The lockout greatly shortened the NBA offseason and training camps, but 66 games in less than four months are too unforgiving to listen to excuses. The Bulls' and Thunder rotations are uniquely returning more players than the rest of the league after also being the most successful of young teams last season -- both making their respective conferences' finals.
This is the first full season the Thunder will have Kendrick Perkins in their lineup and the Bulls' first season with Richard Hamilton at the two-guard. With both teams' bench rotations being stable, the two teams' starting units have played more minutes than all other five-man units in the league, according to BasketballValue.com.
The Bulls starting five's 38.65 minutes is second only to OKC's starting five's 42.35. Tom Thibodeau has had his new shooting guard play 40.3% of the team's 96 total minutes with Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, and Derrick Rose. This is a huge portion of the games, compared to Bulls starting lineups only playing 1,133.04 of the team's 3,966 minutes (28.6%) in Thibs' rookie coaching season.
The addition of Rip has obviously widened the role of the team's starting shooting guard. Last year, it was to basically not make mistakes while Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver saved energy for mid- and end-game strategies. Only three games in , Thibs -- a three-to-five-man unit analytical junkie -- is clearly eager to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the unit by seeing what he has, pushes the evolution of the perennial NBA starters as a unit, and showing confidence that he knows what he has off the bench and how he'll use it.
The percentage of minutes played by the starting lineup will go down as the Bulls have more games crammed into fewer days -- especially the road trips. But it shouldn't be understated that the four returning Bulls starters only played 646.28 minutes (16.3%) together across the full 82-game regular season, due to Boozer and Noah's injuries To compare, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade were on the court together for over 2,000 of the Heat's 3,956 minutes in the 2010-11 regular season.
Though the system is well known to Boozer in his second full season with the Bulls, acclimating Hamilton isn't the only task of this starting five. Noah, Deng, and Rose's need for the on-court minutes with Booz shouldn't be taken for granted.
Should we expect the starting five to play 40% of the game for much of the season? Definitely not. Their share of playing time will go down. Though he has yet to step on the court with Brewer, Hamilton will be experimented with all of the wing players throughout the season -- even rookie Jimmy Butler.