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Say Hello… to the Bulls’ New Bench Mob

Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson will headline the Bulls’ second unit next season.

Just a week or so after The Bench Mob drastically fell apart, the Chicago Bulls 2012-13 roster is nearly rounded out. With C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, John Lucas III and Omer Asik officially taking their talents to Brooklyn, New York, Atlanta, Toronto and Houston, respectively, the Bulls have already found a plug for each hole those men have left. Whether the chemistry of the newcomers lives up to that of The Bench Mob remains to be seen, but this new group of guys, led by the glue that is Taj Gibson, certainly has the ability to pick up where the bench left off and, if you’re really optimistic, may even surpass its production from the past two seasons (don’t count on it though). It’ll be tough to maintain the consistency and reliability that the bench provided throughout the regular season, there’s no question about that. However, some of the players whom the Bulls have brought in this summer or have been promoted may bring something to the table that the other guys did not. Let’s take a look at who exactly those players are:

Kirk Hinrich, PG/SG. Replacing: C.J. Watson

Captain Kirk needs no introduction. If he can stay healthy, he’s an upgrade over Watson in my mind. Of course, he’ll be starting in place of Derrick Rose for a good few months, so expectations will be relatively high, but his defense and leadership should make him a valuable asset to this Bulls team. (If you didn’t read my post from two weeks ago about Hinrich coming back to Chicago and what it means, click here.)

Marquis Teague, PG. Replacing: John Lucas III

He’s only 19 years old, but Teague is no joke. It will take some time for him to adapt to the NBA at such a young age and learn the ins and outs of running the point at the professional level, but he was far and away the best player on the board when the Bulls drafted him and has the ability to become an all-star caliber point guard some day. His long-range jump shot is nowhere near that of JL3’s, but his athleticism, quickness and excellence in transition should give him a leg up on other point guards who have come into the league with little or no college experience. He should end up being a pretty serviceable backup point guard for the Bulls as a rookie and will only improve with age and experience. Nevertheless, he has a lot of weaknesses to overcome and will definitely experience plenty of growing pains, specifically with his shooting and decision-making. (If you want a scouting report on Teague and a more in-depth analysis of what  he will mean to the Bulls next season and beyond, read my post from the day after the draft here.)

Jimmy Butler, SG. Replacing: Ronnie Brewer

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Jimmy Butler is Ronnie Brewer 2.0. Brewer has proved time and time again that his potential has been completely maxed out. Like I said back in June, he’ll never be more than a high level defender and role player with a limited offensive skill-set and inconsistent jump shot, whereas the 22-year-old Butler has a much higher ceiling and the potential to be one of the premiere defenders in the NBA. He’s a great team player with an incredible work ethic and attitude. According to the Chicago Tribune, he “practically lived at the Berto Center [before Summer League]. He would work out, rest, then work out again. His body looks fit. His mind sounds sharp. He knows the opportunity ahead of him.” As raw as he may have seemed at times last season on the offensive end, it’s his perseverance and balls-to-the-walls mentality that will ultimately lead to him becoming one of the most important players on this team and possible team leaders some day.

It may not mean much at all, but Butler absolutely tore it up in Vegas for Summer League this past week. He lead the squad in scoring, averaging 20.8 points in the four games he played (he sat out the fifth and final game with an undisclosed injury), good for fourth overall in the league. He also lead the entire Summer League in minutes (averaged 35.5 per game) and pounded the glass for a total of 26 rebounds in four games (side note: the Bulls’ Malcolm Thomas, the 6’9″ man-child out of San Diego State, averaged 12.4 rebounds per game and may have very well earned himself the final spot on the roster to start next season). On top of that, Butler attacked the rim with a vengeance, something the Bulls offense desperately needs, and got to the free throw line an amazing 39 times. He made – get this – 35 of them, good for 90%. I don’t really care how meaningless the Summer League may be, because Butler played some confident and inspiring ball. I think it’s safe to say this man is on a mission and will surprise many people come next season.

