"Do your job", the famous quote of Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau directly applies to the new look bench for the Bulls. The Bench Mob 2.0, as their being referred to, is off to a rough start in the pre-season. With Taj Gibson the only returning bench member from last year's squad, these new additions need to learn their roles. Now before anyone goes jumping off a cliff, remember it's only pre-season. Two years ago when the Bulls put together the original Bench Mob, it wasn't success at first sight. With practice and coaching they developed into one the premier benches in the NBA. This year's bench could operate at a high level over time. Here's a breakdown of what it will take:
Nate Robinson: The 5'9" 180lbs point guard will be the main backup with Rose out and Hinrich starting. The issue with Robinson right now is he hasn't learned that in the Tom Thibodeau offense he is going to have to be more of a distributor instead of a scorer. Robinson has a quick trigger much like John Lucas III and CJ Watson when he first arrived in Chicago. Nate is coming from a Golden State team where it was a run and gun style. In Chicago, Nate is going to have to learn to defer and run a offense. It sounds easy, but it's going to take time. Now don't get me wrong, I'm willing to bet Nate Robinson wins the Bulls a game or two this season with a huge scoring game. Otherwise, Nate needs to start getting his teammates involved. Right now, the offense is stagnant and everyone is playing a solo game. Robinson has to get Marco Belinelli the ball more off of screens. Belinelli is athletic and isn't a standup shooter. Robinson also needs to run some pick and roll with big men Gibson and Mohammed. The quicker Robinson thinks distribute before score, the faster the bench will become offensively effective.
Jimmy Butler: Butler is going to be part of the rotation in his second year in the NBA. At 6'7" 220lbs, he has the size to play the 2 or 3. He's put the time in the gym over the summer and in the Las Vegas Summer League to get himself ready. Now it's just about him putting it together on the court. Butler is going to replace Ronnie Brewer. In the three pre-season games, I have liked Butler's aggressiveness. The main thing Jimmy needs to work on is his shooting. Butler is getting looks and he's not hitting his shots. I think Butler can be solid rotation player in the NBA for many years. He needs to develop his shot to where he is hitting a 12-15 footer consistently. He has a small 3pt game, but I'm not worried about that. Also, he could take a page out of Brewer's book and develop a baseline game. Butler is tough enough to work down low and get the high percentage shots.
Marco Belinelli: The 6'5" 195lbs shooting guard is having a rough start to pre-season. He looks lost in this offense and his shot isn't falling. He was brought to Chicago to replace the outside shooting and 3 pt shooting that the Bulls lost when they traded Kyle Korver to Atlanta. Belinelli, however, has a very different game then Korver. Belinelli is more athletic than Korver. In New Orleans, he was more of a slasher than a standup shooter. He will provide 3 pt shooting as well. The main thing I'm seeing right now is he's lost on the court. That feeling is adversely affecting his shot. Nate Robinson's struggles in learning to be a distributor directly impact Belinelli. He needs the ball in situations where he can succeed. Belinelli has shown glimpses of better play when Hinrich is his point guard. Getting Belinelli off more high screens and single/double screens will help. As Belinelli gets comfortable, I expect his shooting percentage to increase.
Taj Gibson: Taj is the one returning member off the bench. I'm expecting Taj to have a big year this season. His work with the US Select Olympic Team and a summer of working with Thibs should pay big dividends. So far in the pre-season, I have been satisfied with Taj. He obviously still needs to get in season shape and knock off some rust. Once he gets his legs under him all the way we should see big things. Taj brings toughness, defense, and rebounding to the team. He can post up down low and hit the mid-range shot consistently. I think Taj will step up and become the leader of this year's bench. Once the others start gelling, Taj's game will only get better.
Nazr Mohammed: The Bulls made the right choice when the let Omer Asik go to that insane offer sheet the Houston Rockets made. Nazr a 6'10" 250lbs veteran could end up being a nice acquisition for the Bulls. Mohammed may be older than Asik, but he brings a offensive game that Asik didn't have. Nazr will bring a dynamic offensively to the backup center position the Bulls haven't had since Kurt Thomas. He can post up, rebound, and is a decent free throw shooter. He has adapted quickly to this offense and is doing well. He is playing higher minutes in the pre-season then he will in the regular season. Nazr could end up being a very cost effective backup for the Bulls this season.
Vladimir Radmanovic: Vlad is a bit of enigma. He has bounced around the NBA over the years. His role with the Bulls is very simple though. Vlad will likely play limited minutes off the bench. He will be asked to come in to provide some outside shooting and a small post up game. In the pre-season, we haven't seen much from Vlad. He, much like Belinelli, seems to be struggling to understand their role in the offense. Expectations won't be high for Vlad, but don't sleep on him. He can provide some offense both from the outside and underneath the net. As he grows in the offense, expect Vlad to show a little more during the pre-season.
This Bench Mob 2.0 needs work, but it can easily be a effective bench. If the current members learn their roles and effectively do their job, they can be a solid group. It's going to take sacrifice and learning new styles to achieve that goal. With Tom Thibodeau coaching though that's possible. He has a way of getting his players to buy into what he's selling. Time and patience will be necessary, but the Bench Mob 2.0 is a work in progress.
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