Charlotte Hornets

Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Jim Boylen opened his press conference with a silver lining.

"If there's a positive in this difficult loss, it's in the past when we haven't been able to put the ball in the basket... We haven't guarded well," Boylen said. "I thought our defense was terrific tonight. I thought it kept us in the game, it gave us a chance."

There's some validity to that. Friday night, the Bulls allowed their adversary, the Charlotte Hornets, only 83 points. The Hornets shot 38% from the floor, 19.4% from 3-point range (31 attempts) and turned the ball over 21 times. On most nights, holding an opponent to those numbers is a recipe for success — even if the paltriness of said figures was as much a result of the Hornets' sloppy play as anything.

Not in this one. The offense will shoulder most of the blame there: The Bulls shot only 30% from the field (they're the only team that's shot 30% or less from the field in a game this season, and they've done it twice) and 20.6% from 3-point range. According to Boylen, they shot 44% at the rim. Crucially, they were also outrebounded by Charlotte 60-45 — a disparity aided by the Bulls missing a whopping 63 field goals on the night. 

"They were crashing a lot of guys," Lauri Markkanen said. "We need to do a better job of boxing out. I feel like we did a good job defensively, but we just need to get the first rebound and limit their second-chance points."

The Hornets entered the night ranked 27th in rebound rate — which measures the percentage of missed shots a team is able to pull in — the Bulls 29th. For Charlotte, P.J. Washington (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Cody Zeller (11 points, 10 rebounds) both logged double-doubles, and Bismack Biyombo (12 points, nine rebounds) came close. As a team, they converted 11 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points. 

"They had 11 offensive rebounds. It seemed like they had more," Boylen, aptly, said. "Those plays are back-breakers."

Especially true in such a drudgy game. The Hornets led 44-40 at the halftime break, then 59-50 entering the fourth after outscoring the Bulls 15-10 in the third quarter. It was a game from a different era.

Thad Young rejected the notion that the Bulls were outmatched physically or undersized, relative to the Hornets.

"I think that's about us just going out there and making sure we get the ball, and us gang-rebounding," he said of the disparity on the boards.

Young cited the team's defensive philosophy — specifically, their strategy of blitzing and aggressively hedging in pick-and-roll coverage — as one factor in their inconsistency in this area. Bringing bigs up and away from the basket on those actions can often leave them out of position when the other team's eventual shot is put up (and off) the rim. 

"The way our defense is it kinda crossmatches us a little bit, because the big is generally trying to stop the guard from driving. Then when they hit the big, he's in the trail position, so their big has inside position on us, and then you have a big on the baseline or you have a cutter going baseline," Young said. "So it kinda puts us in a situation where we have to figure out who's gonna be in to get the rebounds, and usually, the guys that's in there to get the rebounds are guards. Because they're sagging in on the weak-side or they're helping trying to get the big into position where he can rebound the basketball."

Wendell Carter Jr. had 11 boards on the night, but the Bulls' next-leading rebounder was Zach LaVine, with eight. Then Young with five.

But Young declined to label it a systemic issue, or even a communication one. 

"It's just something that kinda happens in the flow of the game," Young said. "Some games are gonna be different than others. Some games we're gonna be able to get our bigs back, and some games we're gonna depend on our guards to come in and rebound."

It seems that this is happening often, as of late. The Bulls have been outrebounded in 19 of their 27 games this season — they're 4-15 in said contests.

Of course, making shots would help, as well. Between the two teams, there were 112 missed field goals tonight. That's a lot of chances for rebounds, and the Hornets converted more than the Bulls tonight.

"Imma be honest with you, I don't really see too much they were doing [defensively]. We were just missing shots," Young said. "I had three for sure that just went in and came out, and a couple other guys had some so. I think it was just one of those nights."

It certainly was. Now, on to the next — Saturday night, when they fearsome Clippers come to town.

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What to watch for: Bulls match up with Charlotte Hornets for the third time this season


What to watch for: Bulls match up with Charlotte Hornets for the third time this season

For the third time this season, the Bulls and Hornets square off, this time at the United Center. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here’s what to watch for:

Hornets’ last five (3-2)

  • Dec. 11 — W at Nets: 113-108

  • Dec. 10 — W vs. Wizards: 114-107

  • Dec. 8 — L vs. Hawks: 122-107

  • Dec. 6 — L vs. Nets: 111-104

  • Dec. 4 — W vs. Warriors: 106-91

Storyline(s) for each team

This is already the third matchup of the Bulls and Hornets this season, and each of the first two were wild in their own way. In the first — the season-opener — Lauri Markkanen dropped a season-high 35 points and 17 rebounds, but in a foreboding result, the Bulls squandered a 10-point fourth quarter lead and fell 126-125. Then, on Nov. 23, the Bulls found themselves on the winning side of an epic late-game collapse, and an epic Zach LaVine performance. You remember:

Both of these teams are theoretically hunting the eight seed in the East, but the Hornets have a little bit more to hang their hats on, at present. They’re 1.5 games back of the current eighth-seeded Orlando Magic (the Bulls three games back) and are enjoying breakout campaigns from budding star Devonte’ Graham, fast-improving sophomore Miles Bridges and rookie P.J. Washington. Even Terry Rozier has become a pretty efficient catch-and-shoot scorer.

The Bulls are on a solid run of defensive performances, in which they've competed wire-to-wire against the Heat and Raptors (both losses) and throttled the lowly Hawks, but are still waiting on their halfcourt offense to catch up. For what it’s worth, they’ve scored 120.5 points per contest in their two matchups with Charlotte this year. Given the ludicrosity of each of these teams' last two matchups, it's hard to say if either has a definitive edge tonight, but it should be a fun one, nonetheless. 

