Hoiberg unhappy with defense, slippage shows in loss to Pistons


Hoiberg unhappy with defense, slippage shows in loss to Pistons

The Bulls’ abundance of bigs prompted Fred Hoiberg testing his team’s versatility against Detroit, where they went to a jumbo set.

Well, being a step slow defensively with a frontline of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic caused Hoiberg to abandon that lineup after halftime, as he went with a more conventional group.

But as much as it appeared to help early in the second half, the Pistons made a decisive push early in the fourth to pull away, winning 114-91 at the United Center.

The Pistons went on a 15-0 run, literally. They got out on the break against the Bulls reserves, taking advantage of their disjointed offense as Pistons reserve Reggie Bullock made transition triple after transition triple to close things out.

“Disappointed in not getting back, is the big thing,” said Hoiberg of the 38-point Pistons fourth quarter. “We had a couple turnovers that were home runs on the other end. Just went right down for layups. Then consistently beat us down the floor in the fourth quarter. You can’t do that, especially in your home building.”

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By then, though, Hoiberg likely saw everything he needed to see from his regular rotation players, starting with the jumbo lineup, a unit he didn’t start in the second half, bringing Noah off the bench. They had trouble keeping the mammoth Andre Drummond away from the offensive glass, and couldn’t contain versatile forward Marcus Morris, who made his first five shots from the field.

“They were more energetic from the gate and jumped to a 10-point lead on us,” Hoiberg said.

There aren’t many rebounders or athletes in the mold of Drummond (14 points, 10 rebounds), but the Bulls can’t afford to be this complacent on the glass. And their defense clearly leaves plenty to be desired from their head coach, who gave a short, yet succinct, answer when asked if he was satisfied with the defense at this stage of training camp.

“No,” the usually elaborative Hoiberg said, then looked away in disgust at the thought of where the defense is.

Later, though, he opened up, telling everyone what they’d already seen from the first five games of the preseason.

“Pick and roll defense, especially in the middle of the floor,” Hoiberg said. “We’re giving too many blow by’s, where there’s nothing you can do for it. We gotta guard the ball better.”

Not guarding up top opens things up for Drummond, who’s a load even when the perimeter is contained. He tallied 10 and six against the big frontline, manhandling Gasol and Noah, as Noah made his return from missing the last preseason game as a precautionary measure after bumping knees with Denver’s Kenneth Faried.

“We had good stretches and terrible stretches,” Gasol said.

The good stretches came courtesy of Bobby Portis and Aaron Brooks offensively in the second quarter, as they slowly chipped at an early Pistons lead, with Portis matching the athleticism of the Pistons’ frontline and Brooks scoring in bunches, as he usually does.

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Noah actually didn’t look bad, scoring eight points with nine rebounds, with Taj Gibson making his preseason debut after offseason ankle surgery, scoring four points in 10 minutes.

“Taj was good his first time out,” Hoiberg said.

E’Twaun Moore led the Bulls with 16 points and four assists on 8-of-15 shooting, starting at point guard as Hoiberg continues to juggle lineups and evaluate personnel.

Reggie Jackson led the Pistons with 20 points and Bullock, battling for a spot on Stan Van Gundy’s team, made seven of eight shots to score 17. He led late blitz that made the competitive game look like a laugher in the end.

“The thing we were doing, the guards who were supposed to get back were crashing (the boards),” Hoiberg said. “You can’t do that. It just can’t happen.”

Doug McDermott scored in double figures again, with 12 points in 34 minutes, along with Portis’ 11 and Brooks’ 13.

But scoring wasn’t the problem, as the Bulls allowed the Pistons to shoot 54 percent and sent them to the foul line 21 times, giving Hoiberg something to harp on with a handful of days before their next preseason game, Monday in Charlotte.

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is fed up with being underestimated and he’s going to do something about it. The Bulls guard has been having a strong pre-season so far but is looking to improve his skills as a two-way player.

“I’m just tired of people talking shit about my defense,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that on the defensive end.”

“I’m taking more pride in it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll show. I’ll make sure of that.”

If you think LaVine sounds confident, he has good reason to be. Last season LaVine was one of only ten players to average at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, making him stand out as an elite player in the company of MVPs and All-Stars. LaVine’s personal triumphs, however, were overshadowed by the Bulls abysmal 22-60 record last season.

So far, this preseason LaVine has been looking better on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game through three preseason games. Any improvements on defense will greatly help LaVine’s All-Star case.

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3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.