Look for Thomas to make series debut in Game 4

A pro’s pro. Always ready. Grizzled vet.

Those are words that are associated with 16-year veteran Kurt Thomas. Although he hasn’t seen much time this postseason — playing in six of the Chicago Bulls’ 14 playoff games — he’s one guy the Bulls can count on. He did it earlier this season, filling in for Joakim Noah during a 30-game stretch. The Bulls went 22-8 during that span. They’re use to winning with him, however, he’s seen his playing time drop in a major way in the playoffs.

But with Omer Asik dealing with a muscle strain in his left leg, look for Thomas to make his series debut versus the Miami Heat, who lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 with Game 4 on Tuesday in Miami.

“We feel very good about Kurt,” coach Tom Thibodeau said on Monday to ESPNChicago’s Nick Fridell. “Of course, Omer has
played terrific for us … but if Omer can’t go, Kurt will be the next
guy in.”

Asik’s played solid in the playoffs, though his one point and two rebounds in 10 minutes per game doesn’t show it. He’s the Bulls’ best on-ball defender in the frontcourt, as he’s forced LeBron James and Dwyane Wade into tough, contested shots when the Bulls switch the pick-and-roll.

With that said, it’s about time the Bulls shake off Thomas’ rust and play him. He’s a vet; he’s been through playoff wars before in his career, playing in a team-high 95 career playoff games; and he averaged five points and seven and a half rebounds per game in 35 games as the starting center during the regular-season.

Against the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks, it made sense to play Asik over Thomas at the backup center. Both teams played at a fast, frantic pace. The Heat do, too, though the Bulls have gotten them to play in the halfcourt throughout the series, which makes it a prime time for a Thomas appearance.

But it just hasn’t happened. Thibodeau, loyal as he is, has stuck with his current rotation: the starters and usual bench cast of C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson and Asik.

With the Heat’s defense clogging up the paint to contain Derrick Rose, who was held to 20 points on eight of 19 shooting in Game 3, it makes sense for the Bulls to play Thomas. Carlos Boozer’s 27 points led the Bulls, and he had moments where his jumper looked like it did with the Utah Jazz, however, he’s lost the touch he once had.

Right now, Thomas, based off his regular-season performance and (rare) playoff showing, is the Bulls’ best midrange jump-shooting big man. Noah doesn’t even look at the basket to score; Boozer’s midrange jumper is inconsistent; Gibson’s a close second to Thomas in terms of jump-shooting.

Some have called for more Rose/Boozer screen-and-rolls, but the Bulls haven’t ran it with much success all season. Usually, it looks pretty due to Rose’s dominance. But versus a dominant defensive team in the Heat, whose always in position to take charges and contest Rose’s shots, those same passing lanes, seams to drive for Rose are disappearing.

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Another issue with Boozer is his picks don’t really serve the function: free Rose to let him create. He doesn’t set proper screens. It’s more of a show-and-go; the Bulls got away with it in the regular-season, however, the Heat are getting better traps off on Rose because of Boozer’s soft screens.

Thomas, on the other hand, sets picks you want to teach your kids: solid, with a hard base — a screen that does its job, free up the ball handler and gives him (usually Rose) options.

Rose hasn’t had many options to pass to out of pick-and-rolls through the first three games, and unless the Bulls attempt to play Thomas more, the Heat’s defense will continue to clog up the paint. Thomas, unlike any other Bull, spreads the floor. His midrange jumper is consistent and effective.

With Noah’s ineffective play in Game 3 — one point and six rebounds in 29 foul-plagued minutes — and Asik’s inability to finish around the rim, this could be time for the grizzled vet to make his series debut. The last time Thomas played was May 4. But as Thibodeau’s said all season: Thomas is a pro’s pro; he’s always ready for action.

Even if Asik gives it a go in Game 4, his injury at least gives Thibodeau an excuse to do something he hasn’t done all season: Change his rotation.

“It feels better,” Asik said to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. “Hopefully, I’ll play.”

You never want to wish pain/injury on a player, but Asik being less-than-100-percent could be a blessing in disguise. Thomas would open up the floor for the Bulls, give Rose plenty of options.

With a must-win Game 4, look for Thibodeau to pull out all the stops. Time to go back to the pro he had to count on for several months while Noah was out with torn ligaments in his right thumb.

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