Last week I wrote an article about my early observations of the Fred Hoiberg-coached Bulls after their 2-0 start. In that piece I said, “Even after two games, Chicago looks like a completely different team.” As much as that statement still holds true, different doesn’t always mean better.
The rotations are different, Derrick Rose’s shot selection is improved and the Bulls are spacing the floor better than they ever did during the Thibodeau era, but, Chicago has dropped two of its past three games and just allowed 130 points to the Charlotte Hornets. The Hoiberg Bulls are vastly different from the Thibodeau-coached teams of the past, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of flaws that need fixing.
The Bulls ranked fourth in defensive efficiency heading into Tuesday’s game against the Hornets. After surrendering 14 three-pointers, 51.6 percent shooting and 130 points, the Bulls left Charlotte with the 16th-best defensive rating in the league (they’re now 15th). That means the Bulls fell from a top five defense to right around average in one game.
A lot of that can be explained by regression to the mean and small sample size, as @hungarianjordan pointed out before the game:
CHI's D is 4th right now but opp. shooting 25% on 3's. That also won't last. Opp. shooting only 30.6% on open 3's (closest defender 4-6 ft)
— Stephen Noh (@hungarianjordan) November 3, 2015
And after the game:
The Bulls are freaking 27th in 3 point attempts allowed. They were 4th/1st/1st/3rd/3rd in 5 yrs of Thibs. Ugh.
— Stephen Noh (@hungarianjordan) November 4, 2015
The Bulls don’t have a stout defensive team on paper. The starting frontcourt of Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol is just asking to get burned on the defensive end. Gasol doesn’t move well at all at this stage of his career and Mirotic is still lost in the NBA pick-and-roll game defensively.
Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson help (although they haven’t been good), but their failure to produce any kind of offense (both have offensive ratings barely above 90) make it hard for Hoiberg to play them for any significant stretch.
A regression on the defensive side of the ball was expected without Thibs, especially since the Bulls only ranked 11th in defensive efficiency with him last year, but an offensive spike was supposed to make up for that deficit. That hasn’t been the case so far.
The drastic style change from Thibs to Hoiberg made everyone expect the Bulls to become an elite offense from Day 1, a la Steve Kerr and the Warriors. Don’t forget, Kerr had Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to play with. Hoiberg got a blurry-visioned Rose and two inexperienced wings.
Chicago has upped the pace quite a bit, from 95.4 possessions per game in 2014-15 to 101.1 this season, but the Bulls still play at an average pace (15th), far from the tempo people expected in a Hoiberg offense.
Rose has played a hand in this disappointing pace with double vision significantly bringing down his play (as well as the still lingering effects of his numerous injuries). He’s struggling to finish in the paint or make any jump shot whatsoever, even with a more-improved shot selection. He doesn’t seem to have as much lift or speed as his former days, and he shies from contact in the paint too often. If you aren’t making shots or drawing fouls, you better be an outstanding playmaker or defender, and Rose is neither.
He doesn’t do much of anything off ball and he hasn’t been efficient with the ball, so Hoiberg is in a tough situation of how to utilize an ineffective Rose. His PER of 6.70 so far is unfathomably awful. Rose shouldn’t be playing if his double vision is as bad as he says it is. He’s not helping the team if he’s far less than 100 percent. And if his vision is better than advertised and he’s just in the midst of a rough patch, well, that’s an even bigger problem for the Bulls moving forward.
Chicago is shooting three-pointers well, ranking tied for third in three-pointers made per game and fifth in three-point percentage, but the team’s lack of second-chance opportunities and propensity to allow second-change opportunities is killing them.
The Bulls are ranked 20th in steals per game and 22nd in turnover ratio this season. That’s a huge problem when they also rank a sputtering 29th in offensive rebound rate and 27th in defensive rebound rate. Chicago isn’t forcing turnovers but are turning it over a ton. They aren’t getting any offensive rebounds and they’re allowing them at an alarmingly-high rate. That’s a very, very bad combo.
Unfortunately for Hoiberg, this is the team he’s been given. Gar Forman and John Paxson seldom make trades, so Hoiberg will have to make due with the team he has. Bobby Portis, who scored 10 points in nine garbage-time minutes in his NBA debut on Tuesday, might be the youth infusion that Hoiberg has been looking for. Maybe Rose will eventually recover from the orbital fracture and not have to wear a mask for the rest of his career. Who knows, Noah might even start showing glimpses of his masterful 2013-14 season. What if Mike Dunleavy’s back surgery was less severe than originally planned and he returns in a month or so to fill a void in the starting lineup?
Hoiberg can’t rely on any of these things to actually happen. His offensive system has impressed at times, but the Bulls have to improve in a whole bunch of other areas for it to matter. Even if the Bulls are different from last year, they aren’t any better. Not yet.