Practice has been sloppy and turnovers have been plentiful in the opening days of training camp for the Bulls, but after a few days, players are more than tired of facing each other and want to test themselves against an opponent.
Thus the Milwaukee Bucks, the team that surprisingly gave the Bulls a challenge in the first round of the playoffs several months ago, come to town, and the initial steps of a long journey will reach another phase.
“I'm excited, I'm excited to see how everything goes,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Generally that first preseason game is pretty sloppy, and after watching a lot of these preseason games you've seen that. Probably not as much movement as you'd like in that first one, but hopefully we go out there and compete and play hard.”
It’ll be Hoiberg’s first game as a coach at the United Center, where the Bulls practiced Monday, but he’s not putting much individual stock into it. It won’t matter in the grand scheme of his coaching regime, and considering the town is hooked on the baseball team on the North Side of town, it won’t register much of a ripple on the sports scene.
But it doesn’t mean the Bulls won’t use the game against the much-improved Bucks as a reason to begin experimenting. Pau Gasol will sit this one out, part of the maintenance plan to keep him from being worn down early in the season.
Veteran guard Kirk Hinrich will also sit with a minor toe injury, and Taj Gibson is being brought along slowly after having ankle surgery in the offseason. And of course Derrick Rose is out, recovering from facial surgery last week after the injury he suffered on the opening day of training camp.
So E’Twaun Moore will get the start at point guard, with Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell on the wings, and Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah will round out the starting five. It’s a chance to see in some form of application how Hoiberg’s “pace and space” offense will look.
“We've put in a lot of our early stuff,” Hoiberg said. “If the primary break isn't there, just flow into a secondary break. So we haven't put a lot of those other actions in and again, our timing, we have a lot of guys running into each other because they're almost too quick trying to get into the action.”
There are things Hoiberg will be able to observe even through the expected muck of preseason basketball.
He wants Noah to be more patient before flashing to the ball, letting the natural flow of the offense develop before quickly coming from the baseline to make a play. They haven’t put in many isolation plays, situations a healthy Rose and Butler will thrive in.
But the general tenor of their offense, the players seem to grasp at this early point. They’ll be given a lot of freedom to make plays and won’t be operating as robots.
“That's really what our offense is based on,” Hoiberg said. “And if an option is taken away, that triggers that next action. You've got to be on point with it. You've really got to be able to read and react and flash to the ball and get good movement out of it. Everything's predicated on spacing, and if you space the floor well, generally good things happen.”