Falling Fast


The Bulls have lost eight games in a row. Half of those losses have come during an extended road trip to the West Coast. It’s looking grim for our favorite team. This is the worst stretch of basketball we’ve seen from the Bulls all season long. It’s been grim, but not unexpected. This road trip features some of the toughest opponents in the league, Golden State, Portland, Utah and Denver. Even the one team the Bulls had a legitimate chance at beating, the L.A. Lakers, had the advantage of home cooking. So the losses have piled up, and there will probably be a few more before this streak is over.

Barring a miracle, the next hope for a victory should come on Monday, January 21st, against the hated Cleveland Cavaliers. This is the game I’ve circled as our next win. But first the Bulls wrap up their West Coast trip with the Denver Nuggets, before taking on the Miami Heat in Chicago. Like I said, there might be a couple more losses added to the streak before the Bulls get a win.

One of the big issues the Bulls have run into during this losing streak, is an inability to take control of the game. Even though Coach Jim Boylen has talked about instilling a road dog mentality and slowing the pace of play, Bulls players allow their opponents to set the tempo of the game. Golden State ran the Bulls off the court with their speedy, high volume offense. Portland went inside out on the Bulls with very little resistance. The Lakers played as poorly as the Bulls for most of the game, but made more buckets off of turnovers, ratcheting up the defensive pressure just enough in the second half to secure the victory.

The Bulls young core has more to improve on than just their individual basketball skills.

Right now, the team does not seem to understand how the offense can get them buckets. There have been numerous forced passes, open shots passed up for drives into a clogged lane, and way too many shot clock violations. As you’re well aware, I’m not an X’s and O’s guy so I can’t tell you where the breakdown is on certain plays, but I know enough to recognize that there are breakdowns happening. It seems, to my untrained eye, that there is an offensive regression taking place.

Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen are uncomfortable in the Bulls “new” offense. I say “new” offense because it’s not like they’re running new plays, it’s more that the focus has shifted to forcing the ball into the paint. It seems like Bulls players are running the offense, setting screens, making cuts and passes, but not really understanding WHY they’re setting screens and making the cuts or passes. There is a huge emphasis on driving the ball into the lane, but not enough emphasis on shooting or finding open shots.

Just a month or two ago the Bulls had the opposite problem with their offense, too many players were chucking the ball at the rim without actually running any plays. Now, it’s as if scoring has taken a back seat to running the offense; Drive the lane, kick-out pass, pump-fake a three, drive the lane, kick-out pass, pump-fake a three, drive the lane, kick-out pass, force a pass through traffic to a player in the post where they have four choices: 1) dribble across the lane and throw up a contested shot, 2) take a contested turnaround mid-range jumper, 3) make a move to the base line and try to score at the rim, and 4) kick-out pass to the perimeter for a contested three pointer.

The above example, which I’ve used before, is an over simplification of the offense. The Bulls run more complex sets than just drive-and-kick, but the point I’m trying to make is that the Bulls have some very talented offensive players and they are playing a robotic, lifeless, husk of an offense. Either they don’t fully understand how all the moving parts work to make open shots, or what they are running is too easily defended because of how basic it is. Taking a lot of late in the shot clock, mid-range jumpers is not how you win games in the NBA.

So what needs to change in order for the Bulls to win some games?

A lot of people have been screaming for the head of Jim Boylen, citing the stagnation of the offense, the regression of LaVine and Markkanen, and the losing streak. Firing Boylen and bringing in a new coach might work, but it won’t fix the issue of Zach LaVine making the wrong pass in the middle of an offensive set, or Markkanen skipping an open 3 because his confidence is low. A new coach isn’t going to miraculously turn Kris Dunn or Shaquille Harrison into long range sharp shooters…

…nor will they magically add 15 pounds of muscle to Wendell Carter Jr and Chandler Hutchison so they can bully opponents in the post.

The Bulls problems run deeper than just Jim Boylen and the offense.

What the Bulls need right now is time. Time for players to mature together. Time for players to learn how their individual skills fit into the team concept. Time for the understanding of NBA nuance to bloom within their games.

The front office has talked a lot about this rebuild being an accelerated one, and in some ways it is. While other teams take a decade to build a talented roster, it seems like the Bulls might be on pace to cut that time in half. It’s important to remember that this is only year 2. I know we all hoped that “accelerated rebuild” meant relevance in year 3 (and it still might if a super star shows up in free agency this summer), but this rebuild is still just getting started. Time demands patience; patience from the players, coaches, front office, and fans. Let’s hope we all have enough patience to stretch the gap between rebuilding and relevance.

One bright spot from the loss to the Lakers…

Hang in there Bulls fans! Thanks for reading, and GO BULLS!