Prior to yesterday's blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets, Tom Thibodeau revealed something interesting. It wasn't interesting in a 'wow, didn't see that coming' sort of way. Rather, Thibodeau -- a man dead set on playing his cards close to his chest -- publicly revealing that he'd go with a 9-man rotation in the playoffs was the interesting part:
Shocker: Thibodeau reveals his playoff rotation. Says he'll go 9 and Snell/Hinrich will rotate in 9th spot "depending on what game needs."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 13, 2015
Maybe in another city with another coach, this isn't exactly news. But when Thibodeau spoke on the historical significance of young players -- more specifically, rookies -- getting minutes in a "championship rotation" during training camp, it appeared Thibs was going to favor a veteran over a young gun when presented the option between the two. The reason training camp quotes are relevant now is because yesterday showcased how flexible Thibodeau has become. Or, at the very least, his stance on the matter has moved -- even if it's ever so slightly. That's progress.
Now, more importantly, this brings us to the bigger issue at hand: disbanding the jumbo lineup. Lest we forget, there was a time where Thibodeau was against the very idea of using a jumbo lineup. So if he's considering giving a young player (Tony Snell) playoff minutes in favor of his pet pupil (Kirk Hinrich), then that tells me Thibs might stun us all and breakup Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic playing together against second units.
How bad has the Noah-Gibson-Mirotic lineup been this season? Well, according to NBA.com/stats, they're posting a putrid 96.0 offensive efficiency rating in 174 minutes together. Comparatively, the Philadelphia 76ers are the only team in the league with an offensive efficiency rating below 96.0. And among Bulls' three-man lineup combinations with at least 174 minutes played, that'd be good for the third worst ORtg on the team (surprise, surprise: Hinrich and Noah are in each of the other two).
The call to get Nikola Mirotic more playing time at his natural position has been firmly established. And yeah, I'll admit, I was wrong when I said I'd understand if Thibodeau played Gibson and Noah over Mirotic in the post season. We're past the point of playing Niko for the sake of playing Niko being good enough. Just look at his production in some of the games this season where one of Pau Gasol, Noah or Gibson were out, thus enabling Niko to play the power forward spot.
- 27 points and eight rebounds (including 6-6 from deep) in a win against Memphis on Dec. 19 while Gibson was out.
- A career-high 29 points and nine rebounds in a loss against the Clippers on Mar. 1 while Gibson was out.
- 28 points and eight rebounds in a win against the Hornets on Mar. 23 while Noah was out.
- 24 points and 11 rebounds (4-7 from three) in a loss against Portland on Nov. 11 while Gasol was out.
- And 26 points last night (6-11 from three) in a win against the Nets while Noah was out.
Yes, if you were to go back earlier in the season and look at some of Mirotic's other games while Noah or Gibson were out, they aren't anything special. But the dude is clearly a different player now. And what's most unfortunate: he's not a different player when Thibodeau plays him out of position alongside Noah and Gibson. Spacing is a mess. Ball movement is awkward. And with Noah out last night, Mirotic's strengths were accentuated yet again. He's used best as a power forward and it's as simple as that.
Maybe I'm reading tea leaves here and Thibs won't change a damn thing, but I want it said once and for all: the jumbo lineup hasn't worked. The numbers suggest as much, the eye-test tells us as much:
How is Thibs supposed to allocate the minutes if he does actually make a change to the jumbo lineup? I surely don't know. That's why he gets paid the big bucks and I am merely a blogger. But if we have evidence to suggest the jumbo lineup hasn't worked in the regular season, then it doesn't take a basketball savant to tell you it probably won't work in the playoffs.