Bulls

Bulls working to 'clean up and fix' turnover issues

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Bulls working to 'clean up and fix' turnover issues

The offseason hype surrounding Fred Hoiberg's up-tempo offensive philosophy was expected to inject new life into a Bulls group that had wilted down the stretch in last year's playoffs, ending in a 73-point outing in a Game 6 loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The 3-point-heavy offense has yielded more positive results than negative, as the Bulls stand at 2-1 with an important win over those Cavaliers on opening night, in the season's first week.

But within the new offensive scheme the Bulls have been practicing for a little more than a month - the majority of which came without the sidelined Derrick Rose - has also produced some careless play, as they rank among the league's worst in both turnovers per game and per possession through three games.

Granted, the sample size is minuscule and really not fair to judge any team on, let alone one dealing with an entirely new coaching staff and scheme, so early in the season.

Still, through three games the Bulls have averaged 17.7 turnovers per game, ranked 24th in the NBA and are ahead of only Washington, Toronto and Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference. Their turnover percentage, which takes into account pace of play, is 16.8 percent, also 24th in the league. A year ago the Bulls averaged just 14.4 turnover per game, 13th in the league.

[MORE: Hoiberg misses practice to attend Flip Saunders' funeral]

A year ago Cleveland, Brooklyn and Detroit all ranked in the lower half of the NBA in turning opponents over, so it’s not as if the Bulls are squaring off against pesky defenses, either.

"We try to analyze our turnovers as best we can. There are some charges in there. There are some poor decisions, poor passing, kind of a hodgepodge," said assistant coach Jim Boylen at Saturday afternoon's practice. "It’s something we have to clean up and fix. Offensively, you have to get a shot on goal. And turnovers don’t allow you to do that. It’s a point of emphasis in everything we do."

Friday it cost the Bulls dearly. Thirteen miscues against Detroit meant a 39-point first half, and they were unable to get a shot off with less than a minute to play in a tie game. The game then went to overtime, where the Bulls were outscored 15-11 in their first loss of the season.

All told the Bulls are 19th in offensive efficiency and ninth in defensive efficiency, again small sample sizes but telling of the Bulls still figuring out how to maneuver in Hoiberg’s offense. The positives are there; Derrick Rose has been aggressive attacking the rim - sans the end of Friday night's game, when his jumper at the end of regulation was off the mark - Jimmy Butler has been a facilitator in addition to his scoring prowess, and Nikola Mirotic has flourished as the starting power forward, averaging 19.7 points on 51 percent shooting.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

They'll only improve as the starting unit spends more time in the system together - Mike Dunleavy is still expected to miss at least another month after offseason back surgery - as they look to raise their 17.7 assists per game, currently 28th in the NBA.

"I think it’s a work in progress. I think there have been moments where it’s very good and other moments where it’s struggled," Boylen said of the offseason. "I think some credit has to go to Detroit’s defense. They played very hard and they were locked into us pretty good."

Wendell Carter Jr. making a name for himself as top defender in 2018 class

Wendell Carter Jr. making a name for himself as top defender in 2018 class

Wendell Carter Jr. has been one of the few bright spots in a tough stretch for the Bulls. 

Speculation around the time of the 2018 NBA Draft was that Mohammed Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr. or even DeAndre Ayton could end up being better defenders than Carter due to their athleticism. And while time will tell if this is true, so far in 2018-19, Carter has shown that he is ahead of his peers in terms of breaking down what is happening in front of him and assessing what his responsibility is. One of the main thing holding back the Bulls on defense is ball-watching.

To be effective against an opponent that swings the ball around on offense—generating good shots from the strong and weakside—your defense needs to have all five players on the floor with their head on a swivel, keeping an eye on the ball and their man. Carter has done a lot of leading by example in this specific area. 

Carter's defensive numbers have been head-and-shoulders above his fellow rookie big men and with Hoiberg trusting him with 25+ minutes a night, the gap between he and his peers is likely to grow.

Heading into Wednesday's game, opponent's attacked him frequently within 6 feet of the basket. When Carter defends shot within 6 feet of the basket he makes opponent's shoot 9.3 percent worse, the best mark on the Bulls if you consider sample size. 

As of now, Carter is still on pace to be the only teenager in NBA history to average at least 2 blocks per game. And if he keeps this up, his case for Rookie of the Year will only get stronger.

And with all of the injuries and struggles of this young team, Carter's impressive defensive IQ continues to bring hope.

The Bulls upcoming back-to-back will see them take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard respectively. 

These matchups will likely show just how far away the Bulls are from being a competitive team. But with Chicago’s perimeter defense lacking sufficient wing defenders, these two games will also showcase Carter’s ability to be the last line of defense, on a team that could use a first one.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jimmy Butler makes debut for Philly

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jimmy Butler makes debut for Philly

Patrick Finley and Anthony Herron join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00 - Mark Schanowski drops by to talk about Zach LaVine’s minutes load, Lauri Markkanen’s rehab and Jimmy Butler’s debut for Philly. Plus, they discuss if Draymond Green might have just pushed Kevin Durant out the door in Golden State when this season is over?

13:00 - The guys dissect Mitch Trubisky’s NFC Offensive Player of the Week award and Cody Parkey travelling to Soldier Field to practice kicking.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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