You know the story: the Bulls couldn’t buy a shot (36.4 percent), couldn’t hold onto the ball (19 turnovers), couldn’t defend (50 percent shooting for the Hawks), couldn’t protect the paint (where they were outscored 46-34), couldn’t finish in transition (only 6 fast break points compared to 22 for Atlanta), couldn’t even begin to cool down a hot hand (former Bull Jamal Crawford scored a season-high 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting)…let’s face it, the night was nothing but a series of “couldn’t's” for the Bulls.
They’ve now dropped five straight games and nine of their last 10 overall. But hey, at least Vinny Del Negro isn’t worried about his job.
I understand this team is lacking in offensive firepower, but where has the defense gone? In their first 10 games, the Bulls surrendered 100 points only once. At that point, they were ranked a very impressive 4th in Defensive Rating. Since then? Check out the points Chicago has given up in the last 10 games: 108, 112, 122, 105, 99, 85, 101, 110, 103, 118. Now they’re ranked 20th in Defensive Rating. And that number doesn’t even reflect their defensive fail against the Hawks.
Is this really the same team that lit the basketball world on fire by pushing the defending champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the first round of the playoffs last spring? I’m this close from putting a team together to go check their basements for body snatcher pods.
Of course, the Bulls really aren’t the same team. Not without Ben Gordon, not without Tyrus Thomas (who’s still recovering from forearm surgery), not without the Kirk Hinrich from last season’s playoffs. Captain Kirk returned last night, but he must have left his jump shot sitting on the counter at home. In 22 minutes off the bench, Hinrich went 0-for-9 from the field and finished with zero points. The sad thing is, that misguided shooting performance will barely affect his average, which was already a lowly 36 percent.
Vinny might be feeling pretty chill — or so he claims — but it’s become pretty obvious that losing has gotten to the players. You can see it in their eyes, in the way their shoulders slump after a missed shot or turnover. Basketball, especially on the professional level, is a game of split seconds. In most cases, players have a split second to get their shot off or make the right pass, a split second to make the defensive move that will prevent an easy bucket.
Well, the Bulls are losing those split seconds to doubt and depression. A big part of winning is believing you can win. I didn’t see a lot of faith in the eyes of the Bulls last night.
That’s not true across the board. Derrick Rose has finally started asserting himself. He sure wasn’t shy about looking for his offense last night. In fact, he attempted a game-high 18 shots. But even with his newfound assertiveness, Rose wasn’t great (19 points, 7 assists), and his efforts didn’t change the trance-like play of his teammates. They’re called “motions,” and the Bulls were going through them… except for maybe rookies Taj Gibson (who scored 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting before fouling out) and James Johnson (who scored all 17 of his points during garbage time in the fourth quarter).
Even Joakim Noah — easily the most intense guy on the team — looked rattled. Sure, he grabbed his usual 11 rebounds, but he went 0-for-4 from the field and looked totally out of sync.
At this point, I’m not sure how this mess can be cleaned up, short of a major personnel overhaul (starting with the obvious coaching change). The players are having a crisis of confidence. There’s no team identity. They can’t score or defend. There’s no telling whether Vinny has a clear vision — or any vision at all – of what he wants from his squad. Sometimes, he talks about the need for more running, at others the need to “gang rebound.” Well, running teams cannot gang rebound, and gang rebounding teams cannot run.
At this point, the Bulls’ team chemistry reminds me of watching a bunch of guys who have never met playing pickup ball at the local gym. Are these guys incompetent…or incompetently coached? I would be able to tell you more if I got to see more actual coaching. “Run, rebound, and try harder” doesn’t qualify as coaching.
The only real option this group has is to play every game like it’s their last. You know, play defense like their careers depend on it, scrap for every loose ball, hustle with everything they have to give. They can’t wait for next summer, can’t expect a superstar to come and save them from themselves. Why would a Chris Bosh or a Dwyane Wade want to leave their own underachieving team for another one? Wade has already stated that winning is his top priority, and whatever small chance he’d want to play in his hometown will be destroyed if the Bulls can’t start at least competing.
Look, the season isn’t lost. The Bulls are six games below .500, but they’ve recovered from worse. Heck, they recovered from worse last season. But they can’t wait. The turnaround needs to start immediately. One game at a time, playing with wild abandon. If the New Jersey Nets can keep fighting after starting the season 0-18, if the Minnesota Timberwolves can keep competing despite their many woes, then so can the Bulls.