Chicago Bulls’ Depth Is a Good but Real Problem

The Chicago Bulls are in an unfamiliar position this year. Faced with the conundrum of their deepest roster since Tom Thibodeau became head coach in 2010, they need to figure out how to get all these guys minutes.

Thibodeau has gained the infamous reputation of shortening his rotation and playing his most reliable defenders into the ground.

While a short hook for blown assignments has had something to do with that, it’s never been entirely fair to put all the blame for the heavy minutes on the coach.

The players most acquainted with their chairs were hardly elite talent. Consider this less-than-illustrious list of names: Louis Amundson, Jarvis Varnado, Tornike Shengelia, Cartier Martin, Jimmer Fredette, Erik Murphy, Mike James, Marquis Teague, Daequan Cook, Vladimir Radmanovic, Malcolm Thomas, Brian Scalabrine, Rasual Butler and James Johnson.

That’s everyone who logged fewer than 500 minutes with the Bulls since the 2010-11 season. From that list, the only one with a post-Bull career worth mentioning is Johnson’s. That’s the talent Thibodeau has been “wasting.”

As a result, players like Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng have borne the brunt of the burden, playing excessive minutes. Deng led the league in playing time until last year. Then, Butler did so in his place.

Noah, who led centers in minutes last year, has been overly tasked, too.

But now the Bulls are suddenly boasting a roster that goes a legitimate 10 deep. And that’s a dilemma Thibodeau is not used to facing.

Who are all these guys, and how are they going to get playing time? Let’s break it down.

 

The Returning Players

Derrick Rose will be making his second return. He won the 2010-11 MVP award but has been struggling with injuries since then, missing all but 10 games the last two years. The Bulls will be happy if he can just finish the season.

Chicago is also bringing back the majority of the eight-man rotation that won 48 games last season. I won’t spend a lot of time discussing them because they are familiar faces already.

Kirk Hinrich served as the starting point guard the majority of the season. He’ll now back up Rose.

Butler will get the nod at shooting guard and was named to the All-Defensive second team. The Bulls are hoping his offense bounces back this year after his field-goal percentage dropped below 40 percent last year, but he’ll log minutes regardless because he’s one of the best wing stoppers in the league.

Mike Dunleavy Jr. stepped into Deng’s spot after he was traded on Jan. 7. There’s a good chance he moves back to the bench at some point in the season, if not to begin it.

Taj Gibson was expected to become the new starting power forward after Carlos Boozer was amnestied. Instead, he’ll be a significant bench player and favorite for Sixth Man of the Year.

Noah, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-NBA center, will maintain his starting status.

Tony Snell had an up-and-down rookie year but is hoping to build upon a standout performance in Summer League, where he was named to the All-NBA Summer League first team. He’s added bulk and is more familiar with the defense. An improvement by him could alleviate Butler of his extra burden.

The only key players Chicago lost are Boozer and D.J. Augustin.

That puts the Bulls at seven deep, just counting the returning players.

 

The New Players

The biggest acquisition for the Bulls was Boozer’s replacement, Pau Gasol. The 7’0″ Spaniard had a real plus-minus (rpm) of plus-1.04. Boozer’s was minus-4.13. Theoretically, that swap would result in a net difference of 5.17 points per game. While it’s doubtful it actually works out to be that dramatic, it’s indicative of a big improvement.  

Chicago also added two rookies, and either could potentially compete for Rookie of the Year.

The reputation that Thibodeau has gained is that he redshirts rookies. The reality is he doesn’t give time to guys who can’t play, regardless of their experience. See the aforementioned list as evidence.

It’s true that rookies haven’t really logged heavy minutes, but drafting in the bottom third each year, the Bulls haven’t been landing NBA-ready guys.

This year’s pair of first-year candidates is an entirely different issue. Using past seasons to predict playing time for this year’s rookies is literally the same as comparing Marquis Teague to Nikola Mirotic or Doug McDermott. And doing that would be just silly.

McDermott is the Naismith Award winner and the NCAA’s fifth all-time leading scorer. Mirotic is reigning MVP of the second-fiercest basketball league in the world. They are far more ready to play than any rookie Thibodeau has ever had, including Butler.

