Bulls hit midseason with underwhelming record; Jim Boylen points to progress

K.C. Johnson

BOSTON - Despite an underwhelming record, coach Jim Boylen pointed to progress as the Bulls officially hit the midway mark Monday night against the Celtics.

"I think some of the pillars of our system have been installed," Boylen said. "We have a style of play at both ends. We have refined our end-of-game, fourth-quarter plays and package. We have established practice habits and playing hard habits that have carried through September and October through the season. With Wendell [Carter Jr.] and Otto [Porter Jr.] out, we have had an opportunity to build depth. We've had to play different lineups and different people than maybe we envisioned when the season started. It's difficult on the team. But it's a positive for a young group.

"I'm concerned about our defensive rebounding and defending without fouling. Those have to get better. They're important pieces for us. We've improved in both of them but it needs to be even better. The rebounding issue without Wendell is a concern. Our consistency at the offensive end, though it's been better, can improve. And I think it will the more we play together. Most of that inconsistency has been with the second group, which has changed and makes it hard. I'm not discouraged. I'm kind of excited that we have established some things. Our shot profile is top-five in the league. Our defense on any given day is between 5 and 9, top-10 in the league. That's what we're building. And we'll continue to work."

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The Bulls entered Monday's game at 14-26 and now face life without Wendell Carter Jr. for four to six weeks as the second-year big man deals with a badly sprained right ankle. This will test a defense that surprisingly has hovered in the top-10 this season. This month, the Bulls' defensive rating ranks 24th.

"There's a learning curve to the center position in our defense. Wendell has had, since September, probably 2,000 reps at our pick-and-roll coverages. Gaff [Daniel Gafford] is 20 and hasn't had the reps in the defense. We expect him to improve," Boylen said. "Luke [Kornet] improved from Friday's game to Saturday. Wendell is an elite defender with elite feet and understanding of how we want to play, especially for a 20-year-old guy. To say we're going to replace him and be the same is unfair to the two young guys. It's also a compliment to him and how good he really is."

Nevertheless, Boylen said it would take drastic failure for him to change the team's defensive system, pointing to establishing a style of play as a positive.

"I'm not going to make adjustments until I see max effort and max execution, and maybe it doesn't work," he said. "We know how we want to play. That's exciting for the franchise and the coaching staff. Our style of defense and ability to shrink gaps and bring two to the ball and shift to close I think has really improved. And it's something I think we're very good at. It's a little different style than other teams but it fits our personnel and how we want to play. Offensively, our shot profile is excellent. We'd like to have less mid-clock, midrange 2s. We'd like to play at the rim and space it and shoot 3s, hopefully open 3s, from good decisions."

Boylen remains undaunted by the outside noise stemming from disappointment in the won-lost record.

"I coach by faith," he said. "We're going to work on the things I think can help build this team and this franchise. Of course we want to win. We're going to try to win every night. I'm not going to get caught up in the negativity of that. I'm not. I'm going to keep teaching and coaching."

At the morning shootaround, Boylen was even more emphatic.

"Do we play competitive basketball? We do. Do we play hard? We do. Do we practice hard? We do. Are we starting to make plays in our system that I think we can make? We [are]. Are we building depth? Injuries are very difficult on a team but they help you build depth," he said. "Luke Kornet is getting a great opportunity. Daniel Gafford is getting a great opportunity. That's going to pay off for this team and for this franchise. I'm positive because the spirit of our group is really good."

Thad Young said the team needs to get better at finishing games.

"We know teams are going to make a run, but its being able to sustain or being able to cut those runs in half to where they're not putting us on our heels for the rest of the game," the 13-year veteran said. "Obviously we came into the season with bigger and higher expectations and haven't lived up to it so far. But there's still time to try to make up some games and try to get some wins."

Young insisted the mood in the locker room is good.

"I think we're still coming to work each and everyday. We still believe in what we're doing," he said. "The mood, it's not good when you're losing. But we try to make the best out of situations and we try to keep coming each and every day and perfecting our craft and make sure we're taking baby steps to get ourselves into position where we can do something.

"We're still culture building. When you come into a franchise that hasn't won very many games, the biggest thing is always development of younger guys to groom into winners and culture, building something that people want to come to. Building something that people believe in. I think we're still in those stages. Those are the things that we have to continue to work on and continue to get better at."

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Bulls hit midseason with underwhelming record; Jim Boylen points to progress originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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