Thirteen NBA teams will begin their respective preseason schedules on Monday night, and none will do so with a more unfamiliar roster than the Bulls. With eight new faces, including three starters, the team that takes the United Center floor against the Milwaukee Bucks will be far from a finished product. It’s why Fred Hoiberg said the Bulls will take Game 1 slow, keep the first unit together for stretches in the first half and hand the reins over to the younger players after halftime.
Still, Hoiberg is looking at tonight’s preseason game – and beyond – as another opportunity for his relatively new team to jell. The Bulls had a live practice Monday morning, a contrast from a regular season shootaround normally seen the day of a game, taking advantage of the minutes that will be spaced out in the game to, in effect, get in another two-a-day session. Jimmy Butler noted that the “different vibe” many of the players have spoken of has come from Hoiberg’s attitude.
“Just how much he’s looking for everybody to be a perfectionist,” Butler said. “Whether it’s catching a rebound with one hand or making a bounce pass here when you’re not supposed to, I think that’s holding everybody accountable to where they’re not going to mess up.”
That continued the theme seen early in training camp. The Bulls have practiced each of seven days since opening camp last Tuesday, all in an effort to form chemistry with a group that returns a little more than half of its minutes from a year ago.
“He’s been working us hard,” Dwyane Wade said of Hoiberg. “He’s been getting us mentally ready and prepared, and he’s done a good job of delegating to his coaches when he needs to.”
Hoiberg spoke briefly with his team about keying in on Milwaukee’s tendencies; the Bulls will focus on transition defense, protecting the paint and rebounding against the Bucks. But their primary focus, which will remain through the preseason slate, is on improving themselves. In addition to young players getting valuable minutes, putting that starting unit on the floor in game situations is something that can’t be replicated in practice.
“This is what you work hard for, to get out here and have these moments,” Wade said. “We’re gonna have some moments where it’s going to look good tonight. We’re going to have some moments where it’s going to look awful. And that’s what the coaches get paid for, to come in and break down the film and tell us what we can get better at, and pat us on the back for the moments that we had good.”
The starters will play between 10-12 minutes in the first half – Taj Gibson will open at power forward, with Hoiberg admitting he will continue rotating starters at that position as the preseason goes along – and take another step in their process of jelling.
“You just can’t simulate that game action in practice, so for a guy like Wade to go out…it’s a start to working his way up to the shape he needs to be in for opening night,” Hoiberg said. “But we’ll get our top guys together, play them a lot of minutes together in the first half, them most likely sit those guys in the second.
“You want to go out there and perform well. Again, we’re going to keep it very basic tonight and we’re going to work on a lot of things…It’s about going out there and worrying about ourselves tonight. And if you ask any coach in the league, these first couple games, that’s what it’s all about.”