Bull-ish on defense

This celebration was for nothing as the Bulls lost a heart-breaker to Denver. Coming off a deflating loss to a decimated Spurs team, one thing has become particularly evident: this outfit will live and die through its offense. Basically, you score on us and we’ll score on you and let’s see who’s ahead after 48…

This celebration was for nothing as the Bulls lost a heart-breaker to Denver.

Coming off a deflating loss to a decimated Spurs team, one thing has become particularly evident: this outfit will live and die through its offense. Basically, you score on us and we’ll score on you and let’s see who’s ahead after 48 minutes. That’s what it has boiled down to. It’s already dawning on many of us that all the positive “defense first” talk during preseason was just lip service, but losing a game after shooting 59%? That makes it almost comical.

59%!?! Just think about that. How do you lose a game shooting that well? Some futile attempts at answering this: They got out-rebounded by 11 which can be traced to a 16–5 offensive rebounding deficit. Ultimately, more rebounds lead to more possessions and whaddya know, the Spurs had 11 extra possessions. It doesn’t always work out that nicely but that’s the general trend. The Raptors haven’t been rebowned like this every game but they have the 4th-worst rebounding differential in the league at -2.8. Once you combine this with a opposition 3-pt% of 45.3 (30th in the league) and an equally horrendous rate of 9.6 3s allowed (29th), you can see that this team is completely lost on defense. They leave the perimeter open which is understandable considering Triano’s “pack-the-paint” philosophy, yet with all those Raptors in the paint, they can’t grab their share of rebounds. The philosophy is not working. And it’s predictable.

You would think an NBA calibre coach would be able to change up the game plan if something has gone awry, which it clearly has. The NBA is full of guys who can shoot the 3. Gone are the days where the shooting guard and maybe the point guard were the only outside threats. Most SFs can now shoot it and a good amount of PFs and some Cs, like our own Andrea can hit open 3s. Good shooters shoot about 35-40% but that’s more like 50-60% in terms of true shooting percentages. The math just doesn’t work in the Raptors’ favour. Now, Triano’s talking about “blow-by’s”. Sounds like something I shouldn’t be talking about on a family blog, but when a guy is running to close out a shooter, it’s quite difficult for him to reverse directions that quickly if the shooter changes his mind and drives forward. Momentum’s a bitch.

Anyway, enough about the past. It’s one that got away and the Raptors are flying back home, proverbial tails between their legs, to face Da Bulls. The Bulls are coming off a spirited loss at home to Denver on Tuesday. This could mean one of 2 things: They will be hungry after a really close call against a Western Conference powerhouse and will want this game even more, OR they will have a major letdown and will be ripe for the picking.

Let’s look at some matchups for Wednesday night’s contest:

Calderon vs. Rose: Not pretty. One of the more athletic guards in the league and powerful to boot. Rose is a good passer, not a great one. Turning him into a passer will be a challenge for this team. I think this is a case where the Bulls rely on his offense more than most teams would from their 1. Take his points away and I’m not sure if the Bulls will be able to compensate for the loss. Calderon has to realize that this team lacks a true big. Brad Miller is entering his twilight years and Joakim Noah shouldn’t be intimidating anyone from coming into the lane. Jarret Jack has to show he is the defensive answer at the point. Or least a significant defensive upgrade over Caldy.

Salmons vs. DeRozan/Wright: Demar starts but isn’t playing much these days so you have to factor in Antoine Wright. John Salmons is a guy who shouldn’t strike fear into anyone, but when he’s effective he’s slashing to the hoop and getting to the line frequently. He’s had some horrible shooting performances to start the year (34% FG, 23% from 3), so he’s still finding his rhythm. Not saying you dare him to hit wide open 3s, but give him his space early on and see how he’s progressing in that respect. He might just singlehandedly shoot the Bulls out of this game. Offensively, can’t expect much out of either Demar or Antoine. Neither is a great shooter and Demar is still a non-factor in the offensive game-plan whether you agree or not. The contribution from the 2, therefore, is to play sound defense and contain dribble penetration which should be doable against Salmons, especially when not much energy will be expended on offense. Demar is not a bad rebounder for his size and I would like to see him crash the boards a little more, that put-bank dunk he almost had against the Spurs is where his head needs to be at. Not comparing the two, but everyone has heard Tracy McGrady’s line about having to play defense to stay on the floor as a younger player under Butch Carter. The same should apply to DeRozan.

Turkoglu vs. Deng: Luol Deng is one of those good but not great players. One of the things holding him back from being great is lack of shooting range, he attempts a 3 about every other game. This is the kind of guy who might struggle against a “pack-the-paint” kind of defense. He rebounds very well for his position and Turk will have to try to not let him pound the offensive glass. I think Deng will be able to guard Turk effectively as well, hopefully he won’t make him into a non-factor like Marion did. He’s got the length and quickness to stay with Turkoglu so this matchup leans towards Deng.

Bosh vs. Taj Gibson: I had to mention Taj Gibson’s full name. Isn’t that all you need to know? This is a tender rook filling in for the injured Tyrus Thomas. He’s barely more than half-a-dozen games into his embryonic career. CB4 has to take full advantage of this matchup and if form is to be believed, he will. Pound the ball inside early and often. This may be the only advantageous matchup offensively. Defensively, Bosh might even have the option to cheat off Gibson a little to help out others. I like those rare instances when Bosh challenges on the perimeter. He has even shown some quickness to stay with guards so he’s not a bad guy to rotate out occasionally.

Bargnani vs. Noah: Noah is beasting on the boards. He recorded 21 last night against a formidable Denver frontcourt. I was never sure about Noah but it seems this year he is showing the same passion as he did in college as a difference-maker for Florida. Broken record here, but Bargnani just has to hold his own on the boards. We just can’t afford to have him get out-rebounded like 12-5 or something obscene like that. It puts way too much stress on other players to compensate for the disparity. Offensively, he isn’t quicker than Noah. He’ll have trouble breaking Noah down but he is definitely bigger than him. This means that either he will take advantage of his larger frame by posting Noah up, or the more likely scenario, where Andrea will hoist more perimeter shots. Hopefully he shoots them at his current excellent success rate (53% FG, 49% from 3), because if he’s not providing efficient scoring then he’s not bringing anything positive to this team.

Let’s get the ESPN TrueHoop Blogger’s take and this is from Bulls By The Horns:

What has been the biggest surprise of the season so far?

The biggest surprise has probably been the team’s godawful shooting, led by a slumping John Salmons. A close second is the stellar play of Joakim Noah, who has really taken a step forward this season. A very quiet surprise has been the team’s defense. After being almost non-existent last season, they are ranked 8th in defensive efficiency.

What the Bulls realistically hoping to achieve this year?

They want to earn the fourth or fifth seed. It’s possible…but they’re going to have to come out of January with a plus-.500 record. That’ll be hard, because they have some very difficult road stretches through the first three months.

How are you guys doing without Ben Gordon?

The team defense has improved, but the Bulls really miss BG on offense. Obviously, Chicago has become the worst three-point shooting team in the league. Opposing teams are clogging the paint and daring the Bulls to beat them from the outside, which is killing D-Rose’s drives. The team also doesn’t yet have a designated closer, which makes end-of-game situations a bit of a crap shoot. But there was bound to be a transitional phase.

Here’s Jimmy‘s simulation for Wednesday night’s game. Raps take it 109-91 after having a huge first half. We are keeping track of them here.

Let’s hope this is the actual outcome. This might be the only realistic shot at winning a game for the next little while. We lose this, and an extended losing streak may be in the works.

Finally, Raptor Fan Fridays are back starting this Friday against the Clippers!