Since Tom Thibodeau has come to the Chicago Bulls, they have been the best defensive team in the NBA. What is the secret to their success? Why is that they are still consistently winning without Derrick Rose?
First, it's necessary to establish that they are the best defense in the NBA. Whether you're using the conventional points per game, or the pace-adjusted defensive rating, they have the best defense. They also give up the lowest effective field-goal percentage in the league at just 45.8 percent.
Therein lies the secret of their success. They eliminate high-efficiency shots, specifically those inside the paint and those outside the three-point line.
When teams do take three-point shots, the Bulls force them to feed the ball to players they don't want to take the shot or into the players' cold zones. This is evidenced by the fact that the Bulls lead the NBA in opponents' three-point percentage since Thibodeau became the head coach.
Their goal is to force teams to take bad shots. To do this, they seal off the perimeter from dribble penetration, cut off passing lanes and force players into rushing into bad shots.
Here are three screen caps from play against the New York Knicks that does a great job of illustrating how the Bulls work their defense.
In the first illustration, Jason Kidd has the ball. Notice how Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony are cut out of the play by Joakim Noah's and Luol Deng's positioning.
Kirk Hinrich (you can see his right foot behind Deng) is following Raymond Felton, but notice how he's staying inside Felton's left. That means if Felton gets the pass and cuts, he's going to have to cut to his left, not his right.
You can also see the same thing in the way Marco Belinelli is positioned with Jason Kidd. He's positioned to seal off Kidd's move to the right.
This is something the Bulls are coached to do. It's difficult to penetrate the Bulls defense by going up the middle because they position themselves to force opponents outside.
That's the first step: seal off the perimeter.
In the second cap, Chandler has come up under the rim, but Noah keeps himself between Chandler and the passing lane.
Also, Anthony has come out to the right, but Deng has come out with him and inserted himself between the ball and Anthony. His arm is extended into the passing lane to cut off the pass.
Meanwhile, Belinelli is positioned to cut off the passing lane to Brewer. The only thing Felton can do is pitch it back to Kidd who then swings it out to Brewer.
That's step two of the Bulls defensive scheme: cut off the passing lanes. The Knicks can't dribble the ball into the paint or pass it into the paint.
Now Brewer has the ball, but the passing lanes are still cut off, and while Boozer is guarding Brewer, Brewer isn't the best player with the ball. Boozer and Noah make it impossible to feed the ball to Chandler, Deng is wrapped all over Anthony, Belinelli has Kidd and Hinrich is blocking the passing lane to Felton.
Brewer ends up taking a shot from an area of the court where he's been anything but proficient this year, which is phase three of the Bulls defense: force the opponent into a bad shot.
The Bulls defense isn't anything fancy; it's more about energy and effort. They rotate exceptionally well, keeping the ball out of the lane, either through penetration off the dribble or through cutting off the passing lanes.
That renders opponents into a lot of low-percentage shots. It's not gimmicky, it's just playing hard, and it's why the Bulls, even without their superstar Derrick Rose, are still winning consistently.
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