I know I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: We have to talk about the Bulls’ injury/COVID trouble when we talk about their recent defensive shortcomings.
Do I think they need to bolster their frontcourt and add better rim protection? Absolutely. I’ll freely admit their chance of a deep playoff run does not feel nearly as good without Patrick Williams and/or another veteran big off the bench. With that said, we have to acknowledge that the inconsistent availability of numerous role players has played a vital role in this defensive drop-off.
First, let’s look at some of the team’s stats over their first 22 games compared to their previous 20:
Bulls first 22 Games
-Allowed 8th fewest points in the paint
-Averaged 4th-most points off TOVs
-Allowed 8th-fewest ppg
Past 20 games
-Allowed most PITP
-Averaged 14th-most PTS off TOVs
-Allowed 7th-most ppg
Night and day, right?
The Bulls have practically done a complete 180 in their ability to control the paint and the number of points they give up. They have evaded the same kind of change in the points off turnovers department. However, they have struggled to force opponents into committing mistakes without two of the best pocket-pickers in the league, Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball, playing consistently.
Speaking of which, now compare the numbers above to the amount of missed games below. The first number represents the number of inactive games *due to injuries/COVID* in the first half of the season, and the second number does the same for the previous 20 games (only those who have been a part of the full 15-man roster were included):
Williams 17, 20
Caruso – 1, 15
Javonte – 0, 13
Ball – 0, 7
DJJ – 0, 7
Bradley – 0, 6
White – 13, 5
McKinnie 0, 5
Thomas 0, 4
LaVine – 0, 4
DeRozan – 0, 3
TBJ – 0, 2
Alize – 0, 2
Vucevic – 7, 0
* Note: These numbers were primarily compiled by looking at each player’s Basketball-Reference game log. In other words, DNP’s were not counted as games missed due to injuries/COVID since the player was technically available to enter the game.
• The difference is staggering. I honestly can’t believe the team managed to rattle off a nine-game wins streak amid all this trouble. Though, I guess we have finally seen it catch up to them in this latest four-game losing streak. The point here isn’t to make a massive excuse for the Bulls’ latest stumble. As I said, there are still areas this team can improve, and we do want to see a more consistent effort from all healthy parties on the defensive side of the ball. But we are also seeing what can happen when you build a roster around three below-average defenders (LaVine is the closest to average). All things considered, those guys have stayed healthy, but they need these defensive-minded role players to provide the kind of balance it takes to be as competitive as possible.
• Is that, within itself, a critique of the front office’s roster build? One could say that. The sum is 100 percent better than the parts, and I don’t necessarily think it is an issue, but it makes it that much harder to stomach what other teams might consider more marginal losses.
• Alex Caruso is back! After a 13-game absence, the Bulls’ top defensive player is in a position to make his return to the floor tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The expectation is for him to play on a minute’s restriction, but there is no question any Caruso time at all should provide a much-needed boost to this struggling Bulls team.
Caruso Listed as “Probable” Ahead of Tonight’s Game, Cook Questionable to Returnhttps://t.co/mJ4tZClbRc
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) January 19, 2022
• I don’t need to tell you this, but the Cavaliers present another grotesque matchup for the Chicago Bulls, and we have already watched them dominate Chicago in a 115-92 victory back on December 8th. The frontcourt of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen plugged up the paint and combined for 29 points and 21 rebounds. Mobley recorded an absurd five blocks on Chicago, one of which came in thunderous fashion on Zach LaVine. Even a fully healthy Bulls team would have trouble with this oversized group, so seeing a depleted lineup take the floor tonight certainly has me worried the Bulls could see their 5th-straight loss.
• Moving Patrick Williams should be on the table if you’re the Bulls. With a competitive window suddenly flying open, the front office has to listen to all offers and consider ways to best optimize their immediate potential. With that said, I’m not sold on moving Williams for Jerami Grant. Would I throw a huge fit if it happened? Not necessarily. But I’m not sure it’s the right move at the right time. More on that below …
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) January 18, 2022
• The Ringer’s Zach Kram possesses the other side of the Grant argument, which is a fair one!
I wrote about the Bulls—still in first place, but with a real need of an upgrade if they want to stay there and contend for a Finals spot https://t.co/qn29572FDE
— Zach Kram (@zachkram) January 19, 2022
• Ayo Dosunmu getting that national love!
Bulls rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu makes his debut on ESPN Rookie Power rankings thanks in large part due to his on ball defense. Taking on the challenge of trying to check several All-Stars while playing an efficient style on offense. https://t.co/gyvdOchhuH pic.twitter.com/dlrbr8v1o9
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) January 19, 2022
• A (BORING) TRADE! The Boston Celtics acquired two players who are currently in a position to miss a lot of time due to injuries. Bol Bol is out three months, and P.J. Dozier is out the rest of the season.
ESPN story on the Denver Nuggets acquiring San Antonio Spurs' guard Bryn Forbes in a three-team deal that includes the Boston Celtics: https://t.co/C4WABrEmTX
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 19, 2022
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) January 19, 2022