Film Study: Bulls On A String

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY BUREAU — With their 95-64 dismantling of the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday, the Chicago Bulls finally took over the No. 1 spot in defensive efficiency, allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions for the season.

The Philadelphia 76ers had been holding on to the top defensive ranking for most of the year and are still just a hair behind the Bulls, but it seemed to be just a matter of time before Chicago took back what was rightfully theirs.

The Bulls were the No. 1 defensive team in the league last season, and could be the first team to lead the league in defensive efficiency two seasons in a row since the San Antonio Spurs did in 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06.

The Bulls are great defensively because…
1. They play hard, bringing energy to every defensive possession.
2. They play smart, knowing how to best defend their opponent.
3. They play together, on a string, knowing where to be depending on where their teammates are.

The following play is a great example of all three, even though the opponent scores a basket.

Deron Williams runs off two screens on a flare to the right wing. On the second screen, C.J. Watson gets taken out of the play, so Joakim Noah hedges off his man to help. Williams gets the ball to Jordan Farmar, who runs a high screen-and-roll with Kris Humphries. Noah hedges again until Ronnie Brewer can recover. As Noah hedges, Luol Deng helps from the weak side on Humphries’ roll. Not knowing where Humphries is, Noah retreats to the basket, before closing out on Humphries at the free throw line.

When Noah retreated to the basket, it was the right play, because defending the basket is more important than defending the foul line. But it did cause Deng to hesitate in getting back to his man. And that half a second of hesitation allowed Keith Bogans to crash the glass and get the put-back. The Nets scored, but we saw just how well the Bulls’ defense rotates on a string.

Rebounding is one thing the Bulls aren’t doing as well as they did last season, when they ranked third by grabbing 76.2 percent of available defensive boards. This year they rank 17th in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing just 73.8 percent.

But they’re still the No. 1 defensive team in the league, because they hold their opponents to a low shooting percentage, and they keep them off the free throw line.

Bulls’ defense, last two seasons

Season DefRtg Rank OppeFG% Rank DREB% Rank OppTO% Rank OppFTA Rate Rank
2010-11 97.4 1 46.3% 1 76.2% 3 15.1 11 .291 9
2011-12 93.8 1 44.9% 3 73.8% 17 15.3 21 .236 4

DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
OppeFG% = Opponent effective field goal percentage = Opp. (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTO% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Defending the rim without fouling is not easy, but the Bulls do it as well as anybody. Their opponents attempt just 31.1 percent of their shots from within five feet of the basket, the fifth-lowest rate in the league. And in that range, their opponents shoot just 54.6 percent, the league’s lowest percentage.

Carmelo Anthony is one of the best players in the league at getting to the line, attempting 39 free throws for every 100 shots he takes from the field. But in a recent game against the Bulls, he had 26 shots from the field and just six free throws. Here are a few examples of how the Bulls stopped Anthony in the paint without fouling.

The Bulls rank first in the league in defending 2-point shots. They only rank 10th in opponent 3-point percentage, but that’s OK, because only 15.8 percent of their opponents’ shots are 3-pointers. That’s by far the lowest rate in the league.

To prevent threes, the Bulls aggressively close out on perimeter shooters, especially if they’re in the corner. Corner 3-pointers are the second-most efficient shots in the game (after those taken within five feet of the basket), which is why the Spurs use them as a weapon in their offense. It’s also why the Bulls do their best to prevent their opponent from shooting them.

Through Friday, no team has played more games than the Bulls. And no team has allowed fewer corner 3-point attempts. In 29 games, they’ve allowed just 76 shot attempts from the corner. And in their last five games, Bulls opponents are just 1-for-13 on corner 3-pointers.

Here are a couple of examples of how the Bulls get their opponent out of the corner…

Play 1: After swinging the ball around the perimeter, the Knicks run a high pick-and-roll with Landry Fields and Amar’e Stoudemire. Fields hands the ball off to Iman Shumpert and then flares to the left corner. After hedging onto Shumpert, Kyle Korver closes out hard to prevent Fields from getting a shot off. Fields passes to Stoudemire, who misses a contested, mid-range shot.

