First and foremost, thank you to Doug for the introduction, and secondly, I'm pretty jealous about the Cancun thing.
Anyway, hi! I'm Morten. Danish fellow. Been here before, though it's been a while. I'll be playing the role of Doug next week, but figured I'd introduce myself beforehand.
So. The Bulls. This season has been a bit upside down from where I'm sitting. Derrick coming back and struggling for a good chunk was expected, but even so, I thought they'd have a better handle on the season. When Jimmy Butler began doing Jimmy Butler things (included, but not limited to, scoring at an elite level, becoming a playmaker, maintaining a defensive approach, making the All-Star team, and so on) it was widely believed these Bulls were on their way.
And yet, despite seeing both Butler and Pau Gasol in All-Star jerseys, things are just off somehow. Injuries have piled up, but when has that ever not been the case? Fingers are pointed towards Thibodeau, but at no point does it look like he's lost the ears of the players out there, not when the entire team seems to be holding itself accountable. Even Gasol's defense, though worrisome and shaky, isn't the catalyst for the uneven production that's going on out there. Thibodeau isn't beyond fault however, which I'll touch on later.
If you're holding your breath for an answer, I'm afraid I can't provide one. I'm seeing the same Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde version of the Bulls out there like you, and while the numbers and eye-test most certainly point to defensive issues, a thought lingers in the back of my mind that says this is somehow deeper.
Back in 2007, after a promising playoffs the year before, the team upgraded with Joakim Noah and Joe Smith, but produced one of the most puzzling seasons in franchise history. Granted, Ben Wallace was around which was never a good thing from a Chicago perspective (he never really wanted to leave Detroit) but even so, the supposed upgrades were for naught. This isn't entirely the same situation here, as both Mirotic and McDermott have futures in Chicago, but going from a somewhat shallow roster to the deepest Thibodeau has had since being hired, has yet to result in satisfied play on a consistent level.
Over the first two or three months of the season, I was convinced it was about a lack of familiarity. Lately however, I'm not so sure. The whole Boozer-to-Gasol thing was always unfair to Taj Gibson, and now you have a rookie coming in, who you cannot justify not starting full time next year. That's harsh, even for a pro like Gibson who really needs to receive a medal for patience of some sort. At the same time, I'm not overly fond of the idea of having Noah coming back after knee surgery, and having him play power forward defensively. Yes, he won DPOY last year by being able to switch onto smaller players, even guards, but that was never on a consistent basis. Asking him to modify his defense to primarily roam around the high post defensively, while taking him away from the basket, even on a healthy knee, would be asking too much. But on a bad knee? Let's just say that's a philosophy I'm not buying into. Looking at you, Tom.
Some of this has been, admittedly, self-inflicted from a coaching perspective. With a roster like that, there's no reason for Kirk Hinrich to average 25+ minutes a game. Nor is there any particularly need for burning a 34-year old Gasol for near 35 minutes nightly, when Gibson and Mirotic are right there behind him. I'm not requesting that the Bulls adopt a fully blown "Popovich model" overall, most of the core is too young for that, but for the older guys? Absolutely.
Moving forward, I'm conflicted as to what I wish to see happen. I'm a firm believer that rookie experience can only be a valuable asset going into the post-season, should injuries occur. But while that part of me wants to see McDermott get 25 minutes a game, there's a stronger need to get the current core on the same page as they re-integrate Rose, Butler and Gibson at some point in the near future.
One thing the Bulls, as a team, has going for themselves is the fact that total minutes played for each player, is at a nice area. While Butler's 38.9 minutes is a load, he'll top out at 68 games played (and that's if he, and the players who follow, re-joins the team tomorrow against Toronto) and in the 2,600 minutes range. For Rose, it'll be 57 games and about 1,800 minutes. Noah is looking at 70 games and around 2,100 minutes. The only guy with some concern, as I mentioned previously, is Gasol who's missed only four games and is looking at 2,700 minutes at an advanced age.
Is that enough fresh legs to make up for a lack of continuity? That remains to be seen. But it may play a factor down the line in a seven-game series.
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