Nazr Mohammed, C. Replacing: Omer Asik

A 14-year veteran, Nazr Mohammed is coming off a season in which he averaged 2.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 63 games for the Oklahoma City Thunder. If you find yourself strangely excited about the signing of Mohammed, then there’s something seriously wrong with you – it wouldn’t hurt to go see a doctor or someone capable of bringing you back down to earth. He’s an enormous downgrade from Asik – easily the biggest downgrade at any backup position – and brings very little to the table. Yes, he can catch a ball on the low block, make a layup and shoot free throws decently (63.9% career), all things that Asik cannot do, but his defense is very below average, and he’s relatively undersized (6’10”, two inches shorter than Asik). If anything, Mohammed will bring veteran experience to the court and leadership to the locker room, but nothing more. He is simply a cheap alternative to Asik for a year or so until someone better can be found. The details of his contract have yet to be reported, but you can expect him to earn the veteran’s minimum ($1.2 million/year).

Vladamir Radmanovic, SF/PF. Replacing: No idea

Another brutal signing the Bulls made in order to fill out the roster. I was, and still am, disgusted by this pickup and don’t think I’ll be changing my stance any time soon. To be fair, though, the Bulls simply need bodies. Fortunately, Radmanovic only signed a one-year deal, so you’ll likely only see no. 77 (yes, he wears no. 77) for one short season and then forget about him forever. In 43 games with the Hawks last season, the 6’10” Radmanovic averaged 4.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in 15.4 minutes while shooting a whopping 37.6% from the field. Somehow, he shot nearly the same from outside the arc as he did from inside of it (37%), and I don’t really understand how. He’s a pretty horrendous defensive player, meaning that he will probably struggle to get playing time, especially with Tom Thibodeau at the helm. Don’t expect much production, if any, from the Rad Man next season. There’s a reason he’ll be playing for his seventh team in 11 years and fifth team in five years.

Marco Belinelli, SG. Replacing: Kyle Korver

The 6’5″ sharpshooting Belinelli may not be the most exciting player in the world, but he should fill the void that Kyle Korver has left just fine. They are very similar players: both are very streaky shooters and piss-poor defenders, but unlike Korver, Belinelli has shown very steady improvement offensively over the last few years (he’s also younger, so that makes sense). He averaged a career-high 30 minutes, 11.8 points and 1.5 threes per game for the Hornets last season (shot 37.7% from three as well and is a career 39.3% three-point shooter). Belinelli is purely a catch-and-shoot kind of player and tends to be a little too trigger-happy at times. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him struggle before Derrick Rose comes back and helps spread the floor for everyone, but given the way he played in New Orleans with Jarrett Jack running the point and no one else to open up opportunities (Eric Gordon missed almost the entire season), I’d like to think that Belinelli can pick up where he left off last season and continue to improve. Because of his inability to play defense, though, he will likely be thrown into Thibs’ doghouse early on, just like Korver was, until he can prove that he is willing to work hard and overcome his defensive shortcomings. For a guy who can do pretty much all the same things as Korver can at a much cheaper price ($1.96 million as opposed to $5 million), the Bulls found the right replacement.

Obviously, none of these players should make us jump for joy, and signing them doesn’t put us in a better position to win a title. In fact, just hearing that we signed Vladamir Radmanovic made me gag uncontrollably and led to me pulling a few eyelashes out. But, given the financial situation that the Bulls are in, this is the best they could do. As Nick Friedell wrote last week, the Bulls’ plan requires patience. This is not a team built to win a championship this season; they are good enough to win games, but not good enough to win a title. The Bulls are “stuck in cap hell” for the next two years, so it will take time for them to ultimately get to where they want to be. Until then, all we, as fans, can do is support them like we always have and just hope for the best. Let’s hope that the new second unit can provide some stability and begin a new era of The Bench Mob.


R.I.P. Bench Mob

The Bulls’ Bench Mob will be missed next season.

Gimme the Hot Sauce! Chicago’s Finest Brew! C.J. WWWWWAAAATSONNN-UHHH! How many times over the past two NBA seasons have you enjoyed hearing these Stacey Kingism’s and screaming them from your couch on an almost nightly basis? It always put a smile on my face when us Bulls fans would come together and celebrate the greatness that was, not a first unit, but a second unit in The Bench Mob. The Bulls had, without question, the best and deepest bench in the league over the last two years, and it always made us feel great that we had an advantage over every single team because of it. Yahoo’s Steve Merritt described The Mob perfectly:

…a group of guys that gelled with the Bulls’ existing core to develop a chemistry and camaraderie seldom seen in professional sports. The Bench Mob, in a word, was special, and Bulls fans quickly fell in love with their reserves. I mean, seriously, how many NBA second units have their own website and t-shirts (in addition to a cool nickname)?

