One Team, One Stat: Can Bulls Get No. 1 Defense Back?

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Chicago Bulls, who are getting their star back.

The basics
CHI Rank
W-L 45-37 t-11
Pace 92.0 27
OffRtg 100.4 24
DefRtg 100.3 5
NetRtg +0.1 15

The stat

5.1 - More points per 100 possessions that the Bulls’ defense allowed last season (100.3) than they did the season before (95.3).

The context

Only two defenses — New Orleans (+5.3) and Philadelphia (+6.4) — regressed more. The Bulls also regressed more offensively (-4.1 points per 100 possessions) than every team but one (Phoenix). In total, the Bulls were 9.2 points per 100 possessions worse last season than they were in 2011-12. That was the biggest NetRtg drop-off in the league.

Bulls efficiency under Tom Thibodeau

Season OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2010-11 105.5 12 97.4 1 +8.1 2
2011-12 104.5 5 95.3 1 +9.3 1
2012-13 100.4 24 100.3 5 +0.1 15

The offensive regression is easily explained by the absence of Derrick Rose. And as long as he doesn’t take too many nights off this season, the Bulls should be back in the top 10 or 12 on that end of the floor. If Jimmy Butler shoots 3-pointers like he did in the playoffs, they’re definitely in good shape.

Being in the Top 10 on both ends of the floor qualifies you as a title contender. But if the Bulls are going to regain their standing as the best regular-season team in the Eastern Conference (as some predict they will), they will need to get a lot of that defense back. And the defense regressed more than the offense.

Better offense will certainly help the defense. More made baskets will allow the Bulls to set up their D more often. But there’s more to address. In particular, there were three areas where the Bulls regressed defensively last season.

Bulls defense under Tom Thibodeau

Season Opp2P% Rank Opp3P% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank OppFTA/FGA Rank TransD Rank
2010-11 45.6% 1 32.6% 1 76.2% 3 15.1% 11 .291 9 1.88 15
2011-12 44.2% 1 32.5% 3 74.3% 8 14.3% 25 .236 3 1.63 12
2012-13 46.7% 5 34.6% 5 73.6% 14 14.8% 22 .278 19 1.79 23

DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
TransD = Opponent fast-break points / Opponent steals

First, their transition defense went from above average to below average, an area where better offense will definitely help. But they also went from third to 19th in opponent free throw rate, which translated into an extra three free throws per game for the opposition. Finally, the Bulls didn’t protect the rim as well, going from first in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area in ’11-12 to 10th last season.

Here are some clips from a Christmas game in which the Rockets racked up 31 fast break points, 24 trips to the line, and shot an incredible 30-for-40 in the restricted area.


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This is where the absence of Omer Asik comes in. The Bulls still defended the rim decently with Joakim Noah on the floor, allowing their opponents to shoot 58.0 percent in the restricted area. But opponents shot 62.3 percent in the restricted area with Noah off the floor. With Asik anchoring the second unit, that number was a paltry 49.8 percent in 2010-11.

The defense as a whole regressed with Noah off the floor. And that’s something that didn’t happen in the first two seasons under Tom Thibodeau. One of the biggest keys to the Bulls’ No. 1 defense in 2010-11 and 2011-12 was how good their bench was on that end of the floor. This used to be a great defensive team from 1-15. Now, not so much.

Bulls defense with Noah on and off the floor

Noah on floor Noah off floor
Season MIN DefRtg MIN DefRtg
2010-11 1,575 99.6 2,391 95.9
2011-12 1,945 98.6 1,243 90.0
2012-13 2,426 98.4 1,540 103.4

Asik, C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer are all gone. And unlike Rose, they’re not coming back. Kirk Hinrich is a solid defender on the perimeter, but the defensive depth is not there anymore. Taj Gibson is still around and is a great defensive player, but he’s not a center.

The Bulls were forced to lean on Noah much more last season. His minutes jumped from 30.4 per game in ’11-12 to 36.8 in ’12-13. And he didn’t hold up, missing 12 of the Bulls’ last 15 games of the regular season. Once again this season, his health and durability will determine how good the Bulls are defensively.

Maybe the Bulls don’t need to be the No. 1 defensive team in the league anymore. Maybe Rose’s return, the development of Butler and the addition of Mike Dunleavy will improve them enough offensively that they can make up for the defensive drop-off.

But as we wonder how good Rose is going to be this season, the Bulls’ defense is as much a question as the offense is.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

15 Comments

  1. pandagamerreviews says:

    this guy is a troll, not everything is about numbers you know, look at how many guys were injured in the bulls last season, that said, it gave a lot of opportunities for bulls second and third strings players to have more play time and therefore helped build a stronger bulls team going into this season.

