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The Bulls' Bench is Surprisingly Good

Early reports of the Bulls bench's death were greatly exaggerated.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls were supposed to have an incredibly weak bench, competing for one of the worst in the league. The thought was that while the team had great frontcourt depth, the quality of backups in the backcourt (especially PG) and the wing was extremely thin.

Those projections (including my own) have proven to be pretty wrong. The Bulls' bench has been better than the starters, and by a pretty wide margin.

Here is how the starters are performing. They are 14th in Net Rating, outscoring opponents by 0.9 points per 100 possessions:

Now here's the bench, 6th in Net Rating at +3.1 points per 100 possessions:

Some other things that stand out between the starters and the bench from these numbers:

  • The bench is moving the ball much better (higher AST%, AST Ratio)
  • The starters are better at offense, but the bench is a much better defensive unit
  • Both units are playing at about the same pace
  • The bench is a much better rebounding unit, both offensively and defensively

Since Noah's injury, the Bulls' bench has been even better. They have the 2nd highest net rating in the league in their past 5 games. They're outscoring opponents by 16 points per 100 possessions:

It's not as if that massive jump in efficiency is due to a weak schedule - The Bulls have played the Thunder, Mavs, Pacers, Raptors, and Knicks in that span. Rather, the obvious reason for the great recent bench play is that Bobby Portis is now playing big minutes and playing fantastically. Portis has been incredible, as Ricky O'Donnell detailed yesterday.

In that same 5 game time span, the starters have also played better than usual. However, they are nowhere near approaching the level of the bench unit.

Give the Bulls' bench players credit. Doug McDermott has played well above expectations this year. Joakim Noah was solid with that unit as well. And not enough positive things can be said about Bobby Portis' play. Even the backup point guards, Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich, and E'Twaun Moore, have played way better than what was expected out of them.

The biggest surprise though is that the bench is a lot more fun to watch than the starters. Whether it's Bobby Portis wagging his finger at the crowd a la Joakim Noah, Doug McDermott raining 3's, or Snell having his monthly good game, that group is way more unpredictable and exciting than the oftentimes boring iso-heavy starters.

As Portis gets more burn, this group should get even better. As Ricky said, this unit comprises much of the future of the Bulls. It's not looking too shabby at all.