Only idiots care about what one random scout has to say about the new Chicago Bulls!
Hi, it me, idiot!
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix spoke to scouts about all 30 NBA clubs ahead of the season opener next week, and it caught my attention. Because while one particular scout’s commentary on the Bulls wasn’t all bad, he did have two comments worth addressing, the first of which has caught the eye of many fans in the Twitterverse already.
“Chicago improved offensively. I don’t know how much they improved defensively,” the Scout told Mannix. “To me defensively they look like they’re going to be pretty f—–g bad again. You know, they all play hard. I guess Lonzo Ball is a good defender.”
I’m not going to sit here and pretend like defensive concerns are not valid. DeMar DeRozan has built a reputation as arguably one of the worst defenders in the league over his career. For reference, his -2.2 defensive estimated box plus-minus ranked in only the league’s 6th percentile last season, according to Dunks & Threes. Do I think he may take a step in the right direction on that end of the floor with some of the offensive burden taken off his back? Maybe. But DeRozan is who he is in several ways. His teams have been better defensively with him off the floor in 10 of the 12 seasons he has been in the league, so to say he can be a liability on that end is fair.
Add in the fact that Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucecvic are also known to be minus defenders, and it remains fair to question this starting squad’s defensive ceiling. Yet, at the same time, LaVine and Vucevic may get a bigger slap on the wrist for their defensive play than deserved. LaVine not only showed solid improvements on that end of the floor last season, but we saw what he could do as an on-ball pest when some of the offensive pressure is stripped away during the Summer Olympics. To say he will show progress on that side of the ball this season is a bet I would make.
As for Vucevic, while he may not be the most vertically gifted for his position, he is a smart player who stands just under seven feet tall. In the past, he has shown he can be in the right place at the right time to contest shots, and he has looked more than comfortable in the team’s soft drop set this preseason.
Both LaVine and Vucevic had an estimated defensive plus-minus that ranked right around the 45th percentile. Is that anything they should hang their hat on? Absolutely not, but it’s still just under the league average. Also, claiming the team’s defense will be “f——g bad again” feels a bit lazy when we consider the Bulls finished 12th in defensive rating last season. Not only was that their mark over 72 games, but it was also their mark after adding Vucevic into the mix.
And is it not fair to say this team has improved around the margins defensively? Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso are both far superior backcourt defenders than anyone the team had on their roster last season (both will help cover up LaVine and DeRozan’s mistakes while also making the life of Vucevic easier as fewer players easily penetrate). Tony Bradley also proved to be a plus rim protector in his reserve minutes last season and Derrick Jones Jr. was considered an advantage on that end of the floor before being caught up in the Blazers’ 29th-ranked defense last season.
I think we have to give head coach Billy Donovan credit where credit is due too. While he continually gets praised for being a player-friendly coach, he has also been one of the better defensive coaches in the league since he entered the mix in 2015. Defense was his M.O. at the University of Florida, and he continued to get strong results during his time in OKC. While with the Thunder, his defensive rating never fell below 11th in the league, and he ranked in the top-10 four times over his five seasons in town.
To be clear, I’m not trying to say this team will be a top-10 defense. They do lack size, and players like Ball and Patrick Williams will have to do a lot of heavy lifting at times for this starting unit. However, the path for this squad to not be completely “f——g bad” is there, especially after the foundation of effort, rotating, and communication we have seen this preseason.
The scout went on to end his comments to Mannix with a question about leadership, which I find at least somewhat justified.
“The one question I still have with them is who’s going to lead the charge in terms of this is how we play every night. They didn’t have much leadership last year. LaVine’s not that guy. Who is it for them? That’d be the big question I have with them. LaVine is a top level scorer but he’s not a leader.”
As a 26-year-old who just earned his first All-Star nod, I think we need to pump the breaks on saying who he is “not.” The dude is coming off a very valuable experience in the Olympics where he was surrounded by many high-end team leaders, and I stand to believe he at least picked up some transferable qualities from that group.
With that said, it’s merely a fact that LaVine has played 411 games without a single playoff appearance under his belt. It’s hard to be a winning team’s top leader when that is the case, which is why I turn to guys like Alex Caruso and DeMar DeRozan. Both players can offer a valuable level of experience. They know what accountability and on-court execution look like. When it comes to establishing a consistent high-energy product, I expect these two to lead by example every night.
Anyway, that is probably way more energy than I should give this quote. If you want to check out the scout’s full thoughts on the Bulls, as well as what other scouts had to say about the rest of the league, make sure to give the entire post below a read.
— The Crossover (@TheCrossover) October 15, 2021