The 2010-11 season will always be best remembered for Derrick Rose's MVP award, but it should also be remembered for the birth of the Bench Mob. With the lack of a bonafide second star player, K.C. Johnson often liked to say the Bulls' quality depth was that "second star," and it's no doubt that the Bench Mob was integral to the team's success that season and the next regular season.
The Bench Mob was dissolved after the 2011-12 campaign, for various reasons. The next few iterations of the Bulls' bench had some nice players (Taj Gibson remained, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Mike Dunleavy), but they just couldn't match the Bench Mob in terms of being a super-effective unit. Injuries certainly played a big part in this, but it's hard to argue that the overall talent level matched that of the Bench Mob.
The lack of depth led to big minutes for some players, which in turn may have led to guys wearing down by the end of the season. This was especially evident last season, when the Bulls basically ran a seven-man rotation for the second half of the year. While the Bulls racked up the regular-season wins, they fell flat in the postseason.
But this upcoming season should be different. The Bulls retained nearly every key piece from last year, in addition to acquiring Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Aaron Brooks. There's also that Derrick Rose guy coming back. On paper, the Bulls have quality depth again.
But just how will Thibs manage the minutes this year?
Thibs has shown an ability to manage minutes relatively well when given options, and there shouldn't be a shortage of those this season if things pan out correctly. With the return of Rose, an influx of shooting and the addition of another versatile offensive big man in Gasol, Thibs could get pretty creative with lineups this season. The Bulls have the capability to throw out small lineups, big lineups, offensive-oriented lineups and defensive-oriented lineups. Could we see lineups with Rose and three or four shooters? Could we see three-big lineups? We already know the two point-guard unit will be used plenty.
There will certainly be times when matchups dictate the use of these potentially creative lineups, but I'm sure Thibs would also like to settle on a somewhat set rotation, as he did with the Bench Mob. With this in mind, I'd like to try and answer some questions about what's going to happen with the rotation this upcoming season.
What will the starting lineup look like to start the year?
I'm thinking Rose, Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol and Noah will be the starters to open the year. Rose, Butler and Noah are obvious choices. Dunleavy is a bit iffy, but I don't see McDermott or Tony Snell cracking the starting lineup just yet. They simply aren't proven enough and Dunleavy is a veteran player who had a quality season last year. One could make an excellent argument that Gibson should start over Gasol, but all indications are Pau will be the starter. I would venture a guess that Gasol wouldn't have come to Chicago if he was going to come off the bench.
What will the point-guard rotation look like?
Obviously it would be nice to be cautious with Rose's minutes, at least to start the season. Rose was playing a shade over 31 minutes per game last season before he got injured, and that's a good target to shoot for again this year. It also would be fair to expect Rose to take some "maintenance" days off just in order to get some rest here and there. This of course means another healthy dose of Kirk Hinrich, which stinks but whatever.
yfBB is convinced that Hinrich will initially come off the bench at the 2 before sliding over to the 1 when Rose hits the bench [it's true -yfbb]. I'm really hoping for much less Hinrich, but we know Thibs loves him and the two point-guard look. So this certainly is plausible, even if there are other players capable of playing the 2.
As for Aaron Brooks, I don't expect to see him much as long as Rose and Hinrich are playing. But if Rose misses time and Hinrich falls down the well, it's nice to have a third point who won't be a dumpster fire. (ahem, Marquis Teague)
Will Jimmy Butler play the iron man role again?
Hopefully gone are the days of Jimmy Butler playing 42 minutes per game. While Thibs used his depth well when the Bench Mob was around, Luol Deng still played huge minutes. Deng was essentially the captain of the Bench Mob, sticking on the floor at the start of the second quarter with four other reserves. Will we see Butler play a similar role?
I'm really not sure. Butler isn't as good as Deng overall, but he is that defensive security blanket on the wing. Snell, McDermott and Dunleavy aren't exactly defensive stalwarts, so Thibs may want to keep Butler out there. On the other hand, Butler played a reasonable minutes load at the start of last season, so maybe he'll go back to those types of minutes with more options at Thibs' disposal. I don't doubt it would make him more effective.
Perhaps Snell will have something to say about this. He was excellent in Summer League, and he has the tools to be a very valuable player on this Bulls team. He has the length and athleticism to be a strong defender, a nice three-point stroke and decent enough handles. We saw some flashes of effectiveness last season, and if he can build upon his strong Summer League, Thibs should be able to trust Snell enough to get Butler more rest.
How much will the rookies play?
McDermott will be a fascinating case. The Bulls clearly love him. The front office scouted him for a long time. Thibs coached him as part of a Team USA camp. The dude offers a skill the team has been sorely lacking the past few years, and it's a skill that's especially useful with Rose on the floor. McDermott's defense is a major question mark, but if he can prove he can defend at a respectable level, he shouldn't have a problem seeing the court. Not only can he sub in on the wing, but he could potentially play some small-ball 4 if the Bulls really want to spread the floor.
There are several players in place who have the time in Thibs' system that McDermott lacks, and once again, Snell could have something to say about the minutes the rookie gets. Taking all these factors into account, I'm thinking McDermott plays around 15-20 minutes per game this season. 20 may be a bit generous for this year, but the optimist in me sees a chance that McDermott starts by the end of the season. A very small chance, but a chance nonetheless.
Figuring out the role for Nikola Mirotic is tough. The Bulls have waited on him for a long time as he excelled at the highest level in Europe, and paid him handsomely.
The problem? There are three damn good bigs in front of him. Noah, Gasol and Gibson will get the lion's share of the minutes. I'd like to see Noah, who hasn't been healthy at the end of the season in years, around 32 minutes per game. Gibson should be around 30. Gasol is 34 years old with injury issues the last few seasons, so I'd like to see him in the mid-to-high 20s. This leaves something like 8-10 minutes per game for Mirotic, if that.
I don't expect the frontcourt to stay perfectly healthy all season, so Mirotic should see increased minutes on occasion. Besides that, I'm just hoping Thibs can find a way to consistently get him in the lineup. Mirotic really isn't a 3, but perhaps there can be some experimentation in order to get him on the floor more? We'll just have to wait and see.
Cameron Bairstow won't play meaningful minutes unless there are injuries.
Who will close games?
At the start of the year, I'm thinking Thibs goes with what's familiar. And that's a more defensive-oriented lineup of Rose, Hinrich (ugh), Butler, Gibson and Noah. Again, different situations are sure to dictate what Thibs does at times, but this is a very Thibs-esque closing unit.
What would I like to see? I'm perfectly fine with Rose, Noah and Gibson out there. The Noah/Gibson frontcourt is just hellacious defensively and Rose is Rose. If more scoring is needed, Gasol could certainly be out there instead of Gibson, but Taj is no offensive slouch either.
If Butler isn't a turd on offense, he should be out there as well. He's your elite wing stopper, so it makes sense to play him down the stretch unless he's just useless on the offensive end. I have enough faith that won't happen this year, but there are no guarantees.
So that leaves Hinrich. All three of the BaB brain trust are already resigned to the fact that Hinrich will be closing games, and I just don't see any other way unless Snell improves a lot or McDermott is really good. I'm really pulling for one of those scenarios to happen, because I just don't want to see Hinrich out there in crunch time anymore. Sigh.
Closing thoughts and roster update
In short, I'm really excited to see how Thibs manages his lineups this year. There's so much potential to do fun things, and while Thibs is sure to create a somewhat set rotation, hopefully he remains flexible with how he uses his players.
The Bulls recently signed Kim English, Ben Hansbrough and Solomon Jones to round out the camp roster, which now stands at 17. Here's a look at the depth chart.
PG: Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks, Ben Hansbrough
SG: Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell, E'Twaun Moore, Kim English
SF: Mike Dunleavy, Doug McDermott
PF: Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Solomon Jones
C: Joakim Noah, Nazr Mohammed, Cameron Bairstow