The priority list for the Bulls at the start of training camp should be short and sweet.
No. 1 – Don’t punch your teammates in the face.
No. 2 – Be willing to play defense.
The problem with this collection of players is it’s the second one that might actually be more difficult to accomplish.
With Year 2 of the rebuild officially beginning with media day on Monday and then two-a-days tipping off on Tuesday, all eyes will be on a Bulls defense that continues searching for an identity.
During the 2016-17 season, the Bulls finished the year sixth overall in the league in points allowed with 102.4 per game. However, that roster was still made up of Tom Thibodeau disciples like Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, and according to multiple sources, concepts of that Thibodeau defense were still being used on most nights because that’s what Butler felt worked best.
Once Gibson, and then finally Butler, were moved, assistant coach Jim Boylen – who was never pleased with the lingering Thibodeau philosophies – was able to get his hands fully on the side of the ball he was initially hired to maintain.
While the sample size was a small one, it was a disaster.
The Bulls finished last season ranked 27th in the league in allowing 110 points per game. A drop that concerned enough in the organization that changes were demanded of the staff.
In Boylen’s defense, the roster was young and also make-shift on many nights with the team in full tank-mode the second half of the season. The concern, however, was Boylen had not established any sort of identity.
With travel, back-to-backs, and limited practice time during the season, a team needs to have a defense that they all understand and that can travel with them. Boylen often tried to gameplan the defense for the opposition rather than have a sound defense that forced the opposition to gameplan for the Bulls. It was confusing to more than a few players, and obviously didn’t have good results.
Welcome to the reboot.
It was already on full display during the Summer League, as the Bulls will be a team that looks to switch everything on the defensive end. Pick-and-roll? Switch. Cross screen? Switch.
Coach Fred Hoiberg acknowledged that changes needed to be made during Summer League, and Las Vegas was just the dress rehearsal of what was to come.
“Right now we’ve studied a lot since the end our season as a staff, and we’ve gotten together,’’ Hoiberg said back in July. “This is the time right now to experiment with things and we’ll continue to do that. … we’re going to do some things and see how we like them heading into the training camp next year, and what we like, what we don’t like, so yeah, we have changed philosophies on certain things with the direction the league is going.’’
The one player that could benefit the most from this new defensive philosophy? Well, it’s certainly not Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker, who will have their on-the-ball defense tested.
No, rookie Wendell Carter Jr. showed in Vegas he was agile enough to switch from a big to a guard, and that could eventually push him into the starting lineup over veteran Robin Lopez.
Even more impressive was the mindset Carter Jr. spoke about when it came to defense.
“Defensively, it’s just sheer effort,’’ Carter said. “It’s just something you’ve gotta want to do and that’s something I’ve been taught to do ever since I started playing basketball.’’
Hopefully his teammates were listening.