Bulls

Deng all about defense against Pacers

451433.jpg

Deng all about defense against Pacers

Thursday, April 21, 2011Posted: 2:00 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLISWith all of the concern about Derrick Rose having to do too much scoring in the Bulls first-round series against the Pacers, one would think the team simply doesnt have capable secondary options. True, Carlos Boozer struggled in Game 1 and although he bounced back with a solid outing in Game 2, he also went long stretches without impacting the game on offense.

But while the Bulls certainly need Boozer to consistently play well for the team to make an extended postseason run, it seems many people are forgetting the player who was considered the teams glue: Luol Deng. The small forward hasnt been as offensive-minded through the series first two games for good reason; his primary assignment has been defending Pacers leading scorer Danny Granger.

Every series is going to be different, if you look at every team. Depending on who we play nextlets say, after this round, we win this round and we play Orlandosomebodys going to have to guard Dwight (Howard) and whoever that somebody is, as a team., weve got to let him know and hes got to understand that affecting that guy defensively is going to help us a lot more than what you do for us offensively, said Deng, who received votes, along with teammates Keith Bogans and Joakim Noah, for the NBAs Defensive Player of the Year award, which went to Orlandos Howard for the third consecutive season.

Thats really how I look at this series. If I have high-scoring games, thats a plus, but for me, making Granger work for every basket, making it tough for himeither he shoots a low percentage taking a lot of shots or he doesnt get a lot of shotsthats really my goal and every game in this series, thats what Im going to do.

Chimed in Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: The thing with Granger is, you dont stop a player like that. What youve got to do is try to make him work for his points and hes one of the best scorers in the league because of all the different ways he gets it. He can pick-and-roll, he can catch-and-shoot, he can post, hes dangerous in transition, hes a very good offensive rebounder, he can get to the line. What we have to do is be tied together and try to make him work for those points, but hes a load. Hes hard to guard.

Deng knows his offense is a secondary concern for him this series, but while he admits that improved play from Boozer will help ease Roses burden, he also believes that the final result is more important than how it happens.

I know were going to need Boozer. Derrick is carrying a lot of the load right now and a lot of people are talking about, Is Derrick doing too much? but I keep saying, every series is going to present a different story. If we win every game and Derrick scores like that, then thats who we are, thats what were trying to do. If we start losing and Derrick is putting up all these points, then weve got to start talking about other things, Deng explained.

Dengs approach hasnt varied all season, perhaps his best all-around campaign and one in which he played in all 82 regular-season games for just the second time in his career.

It meant a lot. I wanted to get back to that. I tried last year. I ended upI think I played 70 or 72, I dont rememberit was a goal of mine, but then I had that calf strain. Coming into this year, I wanted to make it a goal, to make sure I played every game. I had no idea I was going to play as many minutes as I did. Im just really happy I was able to be consistent and thats what I always wanted to do, just be consistent, said Deng.

When Coach got the job, he called me and he really told me how he felt, what kind of player I could be, how he was going to use me and he really felt like I was very underratedhe kept telling me thatand it helped me with my confidence. When I came in, practicing and the way he was going to use me, I just knew I was going to play a lot.

In the wake of his individual and the teams success this season, the seventh-year pro doesnt dwell on it, but the labelsoftsome fans have put on him since he signed a six-year, 71-million contract extension in the summer of 2008 and was hampered by various injuries cut him deep.

It bothered me a lot. I think what bothered me the most was how the whole injury thing came up. I know its behind me now, but it really bothered me a lot. Just to be called that, knowing what I played througheven before that, with the injuriesI didnt like it. Not that I could help what people say, but it bothered me a lot, acknowledged Deng, who led the Bulls in minutes played and logged the third-most court time amongst his peers in the league this season. I didnt do it play 82 games for anyone. I wasnt trying to prove anyone wrong. The things that were said about me bothered me, but I never really played basketball for anyone but me, so I just felt like I really wanted to do it for myself. Just play the games, help my team as much as I can and really be happy with what I did during the season.

Not just the soft thing. A lot of people said I got paid and I gave up the game, and to me, that bothered me a lot. I dont know how to explain it, but if youre ever offered that money, youre not going to say, No, Im going to take less, but Im still going to play, he continued. The deal was done, but that bothered me more than anything, with where Im from and what Ive been through, for people to think that money would let me give up the game. Thats just stupid.

While the versatile, underrated native of Sudan is now more appreciated by Bulls fans, perhaps nobody treasures his talent more than Thibodeau.

Lu will be fine. You can count on him, said the coach, who wasnt pleased, however, with the technical foul Deng earned in Game 1 of the series for coming to the defense of Rose. Hes going to play defense, hes going to help you execute offensively and hes going to make shots. Hes already proven that. He just has to keep doing all the things hes been doing,

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

We all know what Zach LaVine is capable of doing on the offensive side of things. But what about his defense?

It's no secret that LaVine has had his fair share of struggles on defense, but Kris Dunn thinks highly of his 23-year-old teammate and what his potential is at the other end.

