Can Jim Boylen toughen up the Bulls and will that solve slow start issues?

Can Jim Boylen toughen up the Bulls and will that solve slow start issues?

With a 2-5 start in the rearview mirror and the Lakers rolling into town, Jim Boylen said he loves the Bulls’ offensive shot distribution and is confident the missed open looks eventually will fall.

The Bulls’ coach said while the pick-and-roll coverages have improved and the defensive effort in the latest disappointing loss to the Pacers ranked in the top-10, he has thought about possibly using some zone to offset too many straight-line drives allowed in one-on-one situations.

But Boylen continued to hammer on his most consistent theme, that the Bulls, as the second-youngest team in the league, need to learn and grow in areas of mental and physical toughness. Given how often Boylen shares that theme with reporters, one can only wonder how often players hear it.

Is Boylen ever worried his message isn’t getting through to his team?

“I don’t think so,” Boylen said following Monday’s practice at Advocate Center. “I think they need to take more responsibility for their preparedness. I think they need to take more ownership of their readiness to play. The head coaches in this league have never been expected to coach effort. Effort has to come from each guy.

“We had a good September and October, good training camp. I think we set the course of what we want to do. We had a poor game (Sunday). Let’s see if we respond.”

Boylen eventually admitted that playing with more urgency and toughness won’t solve all woes, which include the league’s worst rebounding numbers and a tie for 28th in shooting. For the second straight media session, he cited stagnation with ball movement and pace that wasn’t as evident in preseason.

Tomas Satoransky agreed.

“Offensively, we're missing our pace from the preseason and I think sometimes we're not taking open shots and instead we're taking the tough ones and I think that has to change,” the guard said. “Those are the details we're working on everyday, but I think our pace has to be different and better.

“I think we're sometimes missing our chances to attack the basket and then we're attacking when it's too late and the defense is already in the paint. We have to be smarter in those actions and taking sometimes the shots the defense actually gives you. Sometimes we're just waiting too long and then it's a bad shot for us and it's a bad balance for our defense as well.”

All of this begs the question: Can you make a team filled with players who are considered more skilled than physical tougher? That’s Boylen’s task every day.

Of course you know how he answers that question.

“I show them on film the situation. I show them in practice the situations where I thought they could have a higher level of urgency or physicality or competitiveness or toughness. That’s how I do it,” he said. “And in those moments I hope they learn that it’s acceptable, it’s OK to hit somebody once in a while within the game. It’s OK to be physical. And as they learn and get stronger and feel more comfortable, they grow into that tougher mindset.

“Where we have struggled I think is at times we’ve been willing physically, but we’ve been weak mentally. That’s also part of our development with this group. And we can make excuses for that. We can say we’re young, we can say we’re new. A lot of the league is young and a lot of the league is new. We can say we’re going to have played nine games in 14 days, we’ve played the most road games in the league. Is that pulling on our mental and physical toughness? Is that pulling on this group that’s never really been through it before together? Maybe it is. That’s the growth plate. That’s the learning moment.”

As Wendell Carter Jr. said following the late collapse at the Knicks, teams with serious playoff aspirations don’t lose such games. Nor do they cough up the late lead in the opener at Charlotte. Or fall to a Pacers team missing three of its top four players when the Bulls were at full strength.

“There’s not one answer to this,” Boylen said. “We make a couple more shots, our record is different. We make a couple more stops, our record is different.”

Offensively, Boylen said the Bulls are No. 1 in the league at getting to the rim but 24th in finishing.

“I think that goes back to your toughness questions and physicality,” the coach said. “Our deep drive decisions and finishing has to grow.

“Are we searching? I don’t know if we’re searching. We know how we want to play. Our shot distribution tells you how we want to play. We haven’t played as well as we hoped. And I don’t think we’ve played as well as we’re going to play.”

Once again, Satoransky agreed. And perhaps the fact the guard called Monday “a really good practice” is a start?

Hey, the Bulls are looking for positivity where they can find it these days.

“We know we have to put work in when things don't go your way. And I think that's what we're doing and staying positive,” Satoransky said. “We know we're a young team. It's still disappointing. We expected better for our start, but this is what it is and we just have to grind."

Grinding is physical, right?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Special guest 5-time NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway


Bulls Talk Podcast: Special guest 5-time NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Jason Goff is joined by Chicago native and former NBA star Tim Hardaway

1:10       On how a Chicago kid went to play college basketball in Texas

6:15       On growing up a Bulls fan

9:20       What did Chicago basketball make Tim?

