One thing the Chicago Bulls did well season was defend, and it’s still earning them shoutouts even during the dog days of the NBA offseason.
“I feel like the Bulls play good defense on me,” said Brooklyn Nets guard Cam Thomas on the “The SchuZ Show” on August 10. “When I had three 40-point games, and then we had that fourth game…I feel like they played good defense on me that game. Pat Williams, [Alex] Caruso, all those guys played pretty solid defense on me that game.”
The 40-42 Bulls finished the season fifth in defensive rating, per NBA.com.
Thomas, 21, gained national attention for his string of 40-point performances but went 3-for-16 from the floor (1-for-6) from beyond the arc en route to a 20-point outing in a loss to the Bulls in February that snapped his streak at three games.
Brookly came away with the 116-105 victory, though, in what was the second loss in a six-game skid going into the All-Star break.
Alex Caruso’s Reputation Caught Up With Him
Caruso, 29, earned First Team All-Defense honors and had the third-best defensive rating of any rotation player despite being pitted against some of the tougher matchups including guarding power forwards in head coach Billy Donovan’s small-ball-centric lineups.
He is heading into the third year of a four-year, $36.9 million contract that is widely viewed as a bargain for what he brings on the floor, not just defensively, but with his smart play and ability to knock down the open three-pointer offensively. There have even been calls for the Bulls to extend him off of that value contract.
While Caruso has been an instant success in his time with the Bulls, the same cannot be said for Williams.
Patrick Williams’ Forgotten Defense
Williams, 21, did not experience the highs that Caruso did this past season, even getting pulled from the starting lineup by Donovan. But the 6-foot-7, 215-pound wing has been lauded for his defensive abilities since college and has drawn praise from some of the best players of this generation.
But, for all of the talk of him needing to step up offensively, his defensive ability – which could still get to an even higher level – often gets overlooked. Williams’ assignments included Lakers star LeBron James, Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard, and others of that ilk.
James has compared Williams to Leonard.
“I think he’s going to be an exceptional talent. Long arms. He has Kawhi-type hands…so I knew I couldn’t play with the ball much,” James said in 2021 via NBC Sports Chicago. “And you could tell that he’s just laser sharp on trying to get better and better…I think Chicago has a good one.”
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, expectations have been high for Williams from the very beginning. He averaged a career-high 10.2 points this past season but felt he could have done more.
“I wanted to be more consistent,” Williams said, per Darnell Mayberry of the Athletic on April 26. “I wanted to play-make a little bit more; show that I can do that. Obviously, every player wants to be able to make plays down the stretch and be able to do that down the stretch. I think I have the skill to do it. I think the opportunity was there. I don’t think I grasped it.”
If he is going to make a leap on offense, this season is a good time ahead of restricted free agency next summer.