How Billy Donovan and the Bulls can repair their dreadful defense

The Chicago Bulls are facing significant challenges as they kick off the season with a 3-6 record, and these issues were entirely foreseeable. Their struggles in scoring, evident from last season’s 22nd best offensive rating in the NBA, persist due to the current scheme and personnel’s inability to generate easy shots. However, the more alarming aspect is the deterioration of their once-strong defense, dropping from 5th in defensive rating last season to 21st this year.

The starting lineup is grappling with defensive deficiencies, with players like Coby White, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic posing challenges on that end. White’s lackluster defense and struggles with screens leave the bigs vulnerable, while DeRozan and LaVine, vital for scoring, can’t be assigned to top creators. Vucevic, though competent in the post, lacks versatility in defensive switches, making it challenging for the Bulls to protect the rim effectively.

The burden of the defensive load has fallen on Patrick Williams, but even he has faced challenges, leading to his benching in favor of Torrey Craig. Williams’ offensive struggles are evident in his statistics, averaging just 1 steal and 0.6 blocks per game. More significantly, his difficulty in containing skilled attackers was evident in matchups against Luka Doncic and Lauri Markkanen, contributing to the Bulls’ defensive woes.

Despite inserting Craig into the starting lineup, the Bulls are 1-3 in that stretch, with two losses occurring in the final seconds. Craig brings toughness, equivalent defensive effort, and operates effectively without needing the ball. However, the Bulls remain in dire need of improvement, particularly from Williams, if they aspire to secure a playoff spot.

The Bulls need to implement a few changes to repair their porous defense.

Alex Caruso has 11 points, 4 steals in return for Chicago Bulls, but Zach  LaVine misses win - ESPN


What additional measures can be taken to address the defensive vulnerabilities? Perhaps it’s worth considering reinstating Alex Caruso as a starter. Introducing Caruso to the starting lineup would infuse more physicality into the Chicago Bulls. Given that the primary playmakers are DeMar and Zach, the team doesn’t heavily rely on the point guard to orchestrate the game. Caruso could handle bringing the ball past half-court and then defer to the offensive capabilities of DeRozan or LaVine.

Caruso has the potential to create difficulties for opposing team guards at the beginning of the game. He excels at navigating through screens, showcasing agile footwork, and adeptly switching defensive assignments. Currently, he stands out as Chicago’s most reliable defender, capable of disrupting the guard during the initial offensive phase. Whether facing a pick-and-roll, Caruso can deny the first screen and force the guard to work for their shot, contributing to wearing down opponents by the final quarter.

While there may be a loss of offensive creativity with Caruso in the starting lineup, the presence of DeRozan and LaVine, along with occasional offensive contributions from Vucevic in the post, can mitigate this concern. Caruso’s decent driving ability to the right allows for strategic offensive positioning, possibly on the left wing. Additionally, his respectable shooting proficiency makes it unwise for opponents to leave him unguarded.

This adjustment could also benefit Coby White, who, when playing with the second unit, has the opportunity to emerge as a primary scorer. This shift might allow White to rediscover his shooting form. Although such changes would mean sacrificing some offensive firepower, they could substantially enhance the team’s defensive capabilities. Given the absence of a dominant rim protector, such as Andre Drummond, preventing penetration becomes crucial for the Bulls.

Keeping top defenders on the bench at the start of the game offers limited value, especially considering the reduced offensive threat posed by the second unit. The key is to commence the game by stifling the scoring efforts of opponents’ primary contributors. If the Bulls can elevate their defense to at least a top-10 ranking in the league, they stand a chance at securing a spot in the play-in tournament. Failing to do so may result in a challenging season for the Bulls, making strategic lineup adjustments imperative for defensive improvement.

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