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Basketball Tue Jan 11 2011

Bulls' Thibodeau: A Method to His Madness?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for chicagobulls.pngThroughout the constant chatter about how to keep the Bulls on top with Joakim Noah sidelined has been a familiar refrain about why Keith Bogans continues to start every game. While a few weeks ago it was arguable who should replace him, Bulls fans across the city agreed that somebody had to.

Enter Ronnie Brewer. The shooting guard has taken his role as a super-sub and run with it, often alongside Derrick Rose on fast-break baskets. The past few games in particular have seen a great effort on the defensive end from him, illustrated most clearly in the fourth quarter Saturday against the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics.

Calling his game "superb", the Tribune's Teddy Greenstein tried to get Brewer to voice his own candidacy for starting guard but only received the party line: "I don't mind coming off the bench," Brewer said. "As long as we're winning games and I'm able to provide a spark, I'm happy with the role I have."

Which brings me to the question: does it matter whether Brewer starts or not? Across the world of athletics, it's obviously considered an honor and a privilege to be in the starting lineup and supposedly representative of the team's best players. But standing on ceremony isn't what wins you championships, and when push comes to shove, Brewer has been playing almost double the minutes of Bogans since the new year started. In the past six games, Bogans has played 18, 15, 14, 14, 12, and 16 minutes, while in the same span, Brewer has logged 19, 26, 30, 27, 33, 32 minutes respectively. To anyone watching beyond the opening tipoff, and more importantly, to his teammates, Brewer is one of the five you'd expect to see when the pressure is on.

Coach Tom Thibodeau is often criticized for Bogans' continued starts, but maybe it's time we start seeing that as strategy, not travesty. Brewer brings a lot of energy into the game when he steps off the bench, picking up the team's defensive effort and gleefully running the court with Rose for plays like this:

I think Thibodeau likes to let an opponent start the game and get used to a certain pace, to let them start focusing in on the players they'll need to watch -- Rose and Boozer, for instance. When Brewer steps in a few minutes later, the change in gears he brings can definitely catch a team by surprise. It energizes the Bulls themselves as well, as recent losses against lowly teams on the road all seemed to have a consistent sign of lapses in defensive focus. Simply put, Brewer works his butt off when he steps on the court, and seeing that surge can often shake his teammates out of their complacency and spark a big run.

So calm down, Bulls fans. There's no point in shaking your fist at Thibodeau, even when you hear yet again, as you might have this morning on ESPN 1000's Waddle and Silvy radio show, that Bogans will continue to start for the foreseeable future. When Brewer is playing double the minutes, or being assigned to Ray Allen for the entire fourth quarter of a tight game, Thibodeau is showing he knows who to rely on. The accolades will come for Ronnie -- hell, they're already here. In the meantime, enjoy the fact that Chicago has a player who embodies selflessness and will do whatever he's asked to help his team win.

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