Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
During a recent practice, DeMar DeRozan said an instance occurred that mirrored a situation from last season where the Bulls failed to execute and it cost them a game.
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And several players stepped in to correct it and emphasize not to repeat it.
“Everyone has allowed themselves to be held accountable. And we’re not afraid to get on each other,” Coby White said, adding to DeRozan’s point. “I think we took a big step communicating with ourselves individually. Not just having Coach or the coaching staff say something. When we mess up or something goes wrong, in training camp we’ve been solving it ourselves.”
The Bulls want to begin establishing their identity on both sides of the ball Wednesday night when they open their season against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
On defense, that means guarding as a group with all five players engaged and connected and finishing the possession with strong rebounding. On offense, that means solid spacing, quick decision-making and getting downhill for paint penetration.
The Bulls finished fifth in defense last season. They’ve proven they can handle that end. But offensively, even with Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic having strong seasons, the Bulls finished 24th.
So Donovan and his staff have emphasized ball and player movement, playing faster with quicker decisions and less isolation.
But what happens when adversity hits, as it does for every team in every season? Will players resort to old habits?
“That’s everything right there,” Donovan said. “Everything sounds good when you have a plan. And then all of a sudden you’re being tested on your beliefs, your values, how the game needs to be played.
“I do think we’ve got enough of a body of work last year to see if we want to revert back to that, we’re going to get the same result. It’s all about how we handle the adversity. Are we going to be OK if we have five straight possessions where we really moved the ball well and Patrick (Williams), Ayo (Dosunmu), Coby (White) and Jevon (Carter) all missed open shots? Are we going to still stay with it? Because that’s the right way to play and the right decisions to make. And what you do is you bet on playing the right way over the long haul.
“Does that mean that Zach and DeMar and Vooch aren’t going to have opportunities to do what they do extremely well? No. Of course they are. But we have to OK in the flow of the game to handle adversity. We have to go through that together.”
White insists the team is better equipped to handle such adverse moments.
“Us with another year together and the way we’ve been holding each other accountable throughout this training camp and we added JC (Carter) and Torrey (Craig), we all want to win,” he said.
What about DeRozan? He’s the player who, on paper, looks to perhaps need to sacrifice the most. If Donovan is emphasizing spacing and attacking the paint either for layups or foul shots or kick-out passes for 3-pointers, DeRozan’s midrange magic and tendency to play in isolation could be de-emphasized.
“I don’t worry about it just for the simple fact it’s basketball at the end of the day,” DeRozan said. “You can ask what we’re looking for, what’s needed. And as a basketball player, you try to do that to the best of your abilities. We all have God-gifted talent that we play on. That’s going to stick out regardless. Balancing that with how we’re trying to play is going to be beneficial.
“Worst-case scenario, you got a guy like Zach. There are going to be nights where he gets hot. That kind of negates a lot of the stuff we may be working on. That’s just the NBA. Everybody has a set foundation of how they want to play. But you have those nights where your best players get it rolling and carry you to victory. Those nights may be needed.
“Overall, I think we’re all comfortable and don’t look at it like we’re reverting if something doesn’t work. We understand that it’s a journey and the foundation we laid out simplifies everything that we’re capable of doing individually.”
The tests begin for real on Wednesday.