With just two games preseason games left to play, the Chicago Bulls need to start figuring out their initial regular season rotation. Their problems in preseason have largely involved a lack of scoring and poor bench play on the wings. Will Tom Thibodeau set the rotation based on preseason play or go with a pre-canned plan regardless of performance?
The starters appear set in stone
It was going to take something awfully special to happen to shift the expected starting lineup and so far nothing remotely special has happened.
The starting lineup barring injury will be:
That's probably as it should be as well. The one argument to be made is Gibson over Boozer, but I think we'll just see Boozer play fewer minutes overall with Taj picking up some more time at center in smaller lineups.
Players in the mix off the bench
PG: Nate Robinson
SG: Marco Belinelli
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Taj Gibson
C: Nazr Mohammed
Again, no huge surprises.
Vladamir Radmanovic appears out of the mix picking up a couple of DNP-CDs in the past two preseason games while performing poorly in the first three. If he was competing directly against Belinelli perhaps he'd have a chance, but instead he's competing more as a small forward/stretch four.
I expect Vlad to play sparingly in specialty situations where the Bulls want to add shooting and that's about it.
Marcus Teague will have to wait his turn for minutes as well. Hopefully Teague improves his game in practice because its unlikely he sniffs the court without an injury and when Rose gets back he'd need two injuries to get on the court. Teague plays with high end NBA athleticism but lacks the skills to make an impact. Fortunately, one of his great faults, shooting, can be improved without logging serious NBA minutes.
How will the units/rotations break down?
While only a guess at this point, I suspect we've seen the end of the five man bench mob playing together. At least until Derrick Rose gets back. On Rose's return, I think the Bulls may have more options to go with a five man bench unit. They'll also have a log jam of guard which will leave at least one player fairly unhappy with their role, not that Bulls fans will care much at that point about Belinelli or Butler's feelings on the issue.
The initial rotation may shake out something like this:
PG: Hinrich 38 / Robinson 10
SG: Hamilton 30 / Belinelli 18
SF: Deng 38 / Butler 10
PF: Boozer 26 / Gibson 22
C: Noah 30 / Nazr 10 / Gibson 8
Despite playing the worst in preseason, Belinelli will still likely get a chance to play a good chunk of minutes every game simply based on need. However, if his struggles persist for more than a couple games and Nate Robinson plays well then the Bulls will like make a shift to something like this:
PG: Hinrich 30 / Robinson 18
SG: Hamilton 30 / Belinelli 10 / Hinrich 8
Something along those lines is possibly right off the bat as well, especially if Robinson continues to play well over the next two preseason games and Belinelli continues to struggle.
Before the season started, I expected the bench rotation to effectively be a three man group with Nazr Mohammed getting plenty of DNPs, however through six preseason games it is apparent that Mohammed is a rotation quality player and can put in at least 10 minutes a night for Chicago.
That should ease the burden on the Bulls front court rotation considerably as well as relieve any pressure for Luol Deng to play the stretch four position regularly. The man missing out most here is Vladamir Radmanovic whom would have had a potential niche as a stretch four coming off the bench.
With quality big man play all around, he's pushed into a pure niche role as noted above.
The Bulls biggest problem thus far has been perimeter scoring/shooting. While Belinelli has no where to go but up at this point, he'd better get there soon or his role could disappear all together with Hinrich claiming a bunch of back up SG minutes and Butler sliding over to take a bigger role as well.
Butler doesn't add to the scoring mix any, but if Beli can't score anyway what difference does it make? Butler at least brings defense, energy, offensive rebounding, and foul drawing to the table.
Also, I doubt it will surprise anyone if we see Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich logging 40 minutes a night. Thibs has already shown a willingness to leave Deng out there for huge periods of time, and Kirk's the type of player who will fall into the same boat.