"On the defensive end I just told him, 'You're as fast as me. You're more athletic than me. There's no way you shouldn't be a good defender in this league. You could be one of those guys who could be dynamic in the passing lanes because you're so athletic and fast.'" Dunn said of LaVine. "And personally, I like to score. If you get in a passing lane, that's a dunk for yourself and because you've got so much bounce that's when you get the crowd on their feet — maybe do a windmill, a 360, something.

"But I think he's been going a good job on the defensive end. It's not going to be easy. We all got to learn and I think we're all trying."

Improving his defense would obviously be a big step forward for LaVine (and the Bulls), and he knows it. 

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” LaVine said when assessing his preseason. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

LaVine and the Bulls travel to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Thursday night in their season opener. You can watch Bulls Pre- and Postgame Live on NBC Sports Chicago before and after the game for highlights and analysis.

3 keys for Bulls in season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers

joel.jpg
USA TODAY

3 keys for Bulls in season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers

1. Provide help defense on Joel Embiid early and often. Embiid's high usage rate means going to score regardless, and has even added moves like a step-back jumper that he can go to comfortably from 15-feet. But if you make him see multiple defenders and force him to be unsettled, you can harass him into poor shooting nights like Boston did (Embiid shot 9-for-21 on Tuesday night). There were plays where as soon as Embiid took one or two dribbles, a help defender—even a guard—was flying in to go for block shot opportunities.

Wendell Carter Jr. earned the starting center job with his ahead-of-his-age defensive IQ, but no matter how ahead of the curve he is, stopping Embiid will take a group effort. He can become enamored with the 3-point shot, so the Bulls will have to work together to coax Embiid into taking poor shot attempts. Boston did a great job of denying him deep post position om Tuesday night, cutting off the Sixers' easiest source of offensive production.

Wendell Carter Jr. will get his first big defensive test on Thursday night, as he will have to use his lower body strength to prevent Embiid's low post dominance. We have seen Carter struggle with bigger low post scorers in the preseason, and if the Bulls don't provide help fast, Carter will be in trouble.

If Carter does what many rookies do, and tries to use his hands to stop Embiid from gaining ground, the referees will call a foul quickly, especially since he is a rookie learning the ropes. Helpside defense will be the difference in this game for the Bulls.

2. Get back quickly and build a wall on transition defense. Below is the combined shot chart of Embiid and Ben Simmons from Tuesday night against the Celtics. Notice where the attempts are mostly concentrated. 

Ben Simmons and Embiid like to put pressure on the opposing defense by putting pressure on the front of the basket, and with good reason. They are both dominant finishers in the paint and questionable outside shooters.

In 207-18 Embiid shot 57 percent when 0-3 feet from the basket, Simmons shot a staggering 83 percent in the 0-3 foot range, which is even more impressive when you consider that defenses are gameplanning for his drives. We all know that Simmons will likely never be an even average 3-point shooter, and Embiid shot a dreadful 25 percent from the 3-point line last season despite a career-high 214 attempts. But the above the break 3-point shot is a major part of the Philadelphia offense, with Embiid shooting a much better 30.4 percent on above the break 3-pointers. 

Chicago would be wise to let the Sixers get these shots. 

In transition Simmons (or Markelle Fultz) will run the break with Embiid trailing directly behind them, either looking for a straight-line drive to the basket or an above the break 3-pointer after their forward momentum has been stopped. 

If the Bulls can summon the words of former Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and form a wall around the restricted area, they can wall off aggressive drives from the Sixers young, dynamic duo. The Bulls need to force this game to be about turnovers and free throw makes, areas in which the Sixers have struggled last season (dead-last in the league in turnovers and 23rd in FT percentage).

3. Force the defense to move side-to-side. Philadelphia had a top-five defensive rating last season, and a big reason for that was that while the Sixers would often switch one through four, they wouldn't switch the five, meaning Embiid was often dropping back on pick-and-roll D and stationing himself near the basket. Staying as close as possibe to the rim obviously is beneficial to the Embiid, who has averaged 2 blocks per game for his career. But when you get Philly's aggressive defense to shift, they try to jump passing lanes to ignite their fastbreak, which can lead to plays like this:

The above play contains the exact type of ball-movement and cutting principles that Fred Hoiberg has stressed throughout the preseason.

Zach LaVine is the type of quick, explosive guard that the Sixers can have trouble containing with their personnel, more so that they are depending on Fultz so much. But if the Bulls get bogged down into a bunch of one-on-one play, it will allow Embiid to sit back and be a huge deterrent at the rim.

Carter's ability to stretch the floor—along with Bobby Portis' shooting—should be enough of a threat to keep Embiid occupied, but if not he will not respect their shots, and simply clog up driving lanes.

Handoff plays contained some of Carter's best moments this preseason, so we should expect to see Hoiberg call for lots of plays that get a Bulls guard or wing attacking a backpedaling big.