The talent is gone, though I'm not quite talking about the team parting with Kyrylo Fesenko today. Chicago's regular season prowess was powered and defined by its "bench mob," a collection of defense-first role players who formed a smothering, fearsome Leviathan.
Basketball Value charts the points teams gain or lose when players are on the court. Take a look at the numbers for Chicago over the past two seasons. What you'll notice is that many lesser known players are on the court when Chicago is surging ahead. Guys like Taj Gibson and Omer Asik dominated these categories.
Gibson remains, but Asik has fled to Houston. Defensive specialists Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson are not coming back this season. Kyle Korver is also gone, though he never exactly was a defensive specialist.
So will Chicago take a giant step back? Does losing these players equal a greater loss in esprit de corps?
Chicago will be worse on defense this year, in part because they can't be any better. They've been ranked No. 1 on D in these past two seasons. Omer Asik is a mobile, defensive savant, and Thibodeau's crew will certainly suffer in his absence.
I'm just inclined to be skeptical of an overall Bulls defensive collapse (unless they wish to tank while Derrick Rose sits out most of the season, but that's another matter). Defense, more than offense, is dependent on coaching and scheme. Scott Skiles has been making do with mediocre defensive talent for seemingly eons.
So long as Chicago has Thibs, Chicago should have a defense.
It is also worth mentioning that Chicago's starting lineup is not exactly defense-inept. The starters have been outperformed relative to the hyper defensive-focused bench, but they're still capable of clamping down like this.
Notice how one starter in particular wasn't on the court. I would expect to see less of Carlos Boozer next year and more of Taj Gibson, possibly in the starting rotation. With a weakened bench of Warriors rejects Nate Robinson, Vladimir Radmanovic, and Marco Belinelli, Thibodeau might just cut his losses with the unit and focus on his starters.
The Chicago bench mob won't be nearly as good on defense next season, though I believe that the Bulls will be a top-5 unit defensively overall. I expect Chicago to improve their starting unit's D, while wringing offense from substitutes. Yes, it's tough to lose an imposing bench mob, but any defense that features Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson should be formidable.
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