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The Bulls are rolling...except for this one bench lineup

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Bobby Portis is floundering as a backup center

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In his first season as Bulls head coach, Fred Hoiberg struggled mightily in managing rotations and lineups. He was unable to stagger Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler’s minutes, which inevitably led to the infamous “Hoibergo” all-bench lineups. As a result, the Bulls struggled with continuity throughout games, the offense stalling and the defense sputtering.

This season, Fred has clearly improved in that regard. He’s done a remarkable job of staggering the minutes of Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler, and Dwyane Wade, making sure at least one of the three is on the floor at all times. Rarely if ever, have we seen an all bench unit for long periods of time.

However, there’s still room to develop with managing lineups as a whole. Where last year he had the dreaded Hoibergo lineup, this year he has a lineup that may top (or bottom) that. Over the past week of games, Hoiberg has trotted out a lineup consisting of Wade, Isaiah Canaan, Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis.

On the surface you could see a hint of why Fred would throw a lineup out like this, with the shooting of Canaan, McDermott and Niko surrounding Wade and providing him space. But when you observe this lineup on the floor and then dive into the numbers, it’s one that should never be together. It’s one that provides absolutely zero resistance on the defense end, one of, if not the weakest you could put together.

This lineup (we still need a name for) has appeared in five games, 16 minutes total and is the fifth most used lineup by Fred. Their offensive and defensive rating during that span is 84.2, and a 145.4 to give them a paltry, an absurd, unthinkable net rating of -61.2.

Yes, you read those numbers correct.

The biggest issue with this lineup is in the frontcourt with Niko and Portis. For whatever reason, probably more political than anything, Hoiberg decided to take Cristiano Felicio out of the rotation for Portis.

We wanted to see Portis make a big stride in his second year. Become serviceable on the defensive end, be able to stretch the floor on offense. But it’s still very clear that he is not ready yet for the minutes he’s receiving.

Hoiberg is giving him every chance to prove himself and become a fixture in the rotation moving forward, but he’s failed to do so. And that is a subject of Portis still adjusting to the NBA, but also Hoiberg not putting him in a situation to where he can succeed.

Portis is power forward, that’s how he’s built. Right now, Fred is playing him as the backup center, which against smaller lineups could work, but it’s not his natural position and puts him at a disadvantage on both ends. More specifically on defense.

Niko is an average defender on his best day, while Portis is the worst defender amongst post players, who is slow on his rotations from help, can’t defend the pick-and-roll, and provides zero rim protection. When you pair him with Niko at backup center, your success rate has dramatically decreased as we’ve seen.

If Fred is intent on playing Portis then it needs to be at power forward, and he needs to be paired with either Taj Gibson or Robin Lopez. Doing so allows one of the latter to clean up his mistakes on the back end, and protect the rim. Offensively, it allows Portis to play in more of that stretch four role.

Although here’s the thing; Portis is playing behind Gibson and Niko at power forward, so there’s limited time for him there. As a result, Fred is trying to find minutes for him by playing him at center at the expense of Felicio.

When Felicio is/was featured in the backup center role with same four players, that lineup posted much better numbers in six more minutes and in one fewer games. It’s actually the third most used lineup still, posting a net rating of 5.6.

By all accounts Felicio is the better player right now, and deserves to be in the rotation. He can play adequate pick-and-roll defense, protect the rim to an extent, and is an extremely effective roll man on offense. Felicio being squeezed out of the rotation so Hoiberg can to try to fit in a player who isn’t ready yet, isn’t the right move especially if his goal is to win.

Hoiberg can’t afford to keep moving forward using this awkward lineup. Everyone sees that, and the advanced stats back it up.