To be learning on the fly and still have a 6-2 record is a great thing. But veterans like DeMar DeRozan know there’s still a lot to work on as this roster strives to being a playoff team. The problem is some of the issues won’t be going away anytime soon.
On the concern meter, DeMar DeRozan was sitting comfortably at about a two out of 10.
In the eyes of the veteran small forward, most of the problems that have shown themselves just eight games into the regular season are very fixable for his Bulls team.
But it starts with priority No. 1, and that’s getting back to playing a chaotic style of defense, and not just in the second half.
That was the biggest issue on the two-game road trip to Boston and Philadelphia – lack of defensive energy in the first half that led to huge deficits to try and scale out of. They were able to make that climb in Boston, coming back from 19 down late in the third quarter, but 18 down to the 76ers in the second quarter left them just short.
In DeRozan’s eyes, however? Very fixable.
“It definitely has to start [with defense],” DeRozan said. “That’s when we’re at our best, getting out in transition. When we work together defensively, we’ve shown it throughout the games when we’ve needed it the most. We got to put that pressure on as soon as tip-off.”
His reason for why it wasn’t there in the first half of both road games was just as simple. Call it growing pains of a team that was assembled in the summer, had a few weeks of camp to get acclimated, and then dropped on the pressure cooker of an NBA season.
“Learning curve,” DeRozan reasoned. “Everything can’t be perfect. Pretty sure we’re going to go back and look at this [Philadelphia] game, understand the mistakes, where we made the mistakes, the play-calls we’re making at times, things we’re doing on both ends that we can be better at. We’re not even 10 games in, and there’s a lot we can learn from and we will take from this.”
That’s the good news in the 6-2 start for the Bulls. There’s daily learning going on, but also happening in the midst of winning games. Not easy to accomplish.
And while defensive intensity for 48 minutes sits atop the priority list of issues to work on, it’s likely the most fixable.
The Bulls have the athletes and the depth to play that chaotic style of defense for two halves, and now just have to refocus into doing it before Saturday’s rematch with the Sixers.
A much easier fix than some of the other issues:
1. Nikola Vucevic’s scoring slump – The big man has made a career of being talented enough to fall out of bed and put 20 and 10 in the box score. This season, however, he’s simply falling.
Vucevic is a career 49.5% shooter and came into this season averaging over 39% from three-point range the past two seasons. Entering the weekend, he’s shooting a career-low 38.9% from the field, and 28.1% from three.
Billy Donovan’s solution? The coach said on Wednesday he like to see the likes of Zach LaVine and DeRozan get Vucevic involved in the offense even more.
No one believes that age 31 he’s suddenly lost his offensive touch, so they are putting faith in the back of Vucevic’s basketball card. Keep feeding him and he’ll shoot out of it. FIXABLE
2. Rebounding – The Bulls sit 21st in rebound differential at -2.6 rebounds per game. Last week they were 27th. So while it’s improved, it’s not going to go away all season. The counterpunch is being disruptive with steals, deflections and blocks. But it’s an undersized team, and unless there’s a trade that won’t change. UNFIXABLE
3. Zach LaVine’s thumb – The ligaments in LaVine’s left thumb are slowly healing, but are also costing the All-Star the ability to attack and finish with his left hand. He’s basically a one-handed player who just has to figure it out and hope it continues feeling better with no setbacks.
Until it does, however, it’s a grin and bear it. FIXABLE (With time)