Defense always seems to be a work in progress for the Bulls, and it’ll be a point of emphasis over the next three days of practice and six-day stretch between preseason games before a back-to-back set starting Friday.
Giving up 115 and then 105 points to the fast-paced Indiana Pacers would appear like this is the same toothless outfit it turned into in the second half of last season, but Fred Hoiberg said he saw improvement in the two preseason games last week.
“We were much better in our second game against Indiana than we were in the first,” he said. “They really exposed us in transition that first game, which maybe was good for us. You have to go back and watch it, simulate some of the things they were doing in practice and try to get better.”
Part of that could’ve been the absence of All-Star Paul George, who didn’t play in Saturday’s win at the United Center.
With Hoiberg saying he believes the Bulls have a shot at being a good defensive team, they certainly have the ability to turn opponents over and get out on the break for easy baskets, but at times Saturday they went for the steal and left themselves vulnerable for easy feedings inside.
“We still have a lot of room to grow in defensive transition but we took a step in the right direction,” he said. “I thought our overall intensity was really good. And that’s where it has to start with this group. If we have that type of urgency, that type of discipline -- we didn’t have as many gambles.”
Taj Gibson, the Bulls’ best defender this side of Jimmy Butler, is still exercising patience with the early returns considering there’s so many new players having to digest the system and learn each other.
“Young guys are still learning, we got new faces,” Gibson said. “It's still fun because everybody is competing. I can deal with the mistakes as long as guys are busting their tail on defense and flying around.”
Having another perimeter defender to aid Butler and save his body on some nights wouldn’t hurt. If anyone fits that bill, it would be Tony Snell, but he tweaked an ankle in Monday’s practice and sat out the last 30 minutes.
On the day Denzel Valentine emerged back onto the floor, getting some shots up after turning his ankle in the first preseason game, Snell goes out with an ankle ailment of his own.
But both instances are minor, as Valentine could be back to action next week and hopefully for Snell, he’ll have the same fate.
“He did a good job battling Giannis (Antetokounmpo, Bucks forward) in that first game when Jimmy only played in the first half,” Hoiberg said. “Tony understands our defensive schemes. He is going to stay in front of the ball. He’s going to get into his gap. Our big thing is becoming a good team defensive unit and have that trust behind the ball, especially the way we’re playing ball screens this year. I thought we were better the other night. We have to continue to improve and hopefully it gets to where it needs to be on Opening Night.”