Contested, mid-range shots are exactly the shots you want your opponent taking. And 35.4 percent of shots that the Bulls allow are from mid-range. That’s the second-highest rate in the league, behind only Orlando at 35.6 percent.

Play 2: The Celtics run a (slow-developing) play to get Ray Allen a three from the right corner. After setting a ball-screen, Allen runs off two screens and across the baseline, as Mickael Pietrus vacates the right side. Korver trails Allen, but still closes hard enough to prevent the three. And Deng, after leaving his man Pietrus, is there as well. Allen has to put the ball on the floor, but he finds Pietrus in the opposite corner for an open three.

The Celtics got an open corner three on that play, but it’s easy to see where the Bulls’ priorities were. A corner 3-pointer from Ray Allen, who is shooting 58 percent on them this season, is as dangerous a shot as there is in the league.

Still, the Celtics got an open three by quickly swinging the ball to the weak side. And that’s where you’ll get some opportunities against the Bulls, who like to load up on the strong side of the floor and take away the opponent’s No. 1 option.

Here’s an example of how the Nets got a wide-open corner three for Bogans. Williams curls through the middle and takes a handoff from Humphries, who screens Derrick Rose. Noah hedges and Williams quickly gets the ball to Humphries at the foul line. Brewer has no choice but to help from the weak side, and Humphries finds Bogans in the corner for the open three.

The key there was the screen and quick ball movement to get the Bulls’ defenders moving. If you can draw a double-team like that and then quickly get the ball to the other side of the floor, you will find an open shot.

But the Bulls make those opportunities hard to come by. They play hard, they play smart, and they play together. And they force you to take the least efficient shots on the floor.


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.


  1. Jonathan Ma says:

    Celtics defense is just behind the bulls so it should come down to a defensive battle

  2. Kev says:

    Go Ahead Chicago Bulls Celebrate all the wins under your belt…other teams love it when you get over confident …go ahead enjoy all the blowout wins and the early season wins …blame it on your defense lmao….. Rose is a great player he has the killer instinct, he knows how to get in the paint, we will see how far Chicago get.

  3. come on says:

    The videos showed nothing special in their defense. In fact it showed some of their defense flaws. the opposite team got Second chances and open shots. And the the slow mo- arrow- pointing effect is annoying


    The Celtics can win this game as long as rondo finally wakes up and with how he steps up against better point guards like rose that should not be an issue

  5. storm says:

    I like john schumann when he does this… This points out that the bulls are not really a bad team without rose but in actuality they are a playoff team even without him… rose is there to bring a an offensive mindset on the team… hes their
    superstar to make them a conference or a title contender…

  6. Ba says:

    There needs to be lot more “breaking down” of plays and defense on nba. Really just watching and reading things like this a youth such as myself can learn how to be a better team defender. After a while of watching film and nba videos/ review highlights you can also predict what the other 4 players on offense might do.

  7. 2 Strong 2 Fast 2 Good Pooh Chi says:

    The heat had their only chance to win all last year but, they couldn’t.
    And this year wont be easy for them. Think why is Pooh isn’t playing at his level?
    Because he’s waiting Play Offs time and to make D. Wade and L. James CRY.

  8. shorty law says:

    our scoreing hav went up and as for the heat we went in they house and almost came out with a win with out being a 100% so bring on the heat it will b diff this year and a lot more to come

    • SikWitIt says:

      With Mike Miller playing well finally, Shane in the mix and Norris Cole as solid backup it will be different, only 4 games this time for Miami to take it.

      • Jaykwan says:

        The Bulls improved a lot more than the Heat. I’m not saying the Bulls will definitely win the series, but they very well could. The offense is efficient when the full starting five plays, and they always have their defense to lean on if shots aren’t falling. Battier looks washed-up, Cole actually isn’t the ROTY Heat fans thought he would be, and Mike Miller won’t win you a championship.

