The good news is the Bulls might be the deepest team in the NBA this season. The bad news is Tom Thibodeau — one of the best coaches in the league — has never been a “depth” kind of coach. Thibs likes to find a glue guy — once Loul Deng and now Jimmy Butler — to ease the transition from starters to reserves. He prefers an eight-man rotation that can be trusted on both ends of the floor. And he doesn’t offer up much playing time to rookies who are unproven and inconsistent. His modus operandi is well chronicled in its results from Derrick Rose’s torn ACL in garbage time of a 2012 playoff game to the consistent overuse of Loul Deng who averaged no less than 37.4 minutes per game1 since he and the Bulls’ head coach met up. Thibodeau finds athletes he trusts, puts them on the court and keeps them in the game, leaving little room for backups to make a distinguishable difference. How many of the new look bench mob will garner more than 15 minutes per game? With a group of intriguing names sitting on his bench, let’s hope more than a few of them break a sweat this season.
Starters: Derrick Rose (G), Jimmy Butler (G), Mike Dunleavy (F), Pau Gasol (F), Joakim Noah (C)
Bench Mob: Kirk Hinrich (G), Aaron Brooks (G), Taj Gibson (F), Doug McDermott (F), Nikola Mirotic (F), Tony Snell (F)
The Chicago Bulls 2014-15 roster is built to challenge the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. And, while Western Conference foes like the Spurs, Clippers,
Oklahoma City and Warriors seem daunting, the Bulls might win it all if Tom Thibodeau plays his cards right. But he never finds a way to pull that third ace, does he? The defensively stout, well-disciplined Bulls overachieve in the regular season but bow out quickly when meaningful, post-season games are on the schedule. Players are unrested and injured leaving fans and media (and likely front office personnel) annually frustrated. But that’s the Thibodeau way — practice hard, play harder and treat every game like it’s the seventh game of the NBA Finals. If he can’t adapt to his uniquely constructed roster, too much talent and promise will be left on the bench while Rose, Noah, Gasol, Butler and Dunleavy log too many minutes and fizzle out before the important games are played.
There are signs of hope. The head coach has praised Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic this season2. “Our rookies have done a good job from the moment they’ve gotten here.” And while it’s early — and some starters (not naming any names) have missed games — eleven Bulls are averaging more than 15 minutes per game. Perhaps Thibs has found the light. Or maybe Gar Foreman and John Paxson finally have their coach on a like-minded wavelength by putting superb talent on his depth chart.
We all knew Taj Gibson would get plenty of court time and his strong, early season stat lines proves why he deserves it. And Kirk Hinrich’s willingness to give up his body, be a tough defender and play unselfishly keeps him in the rotation until an injury strikes. Few suspected Aaron Brooks to follow in the footsteps of D.J. Augustin, Nate Robinson and C.J. Watson as the Bulls next spark plug point guard off the bench. But he has started hot, shooting well from the field and efficiently distributing the basketball. If Rose goes down for an extended period of time — noooooo!!!!!! — Brooks will log heavy minutes this season. The new look bench mob has some youth too. Second year forward Tony Snell and rookies Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic need on-court minutes to progress. And while Snell may just be a space filler destined to wander NBA benches for all of eternity, the two rookies have high ceilings. Mirotic is a stretch four shooter that must show consistent defensive effort to stay on the court. The former Creighton star, McDermott, looks polished and can be more than just a spot-up shooter. Listen… just because he’s a small forward, white and can shoot, it doesn’t mean he has to be the next Mike Dunleavy (although that’s not so bad, is it?). So expect a well-rounded effort when he steps on the court. McDermott himself certainly does2: “I think I’m really quick to the boards. I’m not the most athletic guy but I’ve always had a good knack for timing and knowing where the ball will be.” The Bulls’ reserves will earn their minutes all season long; early signs suggest most of them deserve some extended court time.
The deepest bench in the NBA is ready to produce. Is the coach ready to let them?
Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com ~ @SecCitySports