On Thursday January 12th, it looked as if Bulls star Jimmy Butler still wasn't healthy and wouldn't be able to suit up against the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. Most of us assumed that reserve Doug McDermott would take his place in the starting lineup since Doug had started in Dwyane Wade's place on several occasions when the veteran guard rested.
Instead, Fred Hoiberg threw Bulls' fans for a loop and announced that second round pick Paul Zipser would be starting at Small Forward. The first-year German player logged 34 minutes in the Bulls loss, scoring 7 points on 2-for-6 shooting and racking up 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
He had played 57 minutes total prior to this game.
There are some logical justifications to a Zipser start. For instance, Hoiberg could want to keep the second unit consistent to try and develop more of a rhythm between Rondo, McDermott, and Mirotic. Starting Doug or Niko in Jimmy's place would have significantly more ripple effects on the rotation than starting Zipser would. Additionally, it makes sense to surround Rondo with as much shooting as possible since his true shooting percentage in 2017 is abysmal, even though it's a pretty good ACT score. If you're set on playing Rondo with the second unit, it makes sense to play Doug and Niko there too and match their minutes with Rondo's as much as possible.
Here's the problem with the above paragraph--it's practically inarguable that having Zipser on the court makes you a worse basketball team. In the three games that he's started (small sample size alert), Zipser has the lowest net rating on the team at -14.3 and the second lowest plus/minus at -5.3. If you're trying to win games (and for some reason, this still appears to be Chicago's goal), Paul Zipser probably shouldn't be a part of your strategy.
This isn't to say that Zipser doesn't have potential. He can, on occasion, sink a 3-pointer from the corner, and anyone who can do that is someone the Bulls need. He also held his own when he was switched onto Carmelo Anthony, showing flashes of the ability to guard both forward positions that was touted on draft night.
That's the thing about potential though-- it doesn't help you win at the moment. Those flashes popped up in-between a lot of mistakes typical of someone who has yet to play 100 minutes in the NBA, mistakes like getting straight-up outworked on a rebound or closing out just a bit too late. These aren't really Zipser's fault. Well, they are, but only a handful of players in the history of the league weren't making these mistakes when they were in Zipser's spot, and those players were usually taken a lot earlier than 48th in the draft. It's true that the only way for the German Forward to improve is to play through stuff like this. But the Bulls are trying to make the playoffs, and Zipser isn't going to help them get there.
You might think that when Butler's health returned to normal, so too did Zipser's role return to its minimal nature. You'd be right...for one game.
Since the Knicks game, Zipser has picked up his 21st DNP-CD and started two more games. Taking part in a minutes carousel that really symbolizes the lack of any direction in this Bulls organization. Alternating between the starting lineup and not seeing a single minute is not normal for an NBA rotation, and it certainly isn't conducive to the type of consistency that the Bulls so desperately lack.
We'll see what happens to the Bulls rotation if Taj Gibson's ankle continues to keep him out of the lineup (Zipser started in Gibson's place against Dallas). Zipser very well could be back on the bench for good by Friday, or we could hear his name introduced for several games to come. Obviously injuries can force your hand when it comes to who plays, but starting Zipser just seems like trying to hard to think outside the box.
The Bulls have plenty of stuff inside the box that still needs fixing.