The Bulls bench was one of the biggest advantages they've employed over the course of their league-leading regular season performance. It even garnered a (uninspiring but effective enough) nickname of 'the bench mob'. They'd start their impact on the game when Brewer would first come in for Bogans (or Taj for Boozer), and then would be out in full force to start the 2nd Quarter. The strategy would usually be repeated again in the 4th Quarter. Watson/Brewer/Deng/Gibson/Asik was the best defensive lineup in the league, and when Korver would come in for Deng it was one of the best all-bench units around.
But while Thibs may be 'sticking to what's been working' when it comes to Bogans starting*, as Doug Thonus of ChicagoNow points out, the Bulls coach has definitely made some changes when it comes to other parts of his rotation.
Player MPG Playoffs PER Playoffs
Luol Deng 39.1 40 15.5 14.1 Derrick Rose 37.4 39 23.5 35.4 Carlos Boozer 31.9 34 18.8 11.4 Joakim Noah 32.8 30 18.8 14.2 Kyle Korver 20.1 21.5 13 15.3 Keith Bogans 17.8 18 9 1.3 Kurt Thomas 22.7 17 10 18.5 Ronnie Brewer 22 16 13.8 11.9 Taj Gibson 21.8 12 14.3 10.9 C.J. Watson 13.3 9 12.8 11.4 Omer Asik 12.1 2.5 11.8 3.1
The table is sorted by minutes per game in the playoffs. Bogans has actually had a very slight uptick in minutes played (.2) while virtually every other bench player has had a downtick.
It's worth noting that part of the reason for the down tick with the big men was the extra minutes available while we had injuries. This is most notable for Thomas who typically racked up DNPs or played a lot of minutes, Thomas's minutes are also considerably on the rise if you just factor in 'healthy' lineups where everyone is playing while Gibson/Asik are on the decline in 'healthy' lineups.
As noted later by Doug, the change in backcourt makes sense due to increased minutes for Rose. But even factoring in the circumstance that the Bulls now have their starting bigs back, the change in frontcourt rotation has been pretty dramatic.
As I said in the game 2 recap, the idea of the 'bench mob' seems to be dead. In that game, it only lasted for the 3 minutes Asik was in the game, then it was back to a reliance of starters. On the one hand this was expected due to the nature of the playoffs: bench's are traditionally used less as the stakes (and rest between games) gets raised. But it wasn't necessarily a foregone conclusion the Bulls would follow suit, due to Thibodeau's insistence to end the season that there wouldn't be much of a change. Maybe some of it has to do with the Bulls finding themselves in early deficits, but this could just be the new Bulls bench.
The preference of Kurt Thomas initially looke like typical coach trappings of needing 'veterans', but so far the old guy has played pretty great. And I'd even welcome more minutes for Joakim Noah at the expense of the reserve bigs.
This is to say that none of the above is necessarily bad. Just different, and probably necessary. The bench can still be used effectively, even moreso, not as a 'mob' but strategically deployed components. It's less of a novelty than a consistent 5-man role player outfit that routinely erased deficits and busted open leads over the course of a season, but they'll still be needed. Even the most sacrificed member of the unit thus far, Omer Asik, could have a big 2nd round with the Bulls needing his size (and fouls) against Dwight Howard.
So while it's not quite exactly 'sticking with what got you there', it's still a credit to that group (and Thibs' ability to build it up) that they can be used in such a different way going forward.