Nikola Vucevic only has 11 playoff games on his resume.
What carries weight, however, is that’s about 11 more than most of his new Bulls teammates.
So when the big man stresses the importance of getting the defensive side of the ball organized as quickly as possible, he knows of what he speaks.
The question is how do the Bulls do that with so many new faces and so little practice time to get guys familiar with each other?
The first step started on Sunday with Daniel Theis joining his new team for a practice in San Francisco, after he was acquired from Boston on Thursday, but was delayed for family matters.
“The way I play, I’m physical,” Theis said in his first zoom call with the Bulls media. “That was my role with the Celtics too. Be a defensive anchor. Be vocal. Be loud.
“Put my body in there. Protect the rim. Protect the paint. Just be there for my teammates. Whenever I’m on the court, bring energy and help the team get better.”
Definitely a good starting point, but Theis can’t magically fix the defense all himself.
Those issues on that side of the ball were very present in the loss to San Antonio on Saturday, especially with the starters. Case in point was allowing 33 points in that opening quarter, but even more concerning looking confused on matchups, especially in transition and on pick-and-roll.
Donovan identified a number of those issues.
“The biggest thing we have to address is just our defense,” Donovan said of the new-look roster in its debut. “I didn’t think we had enough presence at the basket for a good portion of the game. I think it started out top. Our ball pressure and our guard pressure in the basketball pick-and-roll has to be much better. I thought the ball went wherever it wanted to go. And then I thought when it came downhill we didn’t have enough presence at the basket to contest and challenge.”
Vucevic agreed with all of that. Familiarity with each other will work some of that out. Understanding the new terminology will also smooth things out.
But at some point there just has to be a will that kicks in, especially against an aggressive team like the Spurs, who just went right at the Bulls’ defense.
“Part of it, for sure, was the terminology, for example, for me is very new,” Vucevic said. “The way certain things are done are new, so I had to get adjusted to that. But I think we weren’t doing a good job getting to the ball and helping and covering for each other and things like that. They were really aggressive coming at us and we just didn’t respond the way we needed to.
“If we play more aggressively there are going to be mistakes, but when you’re playing with more aggressiveness you can cover some of those things up.”
Covering up that better come sooner than later.
If the Bulls thought the Spurs put pressure on their defense with an aggressive mentality, take a look at what’s coming. The Warriors on Monday, then the Suns, Jazz and Nets.
“People tend to talk more about offense, which is very important, especially nowadays in the NBA, but we have to make sure we figure out both at the same time and get that right,” Vucevic said. “There are going to be games where we struggle offensively, and good defense is going to give us a chance. Hopefully once we get to the playoffs defense is very, very important.”