It’s happened more than a few times this season, instances where adversity hits the Bulls and they fold, rather than fighting through it, leading to disappointing losses and cryptic comments thereafter.
Wednesday’s eye-opening, eye-popping loss to the Golden State Warriors prompted the players to verbalize the usual rhetoric about not communicating, and perhaps it made Fred Hoiberg do a little soul searching as well in the aftermath.
Getting beat by 31 points on national TV tends to bring about that kind of action, and Hoiberg said he’s no longer letting the players off the hook, believing the players should take more ownership of what’s going on.
“It starts with me. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I need to do a much better job of when the communication isn’t there of holding the guys more accountable with that.”
Players and coaches alike all have said the practices are spirited and productive, but the lethargic efforts have been noticeable, particularly on the defensive end. So to hear Hoiberg preach about accountability is a change in philosophy.
“I’ve done a poor job of bailing them out sometimes by talking too much in practice or having an assistant coach talk too much,” he said. “We almost have to be silent. And it has to come from the players. Because it’s pretty glaring when we’re not doing it and the gym is silent from the coaches.”
That silence on the floor has led to some extended runs for opponents, and just situations in general that a usually-resilient bunch would bounce back from. Now, they seem to cower in the corner.
“We need to do a better job of battling through adversity. Tough times are going to hit you pretty much every time you step on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “We didn’t get off to a great start against Detroit. We got down double figures. We bounced back and had a great last three quarters. You hope that carries over to the next one. We got off to a solid start last night. We had a lead in the first quarter with under six minutes to go. And then they jumped on us. And we didn’t respond well.”
Nikola Mirotic is one of the players in need of response, one of four Hoiberg likely described as having a new role for the first time in his career. After a strong start to January, his production has gone from a slump to something deeper in the last four.
His totals are just as disturbing as Wednesday’s 31-point beatdown to Golden State: 19 points and 14 rebounds on five of 28 shooting (17 percent) and two of 12 from 3-point range (17 percent).
For someone who came into the season depended on as a valuable cog, that’s not the kind of production the Bulls can win with.
“It’s true that I started off a little bit better in 2016, especially for the first week,” Mirotic said. “I was playing with a little more confidence, you know? Playing the three, playing the four, too, but again I’m struggling a little bit now. I’m not shooting the ball well. I’m not feeling the same confidence like I was feeling before, but it could happen.”
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Whether starting or coming off the bench, the lack of confidence has been startling. The hesitation, not knowing where to be on the floor on either end, is all on full display and it looks like he’s not shaking himself from it anytime soon.
“I’m playing with more confidence at the four because that’s my natural position that I’ve been playing all of my life, but believe me it was a good experience for me playing the three,” Mirotic said. “I think after a couple of weeks I adjusted a little bit. So now I’m playing just the four again, so whatever coach needs me to play.”
The man who dazzled last March when the Bulls were without Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler is a shell.
“I was playing with a lot of confidence that month,” he said. “Playing a lot of minutes. Having a great feeling you know. I’ve been shooting a lot from three, playing in the low-post, different game. Today, I’m not scoring easy baskets. I’m not running like before. I’m not making those open threes. I’m not doing things in the low post. But if I can do it last year in March, I can do it this year, too. It’s a little bit confidence, a little bit more working out, and I think it will come soon.”