COMMENTARY | For the past two-plus seasons, Bulls fans have heard time and again the basic principles of coach Tom Thibodeau's basketball philosophy.
"Defense. Rebounding. Energy."
So far in the 2012-13 season, the Bulls are still playing defense for the most part (the two recent games against Houston and Atlanta notwithstanding). Energy is not a problem, especially with Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Nate Robinson on the team.
But rebounding has become an issue, and no one is certain why.
In the Bulls' 83-73 win over the lowly Washington Wizards Dec. 29, there were rebounds galore to be had. Neither team managed to shot 40 percent from the field. But the Wizards, playing without their two best offensive threats in John Wall and Jordan Crawford, outrebounded the Bulls 56-49. That made them the third team in a row to outrebound the Bulls, and the sixth in the last eight games.
Before the Wizards game, the Bulls ranked 14th overall in rebounding, and 14th in offensive rebounding, which for the past two seasons was a remarkable strength of the team.
The Bulls are challenged to come up with a reason for this reason's rebounding decline.
"That is definitely being addressed, and Thibs is adding drills in practice,'' Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "It is definitely something that is a concern right now. We have to do a better job on the boards."'
"We have to go after the ball,'' Thibodeau said. "Right now we are getting our hands on it but we are not security it. We have to back to snatching, two hands, pursuing and our guards have to get in there. We are not getting long rebounds. We have to correct it."
Last season, the Bulls were the No. 1 rebounding team in the league. Their rebound percentage was 53.9 percent, and they were grabbing 46.7 rebounds per game. Opponents got only 40 rebounds per game. Their offensive rebounding percentage was 32.6 percent, and the only other team above 30 percent was the Utah Jazz at 30.2 percent, still far below the Bulls.
This season the Bulls are averaging just 42.9 rebounds per game. Opponents are averaging 40.9 rebounds per game. One number is way down, the other is way up, and the differential has dropped from 6.7 to 2.0.
Noah is averaging 10.6 boards per game, well above his career best, and Carlos Boozer is averaging 9.3, slightly below his career average. Luol Deng is getting 7.0 boards per game, but after that the contribution is way down from other teammates.
With everything that involves the Bulls this season, there is the Derrick Rose factor to consider, but Rose is not a big contributor on the boards. Two players that did contribute last season in a big way that are no longer with the team are backup center Omer Asik, now playing high level basketball as a starter for the Houston Rockets, and backup shooting guard/small forward Ronnie Brewer, who is now contributing for the New York Knicks. Their replacements have been Nzar Mohammed and Jimmy Butler, and their rebounding numbers do not compare.
The Bulls are still winning, and their 16-12 record after Saturday's game puts them in a spot to contend for one of the top four spots in the conference even without Rose around. But it just doesn't feel right for the Bulls to be losing the rebounding battle under Thibodeau.
"We got away with it (against Washington),'' Thibodeau said. "But it is a big concern.''
Kent McDill has covered the Bulls for three different companies: for United Press International from 1985-88, for the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights, Ill., from 1988-99 and currently for NBA.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title "100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die'' published by Triumph Books.
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