Some, expecting defensive issues, will cite that as an alternate reason the rooks will ride pine. But Thibodeau has given time to bad defenders who offer scoring.

Augustin was horrendous when the Bulls didn’t have the ball, and he logged more than 30 minutes per game.

Boozer’s defensive woes are legendary, and he still played 28 minutes last season, even when he was averaging only 13.7 points.

Kyle Korver improved in Chicago, but he was never a stopper at the wings. He played more than 20 minutes both his seasons with the Bulls.

You could argue that Thibodeau has given more minutes to lopsided players who skew defensively, but it’s not like there have been great scoring talents wasting away on the bench in their place.

He just hasn’t had scorers. Fredette is the closest thing to a pure offensive threat who was wasted, but he was so awful when the other team had the ball that he got thrown out of Sacramento. Sacramento!!!

The Bulls are also more vested in McDermott and Mirotic than previous Thibodeau rookies.

They gave up the Nos. 16 and 19 picks and a 2015 second-rounder to land the rights to McDermott.

They traded the No. 29 pick (Norris Cole) and a second-round pick in 2011 just for the chance to gamble that Mirotic would eventually come over. When he finally did, they gave him a three-year, $17 million contract.

As a result, expect both rookies to log regular minutes.

Aaron Brooks will serve as security if Rose gets hurt again. He might break the rotation if Rose stays healthy, as he offers more scoring punch than Hinrich, but due to defense, Thibodeau will likely prefer to stick with the “Captain.”

Other newcomers (or potential ones) who aren’t likely to break the rotation are E’Twaun Moore (expected to sign, per Mary Stevens of Sports Talk Florida) and second-round pick Cameron Bairstow.

 

Allocating Minutes

There are only 240 player minutes to distribute in a regulation game. Is that enough to give all 10 rotation players sufficient time?

To a degree, yes. Bear in mind that Thibodeau isn’t locked into positions, and many of the players on the Bulls can play and/or guard more than one spot.

Butler will always guard the opponent’s best wing, regardless of whether he’s the 2 or 3. Thibodeau’s schemes don’t really care about who is technically playing what position. And frankly, there aren’t a lot of teams with two potent scoring wings.

That means McDermott starting alongside Butler is a viable option. He’s not projected to be an elite defender, but he doesn’t need to be. In fact, he can survive as a below average one.

As a rookie, he will have a learning curve, but in this case that’s actually the reason it makes more sense to start him. And that’s also one of the keys to getting sufficient minutes to all the rotation players, counterintuitive as it may seem.

Thibodeau tends to play units, not just individuals. He prefers to keep at least three of his elite defenders together. He also likes to split the weaker ones so that they’re not on the court at the same time. That’s why, for example, Boozer and Augustin only shared the court for 647 minutes last year, per NBAWowy, and why almost all of them included Butler.

If both McDermott and Mirotic are coming off the bench together, it will be that much harder to hide them. Starting McDermott solves that problem.

It also resolves the biggest difficultly the Bulls have had on offense. While he’s not an elite shot-creator in the sense that Rose is, McDermott is a legitimate secondary threat to get shots on his own. His tremendous shooting range also dovetails nicely with the former MVP’s ability to drive and kick.

Furthermore, with McDermott starting, Dunleavy can return to the bench. He is not a great on-ball defender, but he’s an excellent team defender. In fact, he had the 10th-best DRPM of all small forwards last season at plus-1.91.

If Snell improves as expected, the Bulls will have two solid wings in the reserve unit and an on-ball defender beside Dunleavy. It would also have Dunleavy and Gibson to bookend Mirotic so that they can compensate for whatever mistakes he makes.

Offensively, it allows the new Bench Mob to be much more potent than previous versions. Hinrich, Snell, Dunleavy and Mirotic all have good to great range. The Bulls could run an effective four-out, one-in offense with that group.

And, just as importantly, both units would be able to maintain Thibodeau’s high defensive standard, with Butler and Noah anchoring the first unit and Dunleavy and Gibson securing the second.

Essentially, that allows all the rotation players steady minutes.