        Barring injury, this is a six- or seven-game series, and probably the best of the season.

  9. Boydee says:

    Gibson is one great player that doesnt get the ball enough, hes a great shooter, rebounder and defensive player, hes talent should be guided a bit better

    • Jaykwan says:

      His shot has been missing for a while. I’ve seen him improve in the post, and his hustle is always appreciated, but that fifteen-foot-or-so jump shot needs some refinement.

  10. DA BULLS says:

    Haha how is Miami not worried about the Bulls Offense? The Heat almost lost to the Bulls in Miami when the bulls were out Deng and Watson..Thos are Two very Big offensive weapons we have…We have a complete team now when we picked up Hamilton..(WHO SHOULD BE READY TO GO IN THE PLAYOFFS) the BUlls against Miami in eastern conference finals im pretty sure the Bulls are going to pull it out this year

  11. Doza says:

    This was a sick post. I love how in depth it goes and the different clips to accomodate each point…
    Well Done!

  12. Mitch Mishke says:

    That’s my Bulls!

  13. BullsFan22 says:

    Bulls have the best record at 23-6, they have played some pretty impressive games, and all in all, they’ve rarely looked off or flat. WIth more games at home in the 2nd half of the season, and with injuries behind them (hopefully), the Bulls will only get better and they will run over anyone and everyone that stands in their way!!

    • Candy Cane says:

      They are looking impressive, but they can’t beat Miami in a 7 game series. They should have lost to the Pacers last year in the playoffs if it wasn’t for the refs. You say they can get better, but not really. This is it. What you see is what you get and what most of America sees is a team that can’t get it done.

      • Michael Peet says:

        wow, u are completely incorrect

      • Jaykwan says:

        Chicago should have lost to the Pacers? You really think that? Should the Heat have lost to the Bulls? That was also a hotly contested five-game series with perceived bias from the officials.

        A fully healthy Bulls roster must frighten the Heat and their fans.

      • c0achdesigns says:

        x”Players don’t come out of nowhere” – K.Bryant

        I bet he is not only talking of an underrated player whose done from the D-League to stardom Jeremy Lin of NYK but he is also referring to OVERRATED SUPERSTARS that a rookie out of nowhere become the biggest so called superstar of all time. LOL. “Right on the money!”

      • C'mon Son! says:

        This is why professionals play ball and we post on messageboards. The Bulls should have lost to the Pacers?!?!! Professionals do not use the refs as an excuse. Winners win, losers lose. The Bulls said ‘WE’ lost to Miami. That is it!

        C’mon Son!

        Miami has the holy trifecta and lost. This is going to come down to ‘Who want more?!”.

        Right now:

        -The Bulls look like they want it more
        -The Sixers look hungry as hell. Impressed Thibs and D. Rose.
        -Tim Duncan wants his last hurrah
        – The Thunder and Clippers want to represent the West.
        -Jeremy Lin is making Knicks look like contenders.
        -Miami is well………Miami
        -The Pacers and Hawks are a thorn in everyone’s kidney.

        I reiterate…………’Who wants it more?!?!!’ I am going to roll with my Bulls. Hometown!!!

  14. Nono says:

    great article!!! that is the right way how to back up ur writing!

  15. SikWitIt says:

    I’m a Miami fan and think the Bulls look very impressive defensively…but we still aren’t worried about them offensively which was the problem for them last year an it hasn’t changed. Also they play WAY too hard. Most the top teams use their leads to the advantage. Sometimes they blow them *cough*Miami*cough* but in the end they still remain in the playoff race. Bulls are working extra hard even with leads just to blow out teams and keep that number one spot. When the playoffs start I think they will be burned out.

    • c0achdesigns says:

      “Players don’t come out of nowhere” – K.Bryant

      I bet he is not only talking of an underrated player whose done from the D-League to stardom Jeremy Lin of NYK but he is also referring to OVERRATED SUPERSTARS that a rookie out of nowhere become the biggest so called superstar of all time. LOL. “Right on the money!”

