There’s being bad on defense and there’s whatever the hell the Bulls have been so far in preseason. Typically this wouldn’t mean anything. Of all the preseasons, the NBA might have the least important. It’s not uncommon for teams to sit entire starting lineups of players. Last season, the Mavericks traveled to Orlando for a preseason game against the Magic and Rick Carlisle didn’t even bother coming with them. Preseason really doesn’t matter beyond adding some new sets, filling out the roster, and getting some actual game action in.
Yet, the Bulls have managed to take what should be a simple time of basketball and leave the worst possible impressions. Nobody expects their defense to be good this season. They gave up 109.1 points per 100 possessions last season, the 28th most in the league, and expecting a massive improvement from that would be ridiculous. However, it wasn’t insane to think that they would be better than this.
Again, any analysis of this must come with the caveat that it’s the preseason, but these don’t look like fixable issues that will just get better with effort in some real games. The video above where everybody has a different reaction to a blown assignment looks like a fundamental issue that is going to take months, perhaps an entire season, to fix. That’s if Robin Lopez doesn’t take his teammates out behind a shed to take care of the problem himself.
That lack of hope for defense goes even further when you look at the personnel Chicago brought into this season. Knowing full well they struggled on that side of the ball last season, the Bulls offseason consisted entirely on the decision that defense should be optional rather than a requirement. Zach Lavine, never a great defender at any point of his career, just signed a four-year, $78 million deal. There was nothing wrong with this deal in a vacuum because the guy can put up points and has massive offensive potential, but he’s a very one-sided player at the moment.
Last season, the Bulls already pitiful defense was somehow even worse with Lavine on the floor. When Lavine played, the Bulls gave up 114.8 points per 100, but when he sat down that improved to 107.9 points per 100. In Lavine’s defense, he was coming off an injury last season and he had a very heavy role on offense, but Chicago is putting a serious amount of money into a player that doesn’t raise their defensive floor and in many ways lowers it.
Chicago has further ignored defense by adding Jabari Parker to the mix. The former Bucks forward has seen a lot of injury setbacks at this point of his career and struggled to ever gain a footing in Milwaukee. He also is a notoriously poor defender. The Bucks gave up 109.5 points per 100 when Parker was on the floor, but improved to 106.6 when he was off the floor. The only player with a worse defensive rating in Milwuakee that played serious minutes was Thon Maker.
Parker fits right into that Lavine mold from earlier. In a vacuum, the Bulls taking a two-year $40 million flier Parker isn’t a bad move. They can get a look at him for one season and if it’s a disaster then he’s already an expiring contract. It’s a lot of money, but the potential pay off could be huge for Chicago if the talent that led to him being the No. 2 overall pick can be fully realized in a healthy season. The problem is that Parker contributes to Chicago’s already poor defense and comments he’s made doesn’t seem to indicate he will be doing much to improve them on that end.
“It’s all the same, basically. It’s just a matter of like trying to hit them with a good offense in return. That’s what I feel like. Because we go in a lot of slumps too, and we have some good looks. It doesn’t help that we don’t make baskets. But we can’t allow that to dictate our defensive energy too”
What Parker said here is not only incredibly on brand for his style of play, but it also defines how the Bulls plan to approach this season. Defense is not really going to be played at any point. Anytime they get scored on their solution will be to go back and score on them until the other team stops making shots. That is the gameplan in Chicago. That is the team the Bulls have built and funny enough it does not in any way feel intentional.
The Bulls roster has been built almost in a way that feels like a 2K team or pickup ball at the local rec center. They consistently just go out and sign the players that look like they could be good. This goes back to when they had Jimmy Butler and decided to add Dwyane Wade plus Rajon Rondo. Those players didn’t fit together well, but they were big talented names that could maybe do something together. That team made the playoffs, but it did so in spite of their faults not because of any real chemistry together.
As the Bulls enter this season, they’ve accidentally created a team that is going to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Lavine will be a blast offensively. Parker, despite his defensive faults, is a bucket-getter type of player. Wendell Carter Jr. had a phenomenal summer league and there was a lot of excitement about his offensive potential at Duke. Carter is springy and in a free flow offense could find some lanes to just throw down dunks. Lauri Markkanen, once he returns from injury, is a scorer from all three levels and can add another dynamic option to this offense. There are going to be nights where the Bulls are losing a game 138-130 and it’s going to be a blast to watch.
There will also be nights where Chicago is down 100-70 in the third quarter and there’s nothing they can do to get offense going. Those nights when their collection of streaky scorers goes cold will make the team appear to be a complete disaster in every way, and we’ll all question if the Bulls actually have a plan here. It will feel like a legitimate question because so far they haven’t shown any signs that there is one. Everything feels like it’s just been slapped together, given a Red, White, and Black coat of paint and told to go out there and play basketball. Maybe it works. It probably won’t. Then Chicago will go into the offseason and sign more names that will make it look like they’re forming something.
At least the on-court product will be fun for a little while.