Additionally, because many of the Bulls can play multiple positions, Thibodeau can toy with the rotation. He can play Gasol and Gibson as either center or power forward if he wants to pound the rock inside. He can put Rose and Hinrich together when he needs two ball-handlers. Or, he can have Snell and Butler man the wings when two stoppers are required.

One of the overlooked aspects of their diversity is Mirotic, who has the skills to play both forward positions. Tony Kukoc—a former Bull Mirotic has been compared to—told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

“Obviously, you can use him at multiple positions. He can be a big (small forward). But he also can play as a (power forward) because he’s a solid rebounder. Whatever he plays, he can shoot the 3-pointer so he can stretch the floor.”

One lineup that isn‘t immediately obvious is playing Mirotic at the 3 with Gibson and Noah, who both have the ability to step out and guard the perimeter. Mirotic would be able to still defend the 4, thus removing the concerns on that end of the court.

That would allow Mirotic and Gibson to earn some extra minutes off the bench while also providing Gasol more rest.

With all of that in mind, the table below shows how the Bulls could roughly distribute the time, providing everyone sufficient minutes while also keeping them under 30.   

The Bulls, more than in any year of the Thibodeau era, have a deep bench that can both defend and score the ball. There are 10 reliable players. And for once, some of them can actually score. Whether Thibodeau utilizes the exact schemes outlined above, it’s apparent that there are ways to get everyone in the game.

Regardless of how things end up working out, Bulls fans will happily take the new conundrum over the old one of wearing everyone down just in time for the playoffs.

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Michigan Basketball: 5 Players Who Most Need Good Performances in Italy

Before the Michigan basketball program begins practicing in the fall, it will have the pleasure of heading to Italy to participate in four exhibition games in an effort to build team chemistry and camaraderie before the 2014-15 season starts.

Michigan is set to start play against a local Italian All-Star team in Rome on Sunday, according to Brendan F. Quinn of MLive.com, before visiting similar teams in Vicenza and Como in their nine-day trip away from Ann Arbor.

While the sights are nice and a trip to Europe is always fun and enlightening, John Beilein and company will also treat the excursion as business and a way to get several key players to step up their play.

With that said, here are five players (listed alphabetically) who most need good performances in Italy. 

Begin Slideshow

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Shaq on the Cleveland Cavaliers: ‘LeBron Has His Good Luck Charm’

The Eastern Conference has gone through a big shakeup this NBA offseason.  There are teams that fell apart, while others are on the rise. 

But after all of these changes, who is the early favorite?

Shaquille O’Neal took some time out from coaching at the Reebok Breakout Camp vs. EBC All-Star game at Rucker Park in Harlem, New York, to give his early predictions. 

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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Detroit Pistons Might Now Be Left With No Other Good Option But To Trade Greg Monroe

Some Detroit Pistons’ fans would take Tuesday’s report—that Greg Monroe would consider signing a one-year qualifying offer deal with the team—as positive news. The reality as it relates to Detroit’s future, however, is that it is not.
With the announcement, leaked early Tuesday from Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News, it becomes clearer that Monroe does not want to play in Detroit long term. From that standpoint, the Pistons would be smartest to act as soon as possible to get value for their disgruntled forward. It’s been an embarrassing offseason to say the least with Monroe, full of trade rumors and confusion on what the next move might be for both parties. It seems each side has dared the other to blink first. As Goodwill admits, the clock is now ticking louder.
The Greg Monroe watch is entering its seventh week, with another seven weeks remaining before there’s a guarantee that his restricted free agency will be resolved, one way or another.
That date is October 1. Even though Monroe migh

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Why Kevin Love Being Traded to Cleveland Cavaliers Is Good for the NBA

If and when Kevin Love officially joins the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA will win.

Big time.

Winners and losers are hallmarks of any blockbuster trade. Reactions to deals are reflexive. We rush to see who came out on top and who lost out the most. 

Certain progress is more fluid. Grades and judgments must be reserved, like in the case of Love himself.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports paints Love’s relocation as a done deal. Not only is the trade in place, but the Cavaliers have been assured of Love’s return next summer when he enters free agency.

Rumblings of premature agreements come bearing red flags. Since the trