There’s not a whole lot to say at this point.
The Bulls are 48 games into Year 2 of their rebuild and, now healthy, have somehow taken a step back. What was supposed to be a measuring stick in the second half with a complete roster has now becoming an alarming sign that this team hasn’t improved in any area and they’re trending downward. The latest in a long line of ugly performances might have been the worst under Jim Boylen, spotting a 14-win Hawks team a 20-point first half lead and ultimately suffering their ninth loss by 17 or more points under Boylen.
The same typical responses reverberated in the locker room: the Bulls need to take what they’re doing in practice and put it to use in games; the Bulls need to defend better; the Bulls need to be tougher; the Bulls need to care. At least publicly they haven’t gotten down on themselves or one another. They’re surprisingly upbeat despite having one win in 2019, and it coming at the hands of a tanking Cavaliers team. One of the reasons Fred Hoiberg was fired was that the team didn’t look disappointed and hurt enough after losses. That doesn't seem to matter anymore.
But at some point the results need to speak. Boylen said after the game that he’s not judging the Bulls on wins and losses, and even accurately cited that the Bulls didn’t play all that well in their lone 2019 win in Cleveland, committing 18 turnovers. It’s gotten ugly and there’s only so much that can be said. Actions speak, and the Bulls have gone silent the last month.
The most fight the team showed in their 121-101 loss was Bobby Portis taking exception to a Justin Anderson dunk with 11.1 seconds left in the game. He got into a brief skirmish with Alex Len on a free throw attempt. But the Bulls also inexplicably doubled at halfcourt as the Hawks were trying to run out the clock, so the Hawks played on.
Ironically, it was the first time all night Atlanta felt suffocated by the Bulls defense…and they still managed to get two free throws out of it.
The loudest the United Center got on Wednesday night was from a small pocket of fans near the Hawks bench chanting “We want Vince!” hoping veteran VInce Carter would check into the game in the closing minutes. He didn't play, but if he had he likely would have found open space to score against a Bulls defense that didn’t stop much of anything all night.
The Bulls defense is broken. Boylen slowed down the Bulls’ pace when he took over, and it actually led to more efficiency on that end of the floor. The Bulls had the No. 8 defense in Boylen’s first month on the job. The offense was a mess but at least the Bulls were showing improvement in one area. But in the last three weeks that defense has plummeted to 29th in the NBA. Yes, Justin Holiday and Wendell Carter Jr. are gone. No, they are not Paul George and Rudy Gobert.
On the other end, there was at least a small bit of excitement over the previous two games when the Bulls made 27 3-pointers against the Heat and Cavaliers. It came against two of the league’s worst defenses, but even Boylen admitted that the Bulls were looking to increase their pace. It was a positive sign.
Before Wednesday's game Boylen said that he felt in his heart that 25 3-point attempts were not enough for the Bulls. Against a Hawks team that led the NBA in pace, the taking was there for the Bulls to at least give it a go and hoist 3-pointers in an up-tempo game. If the defense wasn’t going to improve at least they could continue pushing the tempo and finding open shooters to try and score with a Hawks team ranked 24th in defensive efficiency.
The Bulls took 3-pointers on three of their first four shots. They took 23 the rest of the night. They made 8 of 26 from beyond the arc; Atlanta went 9 of 17 from deep in the first half alone and finished with 15 triples. Markkanen (22 points), LaVine (23 points) and Kris Dunn (16 points) were bright spots, but most of those numbers came with the Bulls trailing a team that got spanked by the Magic at home two nights earlier.
It’s somehow gotten worse.
Forty-eight games into the year all the Bulls have to show is that they’ve added a piece in Carter and that LaVine is a capable scorer. They don’t need to win – Zion Williamson would be a worthy consolation prize – but they need to improve at some point.
Worse than a lack of improvement is a lack of effort, and a bunch of young prospects with talent are somehow regressing.
They’ll continue to say all the right things, but until there’s any sort of results it’ll all feel cheap.