Defense Wins Championships, Caruso Impressing, Lonzo's Shooting, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Defense Wins Championships, Caruso Impressing, Lonzo’s Shooting, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

While all of us are eager to know how this Chicago Bulls offense will flow, I am not sure any of us are particularly concerned about this team’s ability to get buckets. When a roster has Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and DeMar DeRozan (not to mention a strong ball mover in Lonzo Ball and a human bolt of lightning in Coby White), points are going to be scored. A lot of points (some might say … all of the points).

The greater concern comes on the opposite side of the ball, and this has been the main reason folks have struggled to hop on the Bulls bandwagon. LaVine nor DeRozan nor Vucevic have built a positive reputation around their defensive play. All have been score-first players who release practically 100 percent of their energy on this end of the court. And, hey, I would be wrong if I said that didn’t worry me slightly.

•   At the same time, the need for these players to give maximum effort on offense has greatly diminished. I’m not saying we are about to see shockingly stellar play from all three, but defense is largely effort-based. With all the talented scorers that now stuff this roster, there should be almost no excuse for all three to try to make strides on this end of the floor. After all, while the sheer bucket-getting might take care of some teams, a solid defense is what separates good teams from great teams. And Nikola Vucevic knows it.

“Communicating early [and] louder, [and] getting to the right spots earlier: I think if we do those two things, you can make up for certain mistakes you make,” Vucevic told NBC Sports Chicago on Media Day. “A lot of it is going to be just us working on it in camp, getting together, being on the same page, and just being aggressive, and understanding that we have to become a good defensive team if we want to have success.”

•   This is where training camp and a regular season full of practice could truly pay off. Again, scoring is scoring, but learning how to better communicate, cover up mistakes, and give maximum effort are things instilled behind the scenes. Off the court is where head coach Billy Donovan will have to garner complete buy-in from his squad, and it sounds like that is what he will be focused on over the next several weeks.

“I think that’s where the investment has to be made,” Donovan said on Media Day. “I’m not one of those guys that sit there and says, ‘well because Zach LaVine is a really good scorer, so is DeMar, so is Vooch, that we are just going to be able to score. I think that’s going to be a work in progress, but I think every day we are going to have to put the physical work into defending … we’re are really going to have to make an incredible investment defensively.”

•   One player we can expect to lead by example in this department: Alex Caruso. The former Laker was a pivotal part of that team’s top-ranked defense over the last couple of seasons. His +3.6 estimated defensive box plus-minus ranked in the 99th percentile last season, according to Dunks&Threes. The guy is a top-tier on-ball defender, and his ability to disrupt the point of attack makes everyone’s life easier (especially for this Bulls team who will play a drop defense with Vucevic). With that in mind, we should expect Caruso to play a pretty massive role on this new-look Bulls team. I anticipate a handful of three-guard lineups from Donovan with Ball, Caruso, and LaVine in the backcourt to accompany DeRozan and Vucevic. Caruso’s POA skills combined with Ball’s length and help defense could give this team a much-needed boost in close-game situations.

•   Also, Caruso’s defense is already standing out at Bulls’ training camp, so that’s grand.

•   NBC Sports Chicago also spoke with Derrick Jones Jr. on Day 3 of Training Camp, and the 24-year-old divulges a fun secret:

•   Speaking of defense, Jones should be another bright spot in that category. He possesses elite length and athletics that allow for him to be a pest on the perimeter and in help situations. I’m not sure exactly how many minutes he will eat each night (preseason could be an indicator), but I do anticipate Donovan will find a way to get him on the floor plenty throughout the season. Honestly, the Bulls bench in general has a lot of higher-upside defenders (Caruso, DJJ, TBJ, Bradley, both Johnsons). I know that will not solve everything, but it gives Donovan the ability to throw out different lineups if things get really messy on that end of the floor.

•   The NBA is headed in the right direction with three weeks until the season.

•   Once I saw this video on Wednesday, I declared Lonzo Ball would never miss a 3 again.

•   It appears I was right.

•   “Honey, can you grab the wine out of the fridge? It’s right next to the coloring book!” 

•   Sheesh!

•   Shameless Plug Alert: I talked with Mark on the latest BullsHQ podcast about this upcoming season. If you like noise in your ear, press play!

•   Just tell me the Blackhawks will be good.

•   SIGN. ME. UP.

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.