  16. Bulls Die Hard Fan says:

    haha dont wish your team played D like that..

  17. samboyle says:

    Bulls weakness is rebounding buddy we the #1 rebounding team in the NBA we the only team in league with three people in top 25 in rebounding what were u hi when u wrote this u know nothing about basketball or u just hating for no reason

    • ProTec says:

      Right ….. #1 rebounding team in the league but in terms of differential in rebounding your team is only +3.7 while the bulls are +5.35, and u only outrebound the bulls by 0.12 rebounds a game (LAL 45.26 RPG/ CHI 45.12 RPG). and 3 players in the top 25 in rebounding? check your stats again buddy. Only Pau and Bynum are in the top 25

  18. Paul Jones says:

    The Bulls may have tougher teams coming up, but with 62% of their remaining games being at home, and them winning 90% of games at the UC, I don’t think they’ll mind too much. They’re almost on for a 55 win season, which ain’t bad from 82 games, so it’s outstanding in a 66 game (joke) season. Maybe shave a couple of games off for fatigue/injury etc Bulls to go 52-14.

  19. chewie says:

    @Kev. You may want to check that record again. They play 23 of their remaining 37 games at home. Rose has only played about half of the current 9 game road swing and they have pretty much smashed the easy beats without him being a factor, which to me was an eye opener.
    Of their soft away wins this year, they have beaten, and some times easily, Pacers, Laker, Orlando, Boston and the Clippers.
    They have really only played poorly 3 games this season, which in a compacted schedule is pretty amazing.
    The top seed is already a two horse race.

  20. Dave says:

    The Bulls are great defensively because… they have Thibs.

  21. sb says:

    some needs to time how long joakim noah spends in the paint … i counted 5 -8 seconds each time … play defence pffftt more like hogg the paint

    • fsdfdgfd says:

      You can spend as much time in the paint as you want as long as the person you are suppose to guard is close to you. the 5-8 seconds mean nothing in this case. well someone who knows basketball would know this….

    • lucaslb says:

      I only counted boozer on the last video, he spent 5 secs in the paint and noah on the first sequence of the 2nd video, he spent 5 secs also

  22. CT14 says:

    Still, one weakness in the Bulls defense is rebounding. Yes, the opponents didn’t capitalize on the open “second to third option” corner three, but the defense didn’t kill the play by taking the defensive board. That’s the one thing they need to improve: Effectively ending the offensive possession by taking the rebound.

  23. Chris says:

    More X’s and O’s blog posts like this and the spurs one!! Very interesting and rarely done anywhere.

  24. Kev says:

    Beating all these weak teams at the start of the season must be easy for the Bulls. There will be a lot of tougher teams next month on their schedule. That is their true test. We will see in time. Hhahahahaaaa

    • Erick says:

      Let’s see: Lakers, Clippers, Celtics (twice), Hawks, Knicks and Orlando. Yeah….the Bulls haven’t played anyone, except who gets put in front of us. Line’em up, knock’em down! Go Bulls!

    • Alex says:

      The Bulls played a difficult first 20 games, not only because many of the games were against playoff teams, but also because they had what seemed to be only 3-4 days off in that span of time. It was rediculous. The Bulls have also faced more injury trouble than any contending team so far. You may call it a test, but everything is pointing to the result of an A+

  25. celtic533 says:

    lets go BULLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!ALL THE WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  26. HC says:

    schumann doing play by play? sweet statistics 😀

  27. RekeMania says:

    Tom Thibideau took some pointers from Doc and then some! That is beautiful 😀

    • latwian jackson says:

      you mean doc to pointers from tom, that defensive scheme in boston was tom’s not doc’s

    • justin adams says:

      doc rivers didn’t teach tom thibedeau that defense the celtics brought in doc and tom at the same time and tom fixed the celtics defense