  2. lol says:

    bulls = Most Overrated Nba Team

  3. BULLS WILL BE GREAT THIS SEASON!!!

  4. tom says:

    forgot to mention the fact that they have one of the best defenders in the league in luol deng

  5. DaBulls says:

    What happened? One word. Injuries. That is what happened. Noah didn’t win the DPOY due to him not playing in enough games but was voted ahead of the guy who won it over him on the all defensive team(s).

  6. bulls4life says:

    Having the number 1 defense in the league doesn’t mean anything by itself. The Bulls were no. 1 two years in a row, and did they win a title? No. But now, even if they aren’t the best defensive team in the NBA (which is not proven yet), they are far better overall because of the emergence of Butler, getting Rose back, a developed Gibson and Noah, and don’t sleep on Dunleavy because he’s just efficient on both sides. Bottom line is, they have a better chance to beat the Heat then ever before.

  7. sam boyle says:

    Know nothing about basketball, yes Asik and Taj gibson together no one could score, However, last year Nate Robinson or Marco are not good man-to-man defenders, me knowing basketball something i knew last summer then we had to play more defense cause the offense was not good. Regardless we still were 3rd or 2nd in opponents PPG and opponents FG% we were in the tops so why is this dude even considering last years team when real basketball minds know that that team was basically for rental purposes .. like putting fix-a-flat till you get that new tire.

  8. Denholm says:

    Maybe the rest of the league just got better on D pacers, grizz for example

  9. jake s. says:

    It is really derrick rose… a team will be shook by losing a top ten all nba (except the thunder because they have 2). The bulls had a deficit on fast break the entire season. Ok, so we forced the turnover… now what? There is no DRose to force the ball into the bucket, or make the play that will turn defense into offense. Certainly losing Asik will cause some instability but he has always been a rebounder before a defensive staple. Noah needs to be better IMO.

  10. Tke29 says:

    Bad possessions offensively equal fast break points. Rose controlled the pace of the game. When Rose is in the game you will have all 5 defenders keeping close to the paint to help when Rose drives, this means even in the event of a miss, the opponent is not in position to get back as quick. Now add in the 22 games Hinrich missed, the nearly 20 games Taj missed and the 15+ that Noah missed.

  11. krespino says:

    This shows how much difference Asik made. One player. The difference in numbers with and without Asik is huge.. Sometimes you think you’re saving money but in fact you are sacrificing critical performance. You started something with Asik, you should have kept it. I believe Asik would have stayed if the Bulls had offered $17-18 for three years.

  12. krespino says:

    This shows how much difference Asik made for the Bulls. One player. You would think you are saving money but you are in fact sacrificing critical performance. Had the Bulls offered like $17 – 18 m for three years instead of Houston’s $25m Asik would have stayed I believe.

  13. Jeff says:

    Not having Nate Robinson will make a huge difference on the defensive end. I watched almost every Bulls game last year… Nate was god-aweful on defense. As fun as he was to watch when he heated up offensively, he just didn’t seem to try very hard on defense. Addition by subtraction.

  14. jaykwan says:

    Injuries. For some reason, people seem to think Rose is a below-average defender. If you actually watch him, while imperfect, he rarely gets shaken or burned. He’s quick and athletic, obviously, and he’s capable of recovering quickly when he does get out-of-place. And not only were the Bulls forced to rely on Nate Robinson–a clear minus on defense–Hinrich, Noah, Deng, and Taj–all ace defenders–had injury troubles at points throughout the season. Losing the continuity of Asik off the bench hurt, sure, but a defense doesn’t sink because of the loss of a guy who played 12-15 minutes per game.

    Essentially, Asik, Taj and Brewer *were* the Bulls’ defensive depth during 2010-2012, though Brewer dropped off late in his stint and Taj is really the key to the Bulls’ depth and versatility (CJ and Korver are average defenders on their very best days). Calling Kirk a “solid” defender is an awesome understatement, and he’ll settle into a much more comfortable role, no longer playing those marathon games and hopefully avoiding the injury troubles. The Bulls will now have a crunch-time lineup of Rose-Butler-Deng-Taj-Noah. That’s a very long, athletic, and tenacious lineup–perhaps the stingiest high-usage, five-man lineup in the league next season. It’s hard to truly separate the top 3-5 defenses in the league, but the Bulls will be up there; there’s not much doubt about that.

  15. bobby grbevski says:

    This article does not take into considerarion the impact Rose has on the defense as well. Hinrich now comes off the bench as an elite defender. Also, the emergence of Butler defensively and as a starter over Hamilton is huge. The third reason is all the injuries the Bulls had last season: Hinrich, Noah, Deng etc…At some point this season we will see Rose, Hinrich, Butler, Gibson, Deng and Noah on the floor…I can’t see any team that has 6 guys that can defend like those guys. There is more than just statistics John.