Player to watch: Devonte’ Graham

Speaking of Graham… It’s early, but he might already be building a compelling case for Most Improved Player this year. After averaging just 4.7 points in a reserve role in his rookie campaign, he’s up to 20 points and 7.6 assists per game on 39.7% 3-point shooting (8.9 attempts!) this season, and has earned a starting backcourt role alongside Rozier. In the Hornets' last game, in Brooklyn, he dropped 40 in riveting fashion:

Fortunately, the Bulls have as good a point-guard stopper as you could ask for in Kris Dunn, who’s coming off a night of hounding — and effectively bottling up — Trae Young. Graham is averaging 20.5 points, nine assists and five 3-pointers made against the Bulls this season. A stringent performance against him would be another feather in Dunn’s cap.

Matchup to watch: Paint scoring and rebounding

The Hornets have been notoriously shaky in the painted area — at least on the defensive side of the ball. Per NBA Stats, Charlotte currently ranks 28th in the league in defensive rebounding rate (70.5%) and opponent points in the paint per game (51.8), and 25th in blocks per game (4.3). Bismack Biyombo has recently slid into the Hornets' starting lineup as a mend to that, but the team doesn’t have much in the way of rim protection outside of him.

In the season-opener, the Bulls outrebounded the Hornets 58-48 and outscored them 78-42 in the paint. The story of their last matchup (No. 23) was LaVine’s 3-point barrage (the Bulls lost both the rebounding battle and the points-in-paint battle), but if the shots aren’t falling tonight, the interior could be a well to return to. In that scenario, Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford would be benefactors.

Injury/miscellaneous updates

At Thursday’s practice, Jim Boylen said Chandler Hutchison and Cristiano Felicio both played 3-on-3, a step in the right direction for both (it was Hutchison’s first contact day). No further updates on either of them, as of yet. Other than that, the Bulls should enter this one with the same cast of characters as the past two weeks. 

For the Hornets, Marvin Williams has already been ruled out, Nic Batum is officially listed as doubtful and Malik Monk is officially listed as probable. 

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What to watch for: Bulls look for bounce back win over Hornets

What to watch for: Bulls look for bounce back win over Hornets

Saturday night, the Bulls travel to Charlotte for the second time this season, in search of a bounceback win. The game tips at 6 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Bulls need a bounce back

And that might be an understatement. Anyone hoping that getting trounced on their home floor by Toronto, lackluster losses to the shorthanded Nets and Pacers, or blowing late-game leads to the Knicks and these Hornets would represent early-season low points were dealt a dose of cruel reality last night.

Things are bad in Chicago right now, and a loss — or any additional controversy — coming out of this game could push the team past the point of no return. 

It would be disingenuous not to zero in on Zach LaVine as the person on the team most in need of a breakout performance. In the month of November, LaVine is averaging 19.2 points and four assists per game on 39.4% shooting and a paltry 4.2 free-throw attempts per game. On the season, he has had four games with a positive plus-minus, and is last on the team with a -90 overall plus-minus. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Bulls are 12.6 points per 100 possessions better defensively with LaVine off the floor.

In addition to last night, Boylen has yanked LaVine from games twice early on in the season — in Nov. 3’s loss to the Pacers and in Nov. 16’s loss to the Nets. LaVine stats in the two games that succeeded those incidents:

Nov. 5 vs. LAL: 26 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 9-for-18 shooting (3-for-7 from three)

Nov. 18 vs. MIL: 11 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4-for-16 shooting (2-for-7 from three)

It’s worth monitoring the level of intensity he comes out with tonight.

Catching a bad team at the right time

No game is guaranteed for this group right now, but for what it’s worth, they’re catching Charlotte at the right time.

In their last nine games (they’re 2-7 over that stretch), the Hornets have an offensive rating of 103.4 (28th, Bulls rank 30th) a defensive rating of 112.8 (22nd) and a net rating of -9.4 (27th). In the first matchup between these two, the Hornets shot absolutely lights out from three, setting a franchise record with 23 three-pointers made, but the Bulls outplayed them in most other appreciable categories.

The hope for the Bulls is that if they can close out with a little more urgency (big if) and that number naturally regresses, they can find an edge in this one. But beware of resting on laurels if Chicago gets out to a fast start; we all remember the late-game collapse on opening night that set the tone for a morbund start to the season.

Lauri Markkanen vs. PJ Washington

In Markkanen and Washington are two young forwards going in different directions. Markkanen’s struggles are well-documented, but his best game of the season remains his 35-point performance against the Hornets in the first game of the season. Markkanen shot 1-for-7 from deep in that game, making a habit of creating offense for himself with a number of aggressive drives and cuts. The Bulls have been searching for that version of Markkanen consistently — shooting struggles aside — since that night.

Maybe a return to Buzz City will provide a spark.

Washington, on the other hand, has settled in nicely to a complementary role in the Hornets starting lineup, serving as one of a host of surprise rookies taking the league by storm. He’s currently shooting 49% from three (qualifier: on only 3.1 attempts per game) — but, per Cleaning the Glass, that’s in the 96th percentile of players at his position. 

Bulls fans will remember the last time these two teams squared off, when Washington set a record for three-pointers in an NBA debut with seven:


Chandler Hutchison upgraded

More on this as it develops, but getting Hutchison back would be a stroke of good fortune for a Chicago team wanting on the defensive end, especially against a Charlotte team that’s marginal talent is concentrated on the wing.

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