Through three preseason games we've watched Bench Mob 2.0 struggle to score, struggle to play with continuity, and give up large leads to the opponents. Thus far, the talent level appears lower, and the individual pieces aren't yet playing to the sum of their parts. The past two years, Thibodeau has played the bench as a unit, but he can't continue to do so with the present struggles.
The Chicago Bulls use of their bench was far from ordinary. While most teams bring in multiple substitutions at once, few teams regularly play an entire bench unit together for 15+ minutes a night. The Bulls regularly played five reserves together, and frequently, those reserves extended leads or led comebacks.
However, the old bench mob had a high talent level and complementary pieces. It still took them awhile to find their chemistry together as in the early going C.J. Watson would dribble the ball up the court and the entire unit would spend 20 seconds working to get Kyle Korver an open shot.
It took awhile for C.J. to integrate his Golden State born aggressive shot creating style with the more traditional point guard role that Tom Thibodeau asked him to play in Chicago. It took some time to get Gibson and Brewer integrated into the bench offense as well. However, as time went on, the unit performed strongly on both ends of the court and was one of the greatest strengths of the team.
Bench Mob 2.0 is going through the same initial struggles but has more things working against it. While Kirk Hinrich is a viable C.J. Watson replacement, Nate Robinson may not be. The original bench mob wasn't likely to have found its groove under John Lucas whom for all his heroics against Miami was an obsessive ball pounder and poor shot taker.
While Rose is out, the Bulls simply lack the talent to play two five man units even if the second unit fit together as well as the first unit. If Kirk Hinrich was leading Bench Mob 2.0 than they'd have a chance, but with Nate Robinson leading the show things are more of a struggle.
Robinson's a great signing for the minimum. He can provide a spark, and I think his personality it something the Bulls locker room actually needs. However, like Watson, he's spent a career struggling to take a game of creating shots for himself and interweave it with one to create shots for others.
The Bulls don't have the luxury of allowing this unit to try to figure things out. Not when Robinson, Belinelli, and Mohammed will all likely leave the team next season. Not when Kirk Hinrich will take over Robinson's role three months into the season when Derrick Rose is likely to return.
There's no sense of permanence to this group, and so there's no point trying to work out their kinks together when the unit will change dramatically mid season. The Bulls need to take a different tact this season.
Instead of creating Bench Mob 2.0, the Bulls need to rotate bench players in to play minutes with the starters, particularly on the perimeter. The Bulls should attempt to keep one of Kirk Hinrich or Luol Deng in with the bench the majority of minutes to provide stability on both ends of the court. They can mix Hamilton's minutes up so he plays some with both units as well.
The one pairing that would seem to fit well together is Taj and Mohammed where both front court units would strike a balance between offensive and defensive play. Both units would feature a quick big man paired with a less mobile one. However, even there, the Bulls are best limiting Nazr's minutes and simply playing Taj, Joakim, and Boozer more.
Given the makeup of the season, I expect the Bulls to make these adjustments. I expect a rotation with eight primary players and a ninth guy who gets 8-10 minutes a night and other playing time to be based purely on the situation.