Schuhmann: Bulls Bench Adding Immense Value to Maintaining Game Control

Schuhmann: Bulls Bench Adding Immense Value to Maintaining Game Control

John Schuhmann's analysis of lineups across the league have the Bulls bench among the most efficient all-around units.

omer asik taj gibson d.jpg

Early in the season, the "we need to play 48-minutes of good basketball" meme addressed what seemed to be a crisis for the Bulls. They were consistently having disastrous starts in the second quarter and losing advantages late in the third quarter, leaving messes for starters to cleanup. As they've improved and Luol Deng's logged more minutes with the bench as a unit, the cumulative season shows the bench players netting large value for the the Bulls, John Schuhmann at NBA.com wrote Thursday at NBA.com.

Omer Asik is leading all eligible Sixth Man Award players in the NBA with a plus-minus efficiency of +13.3, with Ronnie Brewer in 5th at +9.2, and C.J. Watson in 10th at +8.0, going into Thursday's games, Schuhmann found.
"In fact, while benches from other teams may boast higher scoring totals, the Bulls' bench is the best in the NBA, because it consistently shuts down its opponent's second unit," he wrote, adding (with stats through games played Mar. 16):
The Bulls' lineup of Watson, Brewer, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Asik has been the best defensive five-man unit in the league (minimum of 100 minutes), allowing a ridiculously low 75.9 points per 100 possessions in 103 minutes together. Substitute Derrick Rose for Watson and you have the league's second-best defensive unit (83.5 points allowed per 100 possessions in 118 minutes).

Friday, he admitted that "the 'best bench' proclamation was made a little hastily," as the Spurs have a "bench unit" with a higher overall efficiency rating, but with only 101 minutes.The lineup he notes as 2nd is Asik, Brewer, and Gibson with Deng and Derrick Rose. The earlier lineup with the most efficient defense in the NBA comes in at 9th, but 2nd among lineups with at least four non-starters.

More important, though, he added a crucial point to counter a disturbing meme that Rose is the lipstick on a pig about to win Miss America. "As great as Derrick Rose is, the Bulls' bench has been absolutely critical to their success," he wrote, later adding:
So even though they're coming off the bench, it's critical for bench players to complement their team's stars and fit the coach's game plan. The Bulls' reserves obviously do that. Tom Thibodeau's squad ranks just 15th in the league offensively, but is at the top of the Eastern Conference because of its No. 1 defense.

Of players who've logged at least 300 minutes and started less than 50% of their team's games, the Bulls are one of seven teams with five or more players carrying positive plus-minus efficiencies. (The Heat have seven. The Thunder have six. The Nuggets, Lakers, Magic, Jazz have five with the Bulls.)
The Deng variable
According to BasketballValue.com's overall plus-minus efficiency rating, the Bulls six of the seven 100-plus-minute five-man units are posting positive numbers:
plusminus units.JPG

data includes logs of games played through 3/17

Thibs has dropped adjusted plus-minus as the rationale behind having Asik and Gibson play as many of their minutes together as possible and we see why. Also: notice that the unit in the red is seldom used, after being used heavily early in the season when there seemed to be a bench crisis.
Deng is in every positively rated 100-minute unit. He is in ten of the 11 which have logged at least 75 minutes and only two of them are in the red. One is with Korver, Boozer, and Thomas. Boozer and Korver break down more often, requiring more help, and Thomas simply doesn't have to mobility to do so. Substitute only Thomas for Noah and the unit is the second-most efficient of the season to this point.
For those seeing this as argument to start Korver, don't ignore the ORtg of Watson, Brewer, Deng, Gibson, and Asik at an abysmal 89.4 -- because that's your end-of-first- and early-second-quarter unit, in that case.
Coach of the Year?
Without knowing it, I realized as I was writing this that I was adding to a great case for Thibs to win Coach of the Year. There's no question that the Bulls are at the top of the East, not for offensive superstardom, but their defense and depth. There's no question from where that defense comes and maybe Thibs should be lauded more for how he's been managing the depth in his rotations.
I've clobbered him, periodically, on Deng's minutes. I'm not sold on constant 40-minute nights for anyone, but this ought to aid in understanding Thibs' decision-making process and add more credit given to it.
To be fair, I won't say that this is the argument for Thibs to win the COY, if for any other reason, similar data analysis would have to be done for the other candidates.

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