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Bulls Tue Feb 05 2013

Bulls' Skewed Depth Perception

Bulls_200.pngWho needs last year's "Bench Mob" when you have this year's collection of "Spot Starters In Waiting"? OK, that's not as catchy as "Bench Mob" but it's very apt.

In the Bulls' two road games over the weekend, they were without All-Star Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis), the team's second leading scorer and rebounder Carlos Boozer (hamstring), and the oft-injured Derrick Rose fill-in, Kirk Hinrich (elbow). In last night's loss against the Pacers, though Boozer returned, the Bulls were out-rebounded by 12, and Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, seemed to tire towards the end of the game. The Bulls are racking up minor injuries, but are hanging around in the standings.

Everyone who's ever typed a word of praise for the Bulls has mentioned their depth, but that only gets a team so deep in the post season. According to basketball-reference.com's navigation friendly NBA championship series composite box scores, out of the last five finals match-ups, only 56 players logged an average of at least 20 minutes per game, which breaks down to each of those ten teams using a feeble 5.6 players that played an entry-level average of 20 minutes a game, minimum.

Stars carry teams in the postseason. Just ask last year's "Bench Mob" who couldn't win more than a game without Rose and Noah against the eighth seed Philadelphia 76ers. With that said, it's going to take a village for this team to even reach the Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals, and this Bulls team is filled with cooperative villagers that have a cult-like following to Coach Thibodeau's leadership.

Having a three-player big man rotation may have taken its toll.

The bigger they are, the harder it is for them not to eventually be bothered and miss games due to nagging injuries. Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets, Gibson and Deng played all but 12 seconds combined without Boozer and Noah. The next night versus the Atlanta Hawks, Thibodeau opted to play small ball again by sliding Deng over to play power forward and Gibson at center, while only substituting the team's other healthy front court players a combined five minutes. Thibodeau has no faith in depth chart fillers Nazr Mohammed and Vladimir Radmanovic, which is fine when Boozer, Noah and Gibson are healthy, but can take a toll when they're not. To Thibodeau's credit, he coaches regular season games as if they're a winner-takes-all game seven, but again, big picture, this isn't the safest approach to winning in April, May and June.

Can this potential crisis be averted? As Chicago Bulls Confidential's Doug Thonus tweets, the Bulls can't sign anyone to anything longer than a 10-day contract. Unfortunately, 10-day contract guys aren't known to bear postseason fruit.

Are the Bulls stuck with this three big-man rotation then? No, they could, gulp, make a trade. Here's Daily Herald writer Mike McGraw's take on the Bulls landing a big man before the trading deadline. Speculation without access to insider information is best served in ESPN's Trade Machine as a way to waste time at work, so I'll spare you my postulations.

Spot Starters in Waiting.

Though the nomenclature I've bestowed to the Bulls' bench doesn't roll off the tongue, it's what keeps the Bulls rolling. However, it's tough to get an accurate analysis of the Bulls' second unit because of the revolving door of injuries to the first group. All five of the Bulls' starters have missed at least three games in a row so far this season.

My new go-to advanced stats website, hoopsstats.com, has the Bulls' bench ranked 16th in the league in efficiency differential, so alas, those stats are unimpressive, but they don't tell the full story. They don't account for Marco Belinelli's red-hot run filling in for Rip Hamilton for a month back in December. Nowhere in the team's bench stats does it adjust for Gibson's big game against Orlando filling in for Boozer, or the last three games on this road trip. And who could forget the monster five games where Jimmy Butler was doubling for Deng? So until the team is entirely healthy with Rose, we'll all have to live with the "next man up" cliché and not really know what this "bench" can do in the spring.

Nate Robinson, from goat to G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) for a week.

Allow me to eat the ever-critical crow I've cawed about Nate Robinson. He won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors on Monday after averaging 17.8 points and 6.8 assists during the Bulls 3-1 week. While Robinson isn't and won't be an efficient basketball player, ranking 142nd in the league according to hoopstats' NBA player efficiency average, he's bailed out the Bulls with big shots and bigger bravado. Nate is great off the bench, but does a fine job when asked to spot start. Though his role is unknown once Rose returns, the Bulls would have made only half as many in-game runs had he not been a member of the team.

The Bulls play the next three of four games on the road before the All-Star break. Once the hiatus is over, it's time to brace for the media circus explosion, in anticipation of the return of you know who. Stay as rational and sane as you can now because this loveable underdog Bulls team will be back on everyone's NBA radar. It's time to wake up. The Bulls are no longer sleepers.

 

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