The Chicago Bulls’ Biggest Perceived Weakness Has Actually Been the Catalyst to Accomplishing a Record Not Seen Since the Michael Jordan Era

The retooling of the Chicago Bulls‘ roster began at the 2020-21 trade deadline and continued this past offseason. The team swung deals to make a run at last year’s playoffs, but to no avail as Chicago finished 11th in the Eastern Conference.

The additions of DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball this summer were expected to help what was predicted to be an explosive offense. Still, questions lingered around the team’s ability to play championship-caliber defense.

Somehow, though, that defense has been the catalyst to Chicago’s hottest start since Michael Jordan was at the helm.

The Chicago Bulls are off to their best start since Michael Jordan led the franchise

DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls smiles on the court.
DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls smiles in front of Lonzo Ball while playing the Detroit Pistons. | Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Chicago began the 1996-97 season 12-0 behind Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. That team went on to win an NBA championship, the penultimate title of MJ’s career.

This 2021-22 iteration is now 4-0 after beating the Toronto Raptors 111-108. Chicago is the last unbeaten team remaining in the Eastern Conference and is off to the franchise’s best start since that ’96-97 campaign.

Doing the math, that was 25 years ago.

The additions of Nikola Vucevic at last year’s trade deadline and DeRozan this past offseason were somewhat questionable as neither provided much defensively. Chicago already had Zach LaVine entrenched as its franchise player, and LaVine is not known for his defensive abilities either.

The Bulls entered the season with an obvious ability to outscore their opposition. No one expected anywhere close to a dominant defense, but that’s exactly what’s led the team to its undefeated start.

Chicago’s defense, not its offense, has been the catalyst

With offensive-minded players like Vucevic, DeRozan, and LaVine, the Bulls seemed primed to be one of the best offensive teams in the NBA. Through its first four games, though, Chicago has been average at best on that end of the floor.

The Bulls are 20th in the league in scoring at 107.5 points per game. The team has been efficient shooting the ball, but its point totals are not where they were expected to be heading into the season.

However, Chicago is sixth in the league in defensive rating at 97.7, fourth in steals per game at 10.3, and sixth in blocks per game at 6.5.

Ball and fellow offseason acquisition Alex Caruso have been strong defending other guards at the point of attack. Caruso is fifth on the team in minutes despite not starting and has grabbed 3.3 steals per game so far this year.

Never considered a rim protector, Vucevic has been a pleasant surprise defensively as well, averaging 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks.

The Bulls’ two most oft-used lineups, which consist of starters LaVine, DeRozan, Vucevic, and Ball and then either Caruso or Patrick Williams, have held teams under 40% shooting, and the Caruso lineup has held teams to 31.6% shooting.

If the Bulls’ defensive start isn’t a fluke, Chicago is primed for a deep postseason run

After the team’s win over the Raptors, DeRozan told reporters the team’s desire to win is what compelled him to come to Chicago in the first place, via ESPN:

“Everybody had that chip on their shoulder, from the city to the organization to the players that I spoke to.

“That was everybody’s mindset, it’s all about winning now. We’re not in a development stage, we want to win now.”

DeMar DeRozan on choosing to join the Bulls this past offseason

The 12-year veteran also added, though, that there’s still a lot of work to be done if the Bulls are going to finish the season with championship aspirations:

“[The 4-0 start] is great, but we’ve got a lot more basketball to go. We can’t carry this record like it’s some kind of badge of honor; we’ve got to understand that the next game is going to be even harder.”

DeRozan on continuing to play well after Chicago’s 4-0 start

The team is too talented offensively not to jump toward the top of the league in scoring. But if the Bulls can continue to play this well defensively, DeRozan’s desire to “win now” could come to fruition sooner than expected.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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