With Rip Hamilton sidelined due to a sore left groin, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had to tweak his rotation before Sunday night's 104-64 rout of the Memphis Grizzlies at the United Center. The reigning Coach of the Year placed Ronnie Brewer in the starting lineup and the reserves, dubbed the "Bench Mob," didn't miss a beat.
Brewer spent lots of time practicing with the starting unit during training camp and started alongside Derrick Rose in the backcourt in the team's preseason opener against the Indiana Pacers. He had an all-around gem against the Grizzlies, posting 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists while shooting 6-for-10 from the field and 1-for-1 from three-point range. The sixth-year shooting guard worked hard during the prolonged offseason to improve his outside shot -- and it's paying off. He is 4-for-4 from beyond the arc this season.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence, and he has right from the start of training camp," Thibodeau told the assembled media after the convincing win. "I think the big thing is his health. He came in much better shape this year. He had to overcome the hamstring injury last year. And actually, quite honestly, I think he just picked up right where he left off. At the end of last year, he was playing really well. So I think he's gotten his confidence back, and we need him."
While Brewer has repeatedly said he's comfortable with either the starters or Bench Mob, there's no question that he would prefer to be a starter because that is the role he has played for the majority of his career. However, the 6-foot-7 Brewer understands he will get plenty of minutes in Thibodeau's rotation as long as he continues to knock down jumpers and use his familiarity with both groups.
"I started training camp with the first unit," Brewer said. "I've been playing with [Carlos] Boozer for quite some time. And when I sub in, usually D. Rose is still in there, Luol [Deng's] in there, or Joakim [Noah's] in there for a little bit. And it mixes up. I know their strengths and weaknesses and what they like to do. They're tending to learn mine. So it's easy to make that transition [and] play with them and we have a great chemistry playing with that Bench Mob unit."
Thibodeau emptied his bench in the second half when the Bulls led by as many as 46 points. Omer Asik dropped eight points and eight rebounds and showed a nice touch on a post-up move in the fourth quarter. Kyle Korver scored six points for the third consecutive game, while Taj Gibson added seven points and three rebounds. And most importantly for the United Center crowd, Brian Scalabrine -- and to a lesser degree, Jimmy Butler, who scored his first basket in the NBA on an easy layup following his own offensive rebound -- played the final five minutes and 35 seconds.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, though, backup point guard C.J. Watson suffered a sprained left elbow early in the fourth quarter. Thibodeau said the team should know more about the injury on Monday. However, as usual, the Bulls called on a player who was able to step right in and produce when his number was called -- in this case, it was John Lucas III. The 29-year-old scored eight points and nailed two three-pointers in nine minutes.
Fans knew the Bulls' Bench Mob would play a major role in the team's success during the condensed 66-game season. Thibodeau has developed unquestioned trust in his reserve corps and has done a good job of keeping each player involved with the conveyed message night in and night out.
"You need everybody," Thibodeau said. "As it worked out, our bench has played very, very effectively in short minutes. And so tonight Ronnie stepped in [the starting lineup], and he's played great all preseason and he's played well in the regular season, so it was good for him to get extra minutes. Kyle got extra minutes. So that part is good. Omer was very good, and Omer's starting to react to the ball again and his rebounding is terrific, clogging up the lane. I thought C.J. was rolling pretty good until he got injured. We need everybody.
"The bench is always [good]. Whatever you ask them to do, they get it done."