16:30    On starting his NBA career in Golden State

22:30    On the 90’s dynasty era Bulls and what he appreciated about them

25:25    Which players did he enjoy playing against the most

26:50    On today’s game and the point guard position

29:15    On the influence of analytics on today’s NBA

34:15    On balancing what a player’s skills are vs what the system wants

38:00    On Zach LaVine and his ceiling as a player

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast


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What to watch for: Bulls look to extend two-game win streak with Warriors in town

What to watch for: Bulls look to extend two-game win streak with Warriors in town

The Bulls get a shot at revenge against the lowly Warriors Friday night in Chicago. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Warriors’ last five (1-4)

  • Dec. 4 — L at Hornets: 106-91

  • Dec. 2 — L at Atlanta: 104-79

  • Dec. 1 — L at Magic: 100-96

  • Nov. 29 — L at Heat: 122-105

  • Nov. 27 — W vs. Bulls: 104-90

One storyline for each team

After defeating the Bulls 104-90 in San Francisco on Nov. 27, the Warriors embarked on a five-game road trip that has featured visits to Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, and now Chicago. Their first four stops ended in losses of varying severity to competition of varying quality (though mostly subpar). Tonight, they cap that swing with their fifth game in eight nights against the Bulls. D’Angelo Russell is back — he returned in their last game against the Hornets and dropped 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting — but that’s about all Golden State has going for them right now.

This goes without saying, but the Bulls need to pounce on this game — an eminently winnable one — especially with a road-and-home back-to-back against the Heat and Raptors looming early next week. In each of the two games of their current win streak (against the Kings and Grizzlies) they’ve gotten out to commanding first-half leads, then allowed their opponent to claw their way back late in the game. Their offensive execution down the stretch of the last two has been sublime (thanks, Zach LaVine), but substantive progress would mean a comfortable win, at home, tonight — especially having already lost to this Warriors team this season.

In the event that this game isn't comfortable (which feels more likely), look out for another Zach LaVine takeover. He's averaging an NBA-leading 10.3 points per game in fourth quarters since Nov. 23 (Charlotte game), shooting 54.3% from the field (5.8 attempts) and 68.8% from three (2.7 attempts). Him catching fire isn't something you want to miss.

Player to watch: D’Angelo Russell

Russell presents a challenge unlike any the Bulls faced when they played this team a little over a week ago. He's a crafty ball-handler, and can pull and drain from long-range from any spot, at any time and under any amount of durress. When he plays, the ball is in his hands a staggering amount — per Cleaning the Glass, his 34.8% usage rate is in the 98th percentile of ball-handlers in the league.

The Bulls have the personnel to hone in and give him fits, between Tomas Satoransky and Kris Dunn — if their length and activity can get Russell out of rhythm, the rest of the Warriors mistfit-laden roster will have to beat them. Granted, Golden State has done it before, and in convincing fashion for that matter. But the Bulls hope two straight encouraging performances in a row are an indication of things to come. This is also a great game to monitor how the Bulls defend Russell's pick-and-roll; he's currently averaging 3.3 turnovers per game.

Final point: Russell's misadventures on the defensive side of the ball are well-documented, so look for LaVine and Satoransky to attempt to feast on that end, as well. The Bulls mustered only 90 points against the Warriors 27th-rated defense on Nov. 27, but LaVine and Satoransky were lone bright spots, accounting for 45 combined points and seven threes.

Matchup to watch: The paint

One of the smudges on the Bulls' 106-99 win over the Grizzlies on Wendesday was the performance of Jonas Valanciunas, who totaled 32 points and 13 rebounds in his first game back from illness. He was absolutely bruising, and the Grizzlies racked up 52 points in the paint (compared to the Bulls' 32). That number is well above the Bulls' season average of 49.9 points allowed in the paint per game, which ranks 23rd in the NBA.

That figure might surprise some, given that the team anchors its defense with a versatile and heady center in Wendell Carter Jr. and a jumpy shot-blocking backup in Daniel Gafford. Jim Boylen has pointed to isolated blocks from Gafford and Carter, as well as 'our guys competed'-isms when asked about their struggles in that department. The Warriors have a roster stilted towards bigs and interior forwards, and notched 52 points in the paint in their last matchup with the Bulls, behind solid performances from Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman and Marquese Chriss. Thad Young missing tonight's game with a personal issue won't help here.

Further, these aren't your mother's Warriors. They're not a prolific shooting team and don't have the same plethora of perimeter shot-creators they once did. They're going to try to out-muscle the Bulls tonight, as they did on Nov. 27, and it's worth monitoring how much resistance the hosts put up.

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Bad news on the Otto Porter Jr. front today: The Bulls starting small forward and most solid wing defender suffered another setback, as a repeat MRI revealed a continued bone edema (i.e. swelling). He’ll be re-evaluated in another two weeks. Chandler Hutchison is still working out and running — and getting better each day, according to Boylen — but there’s still no precise timetable on his return.

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