Here’s a plan to break the one game losing streak


Dec 29

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The defense for the Bulls, we knew, was good. So how do you get better? Improved offense, obviously, for a team ranked 20th in scoring and 13th in shooting last season.

And while it’s not much of a sample with the Bulls 1-1 heading into Thursday’s game in Sacramento, the Bulls have gotten worse. They were 22nd in scoring and 23rd in shooting after the gruesome loss to the Warriors Monday.

Derrick Rose acknowledged some of the issue after Monday’s loss, his lack of aggression, that he promised to change and reiterated after practice Wednesday.

Derrick Rose

“We have to run,” Rose said. “We’re not that team yet where we can walk the ball up the court and execute sets well in the half court. Our biggest thing is pushing the ball, pick-and-roll, pop, drags, getting to the hole, getting fouled. Getting stops, getting out and run. I just have to go now. I didn’t know I was playing that unselfish. I got caught up into getting everybody involved. I got away from doing what I did last year. Thank god I caught it the second game. I’ve been playing too unselfish. I have to always attack.”

Apparently Derrick doesn’t read my columns often enough — I’ll have to talk to him about that — because I’ve been emphasizing that from the start. Which is no particularly brilliant observation as the Bulls were fabulous in the brief preseason against the Pacers with Rose bursting out of the backcourt or Joakim Noah outletting and Rose attacking from midcourt.

You could see in the Golden State game the way they trapped and blitzed Rose to get the ball out of his hands. And the Warriors aren’t exactly the Pistons of the late 1980’s. You obviously neutralize that with speed as the defense doesn’t get a chance to set if you are pushing the ball at them, even after made baskets.

I haven’t particularly liked this season the way Rose has brought the ball up, then dropped it off, cut and then circled back on top to initiate offense. It’s left the Bulls too stagnant. Look, you don’t argue much with 62 wins, and you don’t worry much after two games.

But this Bulls team has to be faster for several reasons, and it’s not like coach Tom Thibodeau remains opposed.

“We’re a lot better when he’s (Rose) aggressive,” Thibodeau said. “That puts enormous pressure on an opponent’s defense. When he’s attacking, we’re getting easy baskets, we’re getting to the line, he’s getting people into foul trouble. We want him attacking at both ends. He’s trying to get others involved early, which is good. But when they put two on the ball, that’s easy offense. There’s nobody faster in the league from end line to end line. It’s not only Derrick but it’s our entire team. We have to play more aggressively. We have to attack. We have to get easier baskets. Easy baskets aren’t just fast breaks. It’s second shots, layups, post feeds, cuts. We have to get to the line more. We have to get layups. We have to get the ball in the paint. We have to drive the ball more. We’re settling too much right now. And I don’t want to play that way.”

Derrick Rose

That’s also helped neutralize Noah, averaging 6.5 points, because for Noah to be effective on offense the team has to run. It’s nice that Noah has worked on that lefty hook in the lane — if not particularly pleasing to look at — and is trying to be some sort of offensive threat. But he really only is when he runs the court. He does that better than any big man in the league, and it’s something the Bulls haven’t done well yet with Rose pacing his game.

Similarly for Carlos Boozer, who has started slowly.

He’s much better in transition, which he did more of in Utah. There’s been some concern with the Bulls he doesn’t run the entire court and pulls up. What I’d like to see more of is Boozer being the trailer with Noah sprinting out of the backcourt to take the defense and then Boozer, if he has to pull up, being the jump shot option. In the pick and roll, Noah tends to be the screener more often, I assume, because he is a more physical screener. But I would like to see Boozer on the move more as I think after seeing him for a season his strength is more on the move than stationed in the post. Still, those are options the team does employ as I’ve seen Thibodeau’s play book and I’m convinced no one has more diversity.

But for this all to work and for the offense to flow better, I most want to see Richard Hamilton being used much, much more.

“He’s finding his way, which is normal,” Thibodeau said of Hamilton. “He’s a little behind because he missed a good part of shortened training camp. Each day, he’s getting better and better.”

No surprise there, but the addition of Hamilton was about not only adding another scorer but taking pressure off Rose. The Warriors showed teams aren’t about to do that until someone else forces them.

Hamilton didn’t get much chance against the Lakers with foul trouble on what I thought were poor calls that took him out of the game early. But Thibodeau also has been quick with the hook on Hamilton, both late against the Lakers and against the Warriors even though it was 16-16 when Hamilton left. He made some turnovers and missed some defensive assignments. But the whole point of moving on from Keith Bogans was to have someone whom the defenses had to respect.

They don’t guard Ronnie Brewer. I know he’s a solid defender, but a very reluctant offensive player and one who cannot keep the defense from smothering Rose.

Plus, I’d rather see Brewer with that second unit. I think it plays well together and I like to see it as a group.

I have this theory that defense is going to be more difficult to play this season because there are going to be so few practices with the unusual number of games coming so quickly. The Bulls should be good bringing most of their guys back, but there’ll be opportunities to score. Already one of the aberrations of the young season is seeing so many rookies doing well. That suggests to me difficulties teams are having in playing their defense.

When teams scout the Bulls, the weakness that always comes up is the lack of that second playmaker other than Rose. The Bulls tried to address that in the off season, but couldn’t find precisely that kind of shooting guard without some other warts. So they got Hamilton, which I thought was an excellent pickup. Hamilton isn’t going to be that playmaker. But he can do enough other things to be a threat and help open the court and take pressure off Rose. But the Bulls need to utilize him more.

Hamilton can be a prickly guy. By all accounts he’s not a problem player. But someone who knows him well says he can be overly sensitive to being ignored and underutilized. I’m not suggesting he’ll create a problem and be a distraction. Rather, I believe he’s a vital part of the team this season and his play could make a big difference in whether the Bulls are better. They’re not going to be improved relying on another defensive two guard whom opponents don’t respect offensively.

The Kings are a more physical team with DeMarcus Cousins and Chuck Hayes up front. But Boozer should be better not having to chase outside on the pick and roll as David Lee gave him big problems. And there’s no way a slug like Cousins is going to run with Noah. With Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and John Salmons starting, it’s not clear anyone on Sacramento will ever will pass the ball. There should be a lot of opportunities, as a result, for runouts from long jumpers. The Bulls need to start taking advantage of that and they need to stay with Hamilton. You know the Kings guys are not going to have the resolve to chase him around.

See Derrick run. Run Derrick run. It’s elementary.

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