Bulls fans, that is a Christmas gift worth waiting for.