Sacrificing a starting role on a team that had made consecutive postseason runs was a factor Thaddeus Young had to accept when choosing to leave the Indiana Pacers for Chicago in free agency.
Young, now in his 13th season in the league, had already logged 230 games as a reserve player in his career. Doing so again in Chicago was never going to be an issue. That’s what made him the perfect offseason signing: a veteran who could play with both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter while allowing the young combination to remain in the starting lineup together.
In accepting a bench role behind the two foundational frontcourt pieces of the Bulls rebuild, Young’s minutes were always bound to fall from the 32.4 minutes per game he has averaged since the 2012-13 season. He knew that would be the case. But one has to wonder if he was truly expecting to only play 22.1 minutes per game in Chicago?
Despite Markkanen and Carter being the future, Thad Young remains the most consistent and experienced player on the Bulls roster. He should be playing more, and there’s no good excuse to justify why Young is receiving fewer minutes per game than rookie Coby White. Moreover, it is borderline coaching malpractice to play both Young and Luke Kornet an equal amount of minutes in any game, particularly in those in which the Bulls match up against a huge Los Angeles Lakers frontline.
Through 10 games, Young has been one of the rare few Bulls who has consistently shown up in every game on both sides of the ball. In fact, beyond sophomore Wendell Carter, there may not be another player on the roster who has been as impactful as Young in the minutes they have played.
That’s why he needs to play more, and this is how coach Jim Boylen can make it happen.
End the four-man frontcourt rotation
Managing and balancing the rotation is something Boylen has struggled with since being promoted to head coach. For a brief moment, though, the coach’s in-game adjustments against the Atlanta Hawks were actually sound. Choosing to shelve Luke Kornet and using a three man frontcourt was the most dramatic move he made, something that should have happened much sooner.
Unfortunately, that adjustment lasted one game.
Boylen was back to his usual frontcourt rotation against the Houston Rockets, albeit with a tighter leash on Kornet’s minutes. Still, why he chose to deploy a lumbering center against the Rockets, a team who leads the league in pace and constantly plays small lineups, will remain as one of life’s many unanswerable questions. Kornet played six minutes against Houston. It was six minutes too many—the team was a minus-9 during his stint.
The collective voices outside the Bulls’ building have been yearning for rookie Daniel Gafford to supersede Kornet in the rotation. Chill on that, please. The Bulls have no need for extending minutes to players who shouldn’t be in the rotation. Instead, all 96 minutes available at power forward and center should be distributed among Markkanen, Carter and Young. Gafford can have the gratuitous junk time minutes, which there could be plenty of if this season continues to trend downwards.
By limiting the frontcourt rotation to just three players, this will inevitably force Boylen to give Thad Young more minutes. Importantly, such an adjustment will also allow for Markkanen and Carter to share even more time together on the floor—this is still a rebuild, evaluating these young pieces together is something that matters.
Give fewer minutes to Lauri Markkanen
Kornet is an insignificant long-term solution within this rebuild. As such, demoting his role to junk-time specialist is hardly controversial. Reducing Markkanen’s minutes, though, is a little more contentious. That being so, based on production through 10 games, Boylen would be entirely justified.
In comparison to preseason expectations, there has been no bigger individual disappointment than Lauri Markkanen thus far this season. While there is still ample time for him to turn it around, it shouldn’t come at the expense of the team, particularly when the Bulls have a more-than-qualified backup solution behind Markkanen.
Given how poorly Markkanen played against the Rockets, this was the perfect opportunity for Boylen to react quicker and opt for Young. It didn’t happen. On nights where Lauri is shooting 30 percent from the field and largely looks disengaged, he doesn’t deserve to play a team-high 33 minutes while Young remains glued to the bench.
Young was one the few Bulls players who actually showed up against the Rockets, scoring 13 points in his 24 minutes. On nights when Markkanen doesn’t have it, something that has been happening too frequently, Young deserves a bigger share of the minutes. That principle should remain until Markkanen actually begins producing at a level which warrants 30-plus minutes a game.
Revive the jumbo lineups
As someone who instantaneously became violently ill at the mere thought of former coaches Tom Thibodeau and Fred Hoiberg toying with the idea of using Nikola Mirotic at small forward, I feel a certain level of shame for even raising this as a suggestion. However, given Otto Porter’s foot injury and the Bulls’ wing depth issues, opting for size with Young at the three in certain lineup makes some sense against certain matchups. Take, for example, the New York Knicks, a team who routinely plays two to three power forwards at any one time, who the Bulls happen to be playing on Tuesday.
Boylen’s counter to the lack of wing depth has been to go small, running out three guard lineups, most notably in the second unit. That is certainly a more “modern” approach than using three traditionally-sized big men in the frontcourt. Yet, seeing as the combination of Kris Dunn, Coby White and Ryan Arcidiacono is only producing a 93.7 offensive rating in their minutes together, it’s safe to say that the Bulls aren’t reaping any scoring benefits by running smaller, quicker units.
Using Thad Young at small forward is something that should happen sparingly, if ever. But with Otto Porter being hurt and the three guard lineups producing some truly abysmal offensive numbers, it might be time to break the emergency glass.