Remember the start of the season when Carlos Boozer was out, and many of us were simply hoping not to get annihilated on the western conference road trip? Tom Thibodeau kept going deep to his bench, and everytime the bench unit came out, the Bulls were destroyed.
I remember writing article after article about trimming the rotation, not playing the bench so heavily, and finding a way to stop relying on these guys. Tom Thibodeau has done the exact opposite of that. And it worked.
In Phil Jackson's books, he discusses at great length how he always used his bench, played them in important minutes, and never let anyone go too long without getting some playing time. The idea was that the bench is built in the regular season, and then they'll be ready in post season if needed.
Tom Thibodeau has turned a weakness into the strength. Who feels cared when the Bulls bring in their bench now? The bench is more likely to lead a charge than it is to give up a big lead. The bench brings a ton of energy and defense.
Everyone hated C.J. Watson early, and looking at Watson's stats, it looks like he's having a poor year. However, watching Watson play, his defense has improved radically from his Golden State days. His shot selection has gotten much better. He does a nice job of running the offense and finding looks for his teammates when on the floor.
The Bulls have really only unleashed Watson as a scorer once this season. The Denver game when Derrick Rose was out. They typically have him just run the offense, but that explosive scoring ability is lurking underneath the surface if the Bulls need it.
Ronnie Brewer has been exactly who we thought he was, but perhaps, with a better mid range jumpshot. Sure, it's cringeworthy when he shoots it, but his mid range jumper usually goes in. He makes smart basket cuts when opponents try to leave him open on the perimeter, and his defense. Well, his defense has been spectacular in the best of times.
Brewer is the first disruptional perimeter defender the Bulls have had in a long time. Guys like Deng and Hinrich have been very good defenders, but they're more functional. They play the scheme, force their man baseline, don't get beat in the wrong way, force tough shots.
Ronnie Brewer is disruptional. He denies players the ball, forces turnovers, tips away passes before they get there. He disrupts the opposition from doing what they want to do before they can get a shot off. Both types of defenders are crucial to a solid defense, and it's great to finally have a disruptional perimeter defender.
I'd still love Kyle Korver to start. He plays his best with Derrick Rose in the game. It's hard to appreciate what an asset Korver is without breaking down game film. However, DVR the next Bulls game and just pick any 10 plays with Korver in the lineup and any 10 plays without him in the lineup and watch how many people leap out at Derrick Rose when he attempts to drive.
Without even taking a shot, Korver has a tremendous impact on the game. What's surprised me most is his defense though. No, Korver is not a lock down defender, but he plays a very reasonable functional defense. The biggest issues with Korver are fouling and boxing out, but given his reputation, I expected much, much worse.
Taj Gibson always comes in with a ton of energy. He'll knock down his mid range shot, rotates extremely well to provide help defense, alters/blocks shots at the rim, and frequently gives the Bulls a big boost.
We've seen what Gibson can do when counted on as well. When the Bulls need him to go 30 minutes, Taj steps up and delivers. He's the perfect insurance policy to Carlos Boozer.
Kurt Thomas has simply been amazing for his age. Here's a guy I was just begging not to play. He's probably 20-30lbs overweight, 6'8, has no vertical, no speed, and plays center. Yet, he's shown incredibly quick hands for stripping the ball. Incredible toughness in forcing guys off the block, and has really done an outstanding job of disrupting opposing centers.
I thought the Bulls were nuts for signing him, but he's had an incredible impact on the season so far, and if the Bulls need him at any point, I'm comfortable with him stepping up and playing well.
Finally, the real hidden gem of the group, Omer Asik. Who knew, outside of Magilla Gorilla (for you realgm fans), that Omer would play like this? I watched this guy play in Europe, and while I liked his defense, his offense was hopeless even there. I thought coming to the NBA where the players are so much bigger, more physical, and more athletic, that his defense wouldn't translate.
Wrong. His offense is clearly a work in progress, but his defense has been eye opening. The best thing Asik has going for him is that he'll never need to buy a dog. Dwight Howard coming at him? He's not a afraid. He's not afraid of anyone on the basketball court. He's aggressive, smart, quick for his size. He always makes the right rotation, has great defensive footwork, and finds himself in position to help.
He's physical, he'll mix it up with guys much bigger and stronger than he is as well. When the Bulls get to work with him for a couple off seasons to bulk him up, he might get scary defensively.
If he actually learns a few simple post moves and can just catch the ball up high and dunk and get his free throw percentage up to 67% or so then watch out. Asik looks like a starting caliber center in two years, and no one will ever again question why the Bulls gave up three second rounders and waited two years for him. A price that seemed so high at the time, but now looks laughably cheap.
This Bulls team isn't a perfect team, but Tom Thibodeau has worked hard to make it the best team it can be, and he's succeeded. He's been patient. He's let guys play through mistakes. He's let the second unit grow together. He's taken a team that initially looked shallow and made them the deepest team in the NBA.