CHARLOTTE, N.C.- A new emphasis on offense and inserting gifted forward Nikola Mirotic hasn’t gotten the Bulls away from their defensive roots, as early returns indicate their defense is far and away ahead of their offensive production.
Entering Tuesday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets, their defensive stats rank right up against where they were last year, as they lead the NBA in defensive points per possession (1.00)—a stat they lead the league in last season under defensive-minded coach Tom Thibodeau (1.13).
At some point, the Fred Hoiberg offensive system will catch up to where he wants it, but as of now the defense has carried the Bulls to their 3-1 record. Even in their lone loss in Detroit, the one thing they didn’t do well defensively was finish the possession on the glass, allowing 20 offensive rebounds, which resulted in 20 more shot attempts for the Pistons last Friday night.
“Not necessarily,” said Hoiberg when asked if he was surprised about the defense being stout thus far. “These guys have great defensive instincts. They’ve been obviously taught very well on that end of the floor and we’re just trying to build off of that.”
Considering offensive efficiency is the last thing to come to teams in the beginning of seasons, especially in shooting if your name isn’t Steph Curry, it’s not a big enough sample size to assume it’ll hold over 82 games.
But if habits are being retained and reinforced in some way, it’s a decent sign—a far cry from when Jimmy Butler openly bemoaned the lack of intensity on that end in the preseason.
The Bulls are sixth in opposing field-goal percentage and first at defending the 3-point line, holding teams to under 25 percent shooting. Even Mirotic, believed to be the weak spot of the defense, has a defensive rating of 92 points per 100 possessions, a nine-point drop from his rookie year.
“We’ve been much better in defensive transition as we’ve gone along, we’ve been keeping teams off the free throw line, especially in the preseason,” Hoiberg said. “So you’re just trying to force teams to take shots in the mid-range, contested jump shots, and we’ve been doing a pretty good job of that.”
Dunleavy increasing basketball activities
The Bulls’ defense could get another boost when Mike Dunleavy returns from his back injury, but the Bulls are taking his recovery slow and Hoiberg said the initial prognosis of 8-10 weeks could be headed toward the back end.
“He feels really good. He’s upping his activity level every day,” Hoiberg said. “He was out getting shots during our team meeting the other day. He’s doing underwater treadmill work, still trying to keep impact off but also ramping it up. The biggest thing for him is going to be getting his conditioning and legs before you throw him out there.”
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Dunleavy underwent surgery right before camp and shouldn’t be expected back until around or after Thanksgiving.
“When you’re dealing with a back, you don’t want him to not have the strength, especially the core strength, to re-injure it,” Hoiberg said. “He’s coming along as scheduled.”