But as of last night, The Bench Mob is officially no more. As predicted, once the Bulls declined to pick up C.J. Watson’s (he just signed a deal with Brooklyn Saturday night) and Ronnie Brewer’s team options, Kyle Korver was traded. The Hot Sauce will be taking his talents down south to Atlanta, who was in desperate need of any kind of shooting after Joe Johnson was traded to Brooklyn, in exchange for a trade exception and cash considerations. Some Bulls fans are upset, some are content and others are indifferent. Regardless of what people feel, though, these were moves that most of us should have seen coming and ultimately needed to be made.

The Bulls already have found replacements for Watson (and Lucas) in Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague, and Ronnie Brewer in Jimmy Butler. All signs point to the acquisition of former Milwaukee great and U.S. Olympian Michael Redd to replace Korver’s sharpshooting with that of his own (although he’s very washed up now because of injuries), but that’s all just speculation. Nevertheless, it makes me sad to see such a tight-knit group of guys broken up before ever winning a title. Had Derrick Rose been healthy, things would probably be different right now. The 2011-12 season unfortunately didn’t work out the way we thought it would, but we have to live with that and move on. That’s just sports.

Now that the Bulls are off the hook from Korver’s $500,000 on his $5 million non-guaranteed contract, they have the money to match Houston’s offer for Omer Asik and bring him back to Chicago. Do I think they’ll do that? Sources say yes, so I’d have to think so as well. Do I think they should? Well, you already know how I feel about that. And the answer is no. We’ll see what happens in the coming days.

Although we enjoyed watching The Bench Mob mesh together and had the utmost confidence in their ability to hold, and even extend, leads most of the time, the Watson/Brewer/Korver trio certainly had flaws that cannot be understated. Between Watson’s poor shot selection, Brewer’s inability to make a jump shot, and Korver’s incredible inconsistency and lack of defense, there were times when I’d watch these guys play, and I just wanted to physically hurt somebody. Of course, I’m too big of a bitch to have ever done such a thing, but you get where I’m coming from.

By the end of this past season, it was pretty freakin’ obvious that Thibodeau and Bulls nation had basically had it with them. Watson sucked beyond belief in that six-game series when it mattered most, Brewer managed to get benched in Game 3 of the playoffs and ended up averaging a whopping 1.3 points against Philly, and Korver combined for a grand total of zero points in three out of the six playoff games. The way their seasons ended, it was nearly impossible for me to think that bringing any of them back would be the right move. If we couldn’t trust them then to help right the ship without Derrick Rose, how can we trust them until February 2013 and possibly beyond?

There’s no doubt that we’ll miss the positive things that C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver brought to the table. Their hearts and desires to win games, not just for their team, but for the city of Chicago, were what made them such great assets, teammates and people. It’s extremely difficult to find one or two starters, let alone three bench players, on an NBA team who care as much about winning as they do, and that’s what makes me so upset to see them go.

Whether or not the Bulls are selling out for next season by breaking up one of league’s greatest benches of all time, I’m not sure, but these were moves that most people, including myself, feel were necessary. As fans, all we can do is move on and believe that guys like Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler can take over their roles and flourish in them. Until next season tips off, though, let’s all fondly remember the founding fathers of The Bench Mob and all of the great things they did for this organization. Their competitiveness and unique chemistry will be sorely missed.

Game 6: CJ Watson and the Crucial Mistake

CJ Watson made a huge mistake at the end of Game 6, and it ended up costing the Bulls their season.

What a sad, depressing night for Bulls fans. Everyone knows that if we won Game 6, we were 100% winning Game 7. The momentum, the UC crowd backing us – there was just no way we would lose that game. After holding Philadelphia to a grand total of 15 points in the 3rd quarter, the Bulls finally were playing with some life. They played some of the best half-court defense I’ve ever seen, smothering every player and refusing to let anyone into the paint. It was honestly masterful to watch that defense work for the final 23 minutes and 55 seconds. This game was all but won. And then one crucial mistake and two missed free throws later, the Philadelphia 76ers ripped our hearts out of our chests and eliminated our beloved Bulls. But before I get into that crucial mistake, exactly who or what else led to the brutal end of our 2011-12 season?

1) Carlos Boozer. Wow. How many times has this name been brought up in my posts over the last few days? I can’t go more than two blog posts without ripping this man apart. By now, I would assume most of you know how I feel about Boozer, and as long as you saw him play just 5 minutes last night, there’s no way you’d disagree with me. So there’s no point in me restating why I dislike him so much. His performance last night, though, cannot go unnoticed. I want him out of Chicago, and I want him out RIGHT NOW. I felt like screaming “SERENITY NOW” multiple times last night just to calm myself down (Seinfeld reference for all you non-Seinfeld people). Amnesty, please! Anyways, Boozer finished with 3 points on 1/11 shooting and 1 free throw attempt in 27 minutes, none of which – and I repeat, NONE – came in the 4th quarter. Coach Thibs went back to his old ways and decided that, despite Boozer’s $75 million contract, it wasn’t worth it to have him in the game during the most important 12 minutes of the season. And I am perfectly fine with that. The 5-man-unit of Watson-Hamilton-Deng-Gibson-Asik was working extremely well, and we had to ride it. Just to reiterate how truly bad Boozer has been, I updated Boozer’s 2012 playoff stats from my previous post on my own and found that, after tonight’s game, his scoring average per 48 minutes dropped from 21.6 to 19.4, and his field goal percentage dropped from 46.8% to 42.2%. Absolutely awful. If Boozer remains a Bull next season and magically becomes good again, I will be the first to admit I was wrong about him. But I don’t see it happening.

2) 3-Point Shooting. No one could hit the backside of a barn from beyond the arc last night. Nothing was falling for us. Obviously, every team has nights like these. Unfortunately for the Bulls, this night came at the worst time. They shot 38.1% in games 1-5. They shot 15.4% (2/13) in Game 6. Although Luol Deng played a really good game, he is a very streaky three point shooter. He made big shot after big shot on Tuesday night. Ended up 0/5 from distance last night. It happens. I won’t lose sleep over this aspect of the game at all, but it would have been nice to at least see… wait, what’s that guy’s name? People think he looks like Ashton Kutcher but he really doesn’t? Oh yeah, Kyle Korver. Where the hell was this dude all series long? Between games 3-6, he scored – get this – 5 POINTS! He shot 1/7 from three in games 3-5 and didn’t even bother attempting a single shot in 5 minutes during Game 6. What a joke. If he wasn’t completely in Thibodeau’s doghouse before this series, he’s now farther back than… well, I can’t really think of a comparison, but it’s as far back as you can possibly go. It will probably take longer than the year Korver has left on his contract for Thibodeau to actually take him off his leash. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls try shopping him or finding a replacement for him all summer long.

3) Did you know: last night’s result is the first time a team has been out-rebounded by 23+ in a playoff game and won since 1986, when Washington beat Philadelphia in Game 1 of the first round (Bulls won the rebound battle 56-33)? This has nothing to do with why the Bulls lost in any way, shape or form. I just found it to be an astonishing stat, and I also feel that making three points instead of two is way more legit. Good things come in threes. Someone should tell Kyle Korver that, by the way.

Now on to the main inspiration for this post – CJ Watson and the Crucial Mistake (If anyone writes a book about this disastrous series, you’re welcome to use this title. Just make sure you compensate me for it. Thanks). Watching the end of last night’s game was painful. CJ Watson should be flat-out disgusted with himself. He made one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen a point guard make in a professional basketball game. His poor shot selection throughout the series was one thing (he shot 23% in six games), and his inability to create any offense whatsoever was another thing. But when you’re a career 80% free throw shooter, and your team’s up 1 with 5 seconds left in the most important game of the season, why the dickens (I heard someone say this once and it sounded funny, so what the hell?) would you dish the ball off to a career 48% free throw shooter and make him win the game for you? I went INSANE when this play transpired because right then and there, I had a terrible feeling that it was over for us, even with a 1 point lead. Forget the fact that, a) a blatant flagrant foul on Omer was not called and b) no one got back on defense after the second missed free throw to stop the one-man freight train that is Andre Iguodala. We should have NEVER been in that position in the first place. All CJ had to do was hold the ball, let them foul him, and sink at least one free throw. That would have made it a two point game, and at the very least forced Philly, who had no time outs remaining, mind you, to go coast to coast and get a quick two off to send it into OT or throw up a contested/low-percentage three to try and win it (this is the worst case scenario, because I have a hard time believing CJ would’ve missed both free throws, but who knows).

I cannot believe the stupidity on Watson’s part, and I will never forget that decision to give up the ball for the rest of my life. It proved that, once and for all, CJ Watson is not the answer to our backup point guard of the future (neither is Lucas). There are a number of mediocre point guards that we can grab late in the first round of the draft if necessary (Marquis Teague, Tony Wroten) or middle of the second round (Scott Machado) to breed throughout the offseason. Free agency and trading are other options as well (dare I ask, Kirk Hinrich, anyone?). Maybe I’m just being hard on Watson because I’m angry. I probably am. We all know he’s likely going to be on our roster next season because the Bulls will probably pick up his team option. But it does not hurt to explore other point guard options (I will get into free agents and draft analysis at a later date).

I can live with another regular season with Watson as our starter while Rose is out. And I think that next year, the Bulls will come back stronger from this. But if, god forbid, Rose is not healthy for the start of the playoffs next season, it may very well be the same old story for Bulls fans. Sad and depressing.

Keys to winning Game 5 and getting back into the series

Taj Gibson may be the key to winning tonight’s game.

I know I’ve stated before that the Bulls won’t win a championship without Rose (and Noah). But it’s still more than okay for us to be optimistic heading into tonight’s game at the UC. If the Bulls continue using the same game plan they’ve used the last three games, though, the season will probably end tonight. Here’s how they can get back into this series against Philly:

  • Stop crashing the offensive glass so much. Yes, the Bulls were the best rebounding team in the league heading into the postseason. But in this series, they are only rebounding 27.4% of their misses to Philly’s 24.9%.  With Noah out, the Bulls are essentially no better than Philly in the rebounding department. They may as well keep an extra body in the backcourt and focus on preventing Philly from running the fast-break, which has killed us all series long. They’re also shooting 22% from three (good for 15th out of 16) and nearly 50% from inside the arc, a lot of which has comes from easy fast-break layups/dunks and poor pick-and-roll defense. If we can get Philly in a half court game more often than we have, it will drastically increase our chances of winning
  • Go small. Starting Omer Asik won’t accomplish anything. He’s basically allergic to scoring unless it involves dunking the ball and swinging his legs up in the air. The Bulls may as well try something different by playing small-ball and starting Taj Gibson at the 5 and figure out a way to get Gibson, Lucas and Korver on the floor together at the same time. The three of them happened to have the best non-Rose and non-Noah 3 player combination +/- on the team during the regular season (+152 in 391 minutes). Throw Deng in there (the four of them together posted a +92 in 192 minutes during the regular season), and this should help space the floor and hopefully allow for some more open looks. It also doesn’t hurt to point out that, with Gibson on the court during the playoffs (per 48 minutes of playing time), the Bulls 3 point % has increased from 32.3% to 40.9%; their free throw attempts have increased from 16.3 to 24.3; their offensive rebounding % has gone up by nearly 8%; and their net rating (offense rating – defense rating) goes from +5.1 to -8.4. Taj needs more minutes. Period.
  • Limit the fouls and get back to fundamental defense. If you remember from yesterday’s post, free throws attempted per field goals made is one of the four factors to being a good basketball team. During the regular season, the 76ers were last in the league in free throw rate by making only 13.5 free throws per game. In the four games this series, they happen to have attempted 110 free throws, good for fourth most out of the 16 playoff teams. The Bulls have to stop playing lazy defense, which is supposed to be their bread and butter, and stop bailing out the Philly guards late in the shot clock. I can bet that Thibs has nearly had 4 or 5 heart attacks on the sideline by now because of this and could guess that it will take an extra couple of days for his voice to come back after this series. This is very atypical of Bulls basketball, so we’ve got to stick to our true identity and not give this team so many free points.

So there you have it. If the Bulls can accomplish these three things (and Thibs can play those recommended lineups more minutes), I don’t see why they won’t come out with a victory tonight. This isn’t to say that we can’t win without doing these things, because we very well can, but they are three things that have probably frustrated most of us the last few games. Although we’ve looked no better than atrocious without Rose, finally getting over the hump to win one game can go a long way for this team and give them the confidence boost they’ve needed to somehow pull out this series.

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