The Undiagnosable Chicago Bulls


Courtesy of: Chicago Tribune and Rob Carr/Getty Images

Now, I don’t think this needs to be said, but I’m not a doctor. I know, shocking, right? With WebMD, you basically can be your own doctor, whose final diagnosis always seems to be death; plus, I wouldn’t look good in white anyway. Regardless, after watching the Chicago Bulls thus far this season, it would take a special kind of doctor to truly diagnose what is happening to this team because most people, even those who get paid to follow this team, can’t seem to figure it out.

This year’s Bulls team came into this season with not only high hopes from themselves but high hopes from many NBA writers as well.

Their bench being deeper and seemingly more talented than their bench in 2010-2011 and with Carlos “Get it Jo” Boozer finally taking his, what some would call, talents to Los Angeles, this team was poised to break out of its shell and really play like a championship contender this year.

However, now that we’re almost midway through the season, this team, much like the Tinder match you met up with, isn’t what it’s made out to be.

A team that has consistently been in the top 10 of defenses in the NBA under Tom Thibodeau is now a statistically average defense sitting nicely at 14th in the league at points allowed per game.

Of course, there’s no way that this significant drop in defensive execution is because of the loss of Carlos Boozer, right? Right?

I would say pretty confidently it is not. Yes, the Bulls’ prize offseason acquisition, Pau Gasol, is not the best defensive player, but if I had to compare his defense to anyone, it would probably be closer to the style of Boozer.

So the Bulls haven’t really lost any ground personnel wise on the defensive front. So what’s the problem?

This is where it takes a professional NBA doctor to figure this out. I’m by no means an expert in NBA strategy, heck I consider it a victory if I walk out the door in the morning with matching socks, but even beat writers and national writers can’t quite figure out the Bulls’ problem.

Jimmy Butler is literally having an all-star season, Derrick Rose is back and scoring almost 19 points a game along with almost 5 assists, and Pau Gasol has had 12 straight double-doubles. All of those points are tall tale signs that the Bulls should be at the top of the East. There is, however, a glaring hole. None of those stats are defensively focused.

Rose has been an average defender, at best, this season. Gasol, as mentioned before, plays a lot like Boozer on the defensive end save for a few extra inches of height, and Butler, usually the Bulls’ prime defender, is also struggling to provide constant defensive intensity every game.

“I’m supposed to be this primetime defender,” Butler said in a recent interview. “But I don’t think I’ve been holding up my end of the bargain lately.”

Now, the problem doesn’t rest solely on Butler’s often-injured shoulders. His pal Joakim Noah also hasn’t quite been himself all season, both defensively and offensively.

Noah’s transition to playing the four has been anything but hunky dory.

The guy has made a living being a force in the middle and now that he plays the PF position in a league that is transitioning to more stretch PF’s, he’s regulated to playing more towards the perimeter than needed. This, in turn, frees up the middle for more penetration by opponents.

My only beef with Thibodeau this year is believing that he should start Taj at the four and have Noah come off the bench to replace Gasol. That way, Noah isn’t stuck guarding the stretch fours and Nikola Mirotic can play the four with Noah behind him. Win-win for everyone. But I digress.


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This team has the ability to score at will at anytime. Their offensive weapons run deep through the bench, but if they aren’t able to stop their opponent, it’s like owning a nice Corvette without an engine—pointless.

So how can this Bulls team fix their problems? Well, for starters, winning is the ultimate cure and they’ve done that, now winning two in a row against teams they should beat.

All season, they’ve been able to beat good teams and lose to the bad ones—another head scratcher. They seem to play down to their competition or play up to it. Now, this might come in handy during the playoffs (hopefully) but they need to beat inferior teams to be able to have a shot at home court advantage in those playoffs.

This brings up another head scratcher, the Bulls’ United Center record of 13-11. For the life of me I cannot figure out why they’ve been so bad at home and I’m offering a hefty reward to anyone who can figure it out.

unbelievable how many dumb turnovers the Bulls make these days and how soft they are defensively…not close to the team they should be…

-@RealMikeWilbon, February 8, 2015

Some may say injuries have been a problem, with key Bulls shooters Mike Dunleavy and Doug McDermott both out for extended periods of time. This could very well be a large part of the Bulls’ woes this year. The lack of ability to spread the floor for Rose and Gasol to perform pick-and-rolls and maneuver in the paint takes away a big part of the game. But like I said, offense hasn’t really been a huge issue for most of the season.

The players have talked about communication issues as being a problem in their defensive play and that could very well be another symptom of whatever defensive illness this team has. With Thibodeau proving that he can coach a good defense, I’d have to imagine much of the blame lies with the players rather than the coach.

So where do the Bulls go from here? Well, they’ve got the all-star break coming up where hopefully they’ll tighten up their defensive strategy and fix some of their communication problems. The second half of the season is clearly much more important and therefore requires even more concentration and effort than the first half. The Bulls obviously hope to get Dunleavy back during that time and hope that Rose doesn’t break himself.

All in all, the Bulls are still 32-20 and tied for third in the East. They’re by no means a bad NBA team. However, their recent play has raised some eyebrows and even caused some unfortunate fans to push the panic button, albeit a bit prematurely.

Their play against bad teams in the second half of the season will define their run to get home court advantage in the playoffs and their improvements on defense, if any, will surely define their playoff run.

So while I’m by no means a doctor, it doesn’t take one to see that the Bulls are wavering on getting sick. And while it’s hard to diagnose what’s wrong, it’s clear that there’s something about the Bulls’ play this season that needs to be made better— their championship hopes depend on it.


Follow Ben on Twitter, @BenWittenstein and listen to him every Thursday on “The Roundtable” from 6-8pm EST on WIUX.