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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.


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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