Last night’s loss in Portland was the Bulls’ second in a row — something that has been nearly unheard of under coach Tom Thibodeau — and it dropped the team to a very humble 5-5 on the year.
There are disturbing signs. And it’s not just because Derrick Rose is still out.
The Incredible Shrinking D:
Chicago’s biggest problem right now is on defense.
I know it’s hard to believe. After all, the Bulls have been one of the league’s best defensive units the past two seasons.
They aren’t right now. Not even close.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Bulls rank ninth in Defensive Rating at 102.0 points surrendered per 100 possessions. They’ve given up better than 100 points in four straight games…and check out the Offensive Ratings their last four foes have compiled against them:
Boston Celtics: 113.1
Phoenix Suns: 108.7
Los Angeles Clippers: 115.9
Portland Trail Blazers: 110.2
For some perspective on these numbers, here are what these teams average in Offensive Rating for the season:
Boston Celtics: 105.0
Phoenix Suns: 103.4
Los Angeles Clippers: 109.4
Portland Trail Blazers: 106.3
For further perspective, the New York Knicks currently lead the league in Offensive Rating at 111.5. So not only did Chicago’s last four opponents score significantly better than their average rates, but two of them performed better than the league’s best and another came damn close.
This is troubling.
The Bulls can’t seem to take care of the ball. Especially with Rose out, the Bulls rely on crisp execution and deft passing. Those things aren’t happening right now. After last night’s 19-turnover effort — which translated into 26 points for the Blazers — the Bulls rank 20th in TOs (155) and 18th in Turnover Percentage (14.5).
The Bulls finished with more rebounds (35) than the Blazers (34). But based on the percentages, they lost the rebounding battle.
Here’s what the Bulls did:
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 74.4
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 20.
And the Blazers:
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 80.0
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 25.6
Portland’s Offensive Rebounding Percentage was really troublesome. They rebounded one out of every four missed shots.
Speaking of Offensive Rebounding Percentage: The Bulls rank 11th in the league right now. Last season they ranked first. They ranked fourth the season before that. They aren’t getting as many second chances this year. And they’re giving up more second chances to their opponents: The Bulls rank 13th in Defensive Rebounding after ranking in the top 10 the past two seasons.
The bottom line is this: The Bulls are becoming an average rebounding team.
Diagnosing the problem:
The Bulls miss the Bench Mob.
Oh, sure, the reserves scored 39 points last night. But in the past, the bench came in, controlled the boards, and absolutely locked people down. That’s just not happening right now.
Defensively, the Bulls miss Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, and even C.J. Watson.
And my God, we need the real Taj Gibson back.
Despite signing a lucrative extension last month, Gibson is still playing like he’s distracted. His numbers have taken a nasty downturn since last season. He’s shooting a career-low 41 percent. He’s averaging only 4.3 rebounds. His Player Efficiency Rating (13.6) hasn’t just dropped since last year (16.9), it’s currently a career-worst.
Similarly, his Offensive and Defensive Rebounding Percentages (8.7 and 12.3) are career-lows and well beneath his career marks (11.4 and 18.5). Taj is blocking more shots — from 1.3 in each of the last three seasons to 1.9 this year — but he’s regressed significantly in virtually every other area.
Considering he was supposed to take on a larger role and anchor the new bench, this has been a real blow to the Bulls’ success.
Minus Rose, the Bulls are suffering on offense. But they’re also suffering on offense because they can’t take care of the ball or grab offensive rebounds at their accustomed rate. They’re also suffering on defense because they can’t control their defensive glass or shut down their opponents.
The offense should improve when Rose returns (whenever that is). But to solve the other problems, the Bulls are going to have to heal from within.