First-year Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau is considered the game’s best defensive strategist, and the team has responded well to his schemes. But the Bulls also were formidable on defense last season because of their personnel.
Rose, center Joakim Noah and forwards Luol Deng and Taj Gibson are long, athletic players capable of covering wide areas quickly. Combined with Thibodeau’s proven defensive principles, the Bulls usually wear down the league’s best offenses.
The Heat finished second to the Bulls in opponent field-goal percentage and has shined defensively in taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Miami does not have as many good one-on-one defensive players as Chicago, but LeBron James and Dwyane Wade enable it do to many things.
Most importantly, James and Wade set the Heat’s defensive tone. When the best players take charges, close out on shooters, fight through screens and execute their rotations, everyone else on the team knows they must give as much effort on defense. Or they probably won’t remain on the roster.
That’s why Washington wasn’t a legitimate title contender even when Gilbert Arenas was one of the league’s top scorers. The best teams lead with their defense, and the Wizards’ former top player was one-dimensional.
The Bulls teams that won six NBA titles from 1990-91 to 1997-98 did so, in large part, because the greatest player in league history demanded excellence from his teammates on offense and defense. It all started with Michael Jordan.
Chicago also benefited from having Scottie Pippen, second to none as an on-ball defender, and other players who appreciated the importance of defense. In today’s game, Wade and James are almost as versatile a defensive duo as Jordan and Pippen once were.
Wizards rookie point guard John Wall possesses the physical tools to become a defensive standout and wants to lead. Center JaVale McGee finished second in the league in blocked shots and guard Jordan Crawford responded well to challenges.
There are some pieces in place. The Wizards could soon become much better on defense. They have the picks to get serious. Now, Grunfeld must make a stand.