Bulls

Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Jim Boylen opened his press conference with a silver lining.

"If there's a positive in this difficult loss, it's in the past when we haven't been able to put the ball in the basket... We haven't guarded well," Boylen said. "I thought our defense was terrific tonight. I thought it kept us in the game, it gave us a chance."

There's some validity to that. Friday night, the Bulls allowed their adversary, the Charlotte Hornets, only 83 points. The Hornets shot 38% from the floor, 19.4% from 3-point range (31 attempts) and turned the ball over 21 times. On most nights, holding an opponent to those numbers is a recipe for success — even if the paltriness of said figures was as much a result of the Hornets' sloppy play as anything.

Not in this one. The offense will shoulder most of the blame there: The Bulls shot only 30% from the field (they're the only team that's shot 30% or less from the field in a game this season, and they've done it twice) and 20.6% from 3-point range. According to Boylen, they shot 44% at the rim. Crucially, they were also outrebounded by Charlotte 60-45 — a disparity aided by the Bulls missing a whopping 63 field goals on the night. 

"They were crashing a lot of guys," Lauri Markkanen said. "We need to do a better job of boxing out. I feel like we did a good job defensively, but we just need to get the first rebound and limit their second-chance points."

The Hornets entered the night ranked 27th in rebound rate — which measures the percentage of missed shots a team is able to pull in — the Bulls 29th. For Charlotte, P.J. Washington (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Cody Zeller (11 points, 10 rebounds) both logged double-doubles, and Bismack Biyombo (12 points, nine rebounds) came close. As a team, they converted 11 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points. 

"They had 11 offensive rebounds. It seemed like they had more," Boylen, aptly, said. "Those plays are back-breakers."

Especially true in such a drudgy game. The Hornets led 44-40 at the halftime break, then 59-50 entering the fourth after outscoring the Bulls 15-10 in the third quarter. It was a game from a different era.

Thad Young rejected the notion that the Bulls were outmatched physically or undersized, relative to the Hornets.

"I think that's about us just going out there and making sure we get the ball, and us gang-rebounding," he said of the disparity on the boards.

Young cited the team's defensive philosophy — specifically, their strategy of blitzing and aggressively hedging in pick-and-roll coverage — as one factor in their inconsistency in this area. Bringing bigs up and away from the basket on those actions can often leave them out of position when the other team's eventual shot is put up (and off) the rim. 

"The way our defense is it kinda crossmatches us a little bit, because the big is generally trying to stop the guard from driving. Then when they hit the big, he's in the trail position, so their big has inside position on us, and then you have a big on the baseline or you have a cutter going baseline," Young said. "So it kinda puts us in a situation where we have to figure out who's gonna be in to get the rebounds, and usually, the guys that's in there to get the rebounds are guards. Because they're sagging in on the weak-side or they're helping trying to get the big into position where he can rebound the basketball."

Wendell Carter Jr. had 11 boards on the night, but the Bulls' next-leading rebounder was Zach LaVine, with eight. Then Young with five.

But Young declined to label it a systemic issue, or even a communication one. 

"It's just something that kinda happens in the flow of the game," Young said. "Some games are gonna be different than others. Some games we're gonna be able to get our bigs back, and some games we're gonna depend on our guards to come in and rebound."

It seems that this is happening often, as of late. The Bulls have been outrebounded in 19 of their 27 games this season — they're 4-15 in said contests.

Of course, making shots would help, as well. Between the two teams, there were 112 missed field goals tonight. That's a lot of chances for rebounds, and the Hornets converted more than the Bulls tonight.

"Imma be honest with you, I don't really see too much they were doing [defensively]. We were just missing shots," Young said. "I had three for sure that just went in and came out, and a couple other guys had some so. I think it was just one of those nights."

It certainly was. Now, on to the next — Saturday night, when they fearsome Clippers come to town.

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Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls season

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USA Today

Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls season

It’s no secret that the Bulls’ season hangs in the balance. At 17-30, the team is at once three games out of a playoff spot and slated ninth in the current lottery standings. 

To hear head coach Jim Boylen and co. tell it, a playoff berth remains the more desirable of those two timelines. But according to Basketball Reference, the Bulls have the third most difficult remaining strength of schedule in the East. And worse, they’ll have to face the (immediate) future without Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Daniel Gafford.

The loss of Markkanen — the most recent of that group to go down — has tipping point potential. In the Bulls’ first game without him, they mustered just 81 points at home against a swooning Sacramento Kings squad, shooting 8-for-37 from 3-point range in the process. The team’s need for secondary scoring outside of Zach LaVine glared

But, as Boylen has maintained all season, the Bulls are not going to change the way they play. They just need to play better.

“We gotta play faster, we gotta move the ball. I thought we had a couple possessions where the ball stuck. The ball can’t stick. We gotta move it, we gotta drive it,” Boylen said of the loss to the Kings before the Bulls’ Saturday night matchup with the Cavaliers in Cleveland. “I also think we missed some opportunities that we need to make.

“Our margin for error is not great. We have to make the plays we can make and make the shots we can make.”

For now, at least, the starting lineup won’t change (sorry #StartCoby crowd) — though Boylen said he’ll keep his rotation fluid. As for outside reinforcements being brought in?

“We have not talked about that. Doesn’t mean we won’t,” Boylen said when asked if the Bulls could actually pivot to ‘buying’ at the trade deadline, given their relative proximity to a playoff spot. “We’re in the middle of a really tough stretch of games, and a lot of games, so my focus has been on that.

“I love the guys we have,” he added. “And we’re gonna keep coaching and teaching the guys we have. I’ve got a good group, a coachable group.”

Absent from those adjectives was ‘interchangeable’ but that word has been ever-present in Boylen’s vocabulary through the ups and downs of this season. In his first full year at the helm, his primary goal remains clear.

“Because we’re establishing this system,” Boylen said when asked why, through thick and thin, the team’s playing style hasn’t changed, as it did last season after Boylen was hired. “Last year, we were tearing it down and then establishing it. Now we’re gonna keep establishing it.”

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Lauri Markkanen’s injury and loss to Kings

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Lauri Markkanen’s injury and loss to Kings

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 98-81 loss to the Kings.

1:00 - Reaction to the loss and LaVine getting double-teamed

2:50 - On Jim Boylen saying don’t expect system changes with Markkanen hurt

4:25 - Sabine’s list of things that have happened since the last time the Kings made the playoffs in 2006

5:35 - Viewer comment on LaVine and Coby

6:40 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine

8:00 - On the importance of 1st vs 3rd quarter

9:00 - Viewer comment on possible trades

11:00 - Viewer comment on seeing Bulls without Markkanen

14:30 - On Lauri Markkanen’s hip injury and missing 4-6 weeks

18:40 - Viewer comment asking if Bulls should shut down Markkanen

19:50 - Hey Matt Peck, did you see what DRose did tonight?

21:15 - Viewer comment on what to expect from Lauri when he returns

23:40 - Viewer asking the greatest moment the Outsiders have witnessed

24:55 - On NBA naming the All-Star starters

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: