The Bulls have often utilized aggressive coverages in defending the pick-and-roll, the staple play in the NBA. It has come with some benefits, as the Bulls entered Monday leading the league in forcing turnovers – on 16.3% of possessions – and ranking a respectable 14th in defensive rating with a young group.
The scheme also carries great risk, and that was widely displayed as the Bulls fell 117-94 to the Blazers at the United Center on Monday. Portland star point guard Damian Lillard was comfortable in carving up Chicago with his 12 assists in 27 minutes, and the Blazers consistently found good looks when the Bulls blitzed pick-and-roll plays, culminating in 51.7% shooting for the game.
While the Bulls’ aggressive defense has forced a large share of turnovers, there have been several follow-up problems. One is that when the foe executes at the initial point of attack, it has left a young team scrambling.
That can create easy looks and also has contributed to the Bulls getting worked often on the defensive glass as big men like Wendell Carter Jr. find themselves on the perimeter. The Bulls entered the day ranked 25th in the NBA in defensive rebounding rate at 74.9 percent, a number that didn’t improve as Portland had 13 offensive rebounds to Chicago’s 29 defensive rebounds, a nearly 31-percent share on the offensive glass.
“We were spending so much energy to keep those two guys (Lillard and CJ McCollum) in front of us, and I think sometimes we were also standing and watching when they were iso-ing,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “And as they were moving into position to shoot the ball, they were moving into position to rebound too. And I don’t think we did a great job of that.”
The aggressive defensive scheme is a give-and-take, which the Bulls realize. In a season full of problems, it’s not the top priority but is certainly capable of burning them at any moment, as it did Monday.
“We’re always in rotations,” guard Zach LaVine said. “That’s our defensive scheme. I think we just got to play it. We’re the players out there. We got to do what our scheme is in practice and what we practice. We’re doing it to the best of our abilities. We just got to get it done. They were making a lot of shots. They were slipping out and getting their man in the pocket and playing two-on-one on the back side or hitting their mid-range, the pull-ups. That’s the shot we’re looking to give up. They damn sure knocked them down. It’s a catch-22 sometimes.”
One of the purposes of the Bulls’ aggressive defensive coverage is to create more transition opportunities so they aren’t bogged down in the half-court. It’s in that regard that they also have faltered too often.
The Bulls have touted their multi-ball-handler system as a strength but average only 1.06 points per possession in transition, which ranks 19th in the league, per NBA.com.
“We’re been forcing a lot of turnovers,” said LaVine, who followed his career-high 49-point outing Saturday with an 18-point night. “We’ve just got to convert when we get the ball. Like I said, so we don’t have to play against their half-court defense. Teams will load up and scheme on certain guys. Like tonight, they were doubling me off pick-and-rolls. It’s tough to get in that groove. You got to swing it and play the right way. You got to take the positive and the negative with it. Hopefully we get more turnovers and make them miss more than they make them.”
As he usually is, Boylen is undeterred in his ways, explaining often that he believes in his philosophies. The Bulls did utilize more switches as the game wore on Monday, but the Blazers countered by hunting mismatches and creating favorable isolation situations.
That was reflected in Carmelo Anthony scoring 25 points on 10-of-20 shooting in his fourth game back after the Blazers recently signed him, with Anthony having his way with Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen on several occasions.
That has been a theme for the Bulls, who have a host of problems to clean up. That includes taking more strides defensively and holding their own more often on the glass.
“It gets kind of tough,” Carter said of the aggressive scheme contributing to rebounding troubles. “It’s just something I need to get used to, learn to work out of it. It’s our defensive coverage. I’m not asking anyone to change it. You just got to find a way to work it out.”