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'One Of The Quietest Teams I've Been On': Can the Chicago Bulls improve their on-court communication?

Will Gottlieb Avatar
October 24, 2023

From calling out screens to directing traffic on the defensive end, to coaching guys up on the sidelines, to calling out notes in film, communication is critical for NBA teams.

Do the Chicago Bulls do enough of it?

“I’ve played on a lot of teams,” Torrey Craig said. “And this is one of the quietest teams I’ve been on.”

Those are poignant words from one of the Bulls’ new additions.

“First thing is communication,” Craig said of what it takes to become a great team. “I can’t stress it enough. That’s what I’ve learned being on good teams. They communicate at a high level and it makes everything that much easier.”

If the Bulls want to take the step from good to great, they must address one of the intangible issues they face.

‘I don’t know what the reason is’

Craig isn’t the first or only one to note the Bulls’ lack of verbal communication. It has been a common theme from both the veteran players and the coaches, and something the Bulls absolutely must improve upon to improve their fortunes this season.

“I don’t know,” Donovan confessed of why the team doesn’t communicate more. “I don’t. I don’t know what the reason is.”

To be clear, this lack of communication is not to say that the Bulls players don’t like one another, don’t trust one another, don’t play for one another.

“Every single one of these guys, every single one of them, unbelievable guys,” Donovan said. “Great guys. Love working with them, love being around them. Enjoy their company. Would have a great time with every single one of them at dinner. But in between the lines, it’s just a different situation that you have to have and we need.”

Everyone has their own style of communication. Where Craig and Caruso are more verbal from the sidelines or within the game, DeMar DeRozan is more personal — he likes to take players aside to point things out. Coby White has stepped up as more of a vocal leader after realizing his team needs that from him, in spite of his relative age and experience level.

“For someone like [Carter], [Carter] in his own way communicates,” Donovan said. “[Craig] does it too. Maybe that brings some things out. [White] is trying to do more of it. [DeRozan] does it his way in more private settings, with grabbing a guy and talking to him like that. Our group can be quiet.”

“I don’t think it’s always bad, but there are times where we need to be better at it,” Donovan continued.

‘I have some responsibility to talk’

The Bulls know they need to improve their communication skills to be great. It’s part of the reason they went to Nashville for training camp and something players and coaches alike have noted as an area for improvement.

“I’ve always been one of the younger guys on the team and now that I’m one of the older guys, and I would say I’m probably one of the more vocal players,” Caruso said. “So I think it’s just an adjustment period for some guys to realize, ‘alright I’m not a first or second-year player anymore, I have some responsibility to talk and communicate.'”

Caruso has leaned into being the group’s vocal leader, which has rubbed off on some of the younger players, namely White, who has blossomed into a leader on the floor — a tough transition for a young player sharing the court with All-Stars and NBA champions.

“Being a young guy — I’m 23, last year I was 22 — you fall into this thing of like, especially on a team full of older guys that have won, that’s been in the playoffs many times. [Caruso] being a champion. Playing with guys like that, you get that mindset of like, ‘they have more experience than me, they know more than me, my opinion doesn’t matter, my voice doesn’t matter,'” White said recently.

Communication is also one of the reasons the Bulls brought Craig to Chicago. He’s a hard-nosed, veteran presence with experience playing against — and alongside — some of the great players of all time. And in so doing, he’s come to understand the importance of communication on the court.

“[Craig] does not stop talking,” Donovan said of his new veteran. “It’s not like he’s instructing or giving direction, he’s very positive on the bench and he’s constantly communicating on the floor defensively.”

It’s one of the things Craig noted he can offer the Bulls, and part of the impetus behind the trip to Nashville for training camp.

‘You have to practice and turn into a habit and a discipline”

Defense is all about helping each other fill the gaps and that can’t be done without communication. As real a problem as this is, it didn’t prevent them from finishing fifth in defense a season ago.

But both Caruso and Craig have pointed out that it’s not uncommon for younger teams to have relatively low levels of communication.

The problem is, they’re not that young. Last year, according to NBAage.com, the Bulls were the 9th oldest roster with an average age of 27. They were also 9th oldest by average age of minutes played at 27.9.

If the Bulls are going to improve upon their standing from last season, it’s an intangible area that needs work.

“I don’t think there should be a headline saying ‘Bulls have bad communication, they can’t have success this year,'” Caruso said. “I don’t think we have an issue communicating more than an average NBA team. But if you want to be great and win and play in the Playoffs, you’ve got to be an above average communicating team. And that’s something like any skill you have to work on.”

“You have to practice and turn into a habit and a discipline rather than just doing it when it’s comfortable and convenient.”

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