Changes Perhaps Coming to Pistons-Bulls “Rivalry”

Feb 20, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) guards Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) during the fourth quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 20, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) guards Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) during the fourth quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /


  • Teams: Chicago Bulls (42-28) at Toronto Raptors (24-44)
  • Date: March 21, 2015
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Television: FSD

Get in the Game

The Detroit Pistons host the Chicago Bulls tonight in a game that could very well mark one of the last few times these two teams square off.

It’s not so much that the players are going to change—certainly a possibility with Jimmy Butler’s impending restricted free agency and Derrick Rose’s knee injury—rather the Bulls could look different as a result of a coaching change.’s Marc Stein has the juicy details:

"It is widely — and I mean widely — believed throughout the league that Fred Hoiberg, whose Iowa State Cyclones were bounced in the first round of the tournament Thursday by UAB, is the top choice of the Chicago Bulls to replace Tom Thibodeau in the event that the Bulls and Thibs indeed part company at season’s end."

To be clear, there’s nothing set in stone here as it pertains to whether head coach Tom Thibodeau will get canned, but if he does, one would think Chicago will alter its identity. Interestingly enough, that process had already begun during the 2014-15 campaign.

The Bulls haven’t looked as stingy this year when compared to Thibodeau’s previous iterations. Indeed, Chicago ranks among the league’s top-12 defenses, which is a bit of a letdown when one takes into account the fact the Bulls were routinely among the league’s top-five units on this front.

It’s probably easy to say that Chicago has lost a step or that Thibodeau isn’t pushing the guys as hard as before, but I have another theory. The core roster has mostly remained the same, but a few personnel changes have forced the coaching staff’s hands.

Luol Deng is no longer a member of the Bulls, while Pau Gasol is now an important cog on the team. Deng was previously the team’s best perimeter defender, but his absence isn’t that big of a deal, at least on the surface.

Butler has seamlessly replaced him and actually demonstrated the ability to score. However, the Bulls lack a good replacement for an injured Butler. As a result, Chicago’s hasn’t been as good with Butler on the bench.

What’s more, Gasol is a talented offensive player, but a stopper he is not. Thus, Chicago’s had trouble defensively at times with the Spaniard on the floor.

I wouldn’t necessarily blame Gasol, though. Chicago’s faced a multitude of injuries to its best defensive players (Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson), and the team has suffered for it. Thibodeau has countered by relying on offense this season instead of riding his defense.

Ultimately, the Bulls are still enjoying a strong season despite the health issues, but the drop in defensive attention has been noticeable.

There used to be a time where near-flawless execution was needed to create high-percentage looks against this team, but that is now a thing of the past.

Chicago used to overwhelm the opposition by flooding the strong side of the court and recovering back to the weak side with precise timing if the ball made its way there.

Now, the Bulls are still good (no longer great) on the ball side, but nowhere near as effective on the weak side. Back screens, misdirections and movement on the weak side now leads to confusion and breakdowns.

Action away from the ball is a perfect way to attack a Bulls defense that now gets caught ball watching every now and then.

Pistons fans might be excited about this development, but I would stress caution here. Detroit relies mostly on post-ups and pick-and-rolls, which plays right into the Bulls’ hands.

The Pistons aren’t yet sophisticated enough offensively to consistently bend Thibodeau’s defense in a manner that forces it to collapse on itself. In two games against the Bulls this season, the Pistons have only converted 72-of-164 (43.9 percent) field-goal attempts.

As a result, Detroit will have a tough time against these Bulls, but ultimately it might not be harbinger for the 2015-16 season. Truth be told, Pistons fans should be excited about the idea of Thibodeau leaving Chicago, because it could potentially make the Central Division slightly more competitive.

That’s down the road, though. Tonight, the Pistons will have to make the best of their posts-ups and pick-and-rolls. If the home team scores efficiently in these settings, it will put pressure on the Bulls to execute defensively and offensively, and I’m not sure they have it in them.

Read about the Bulls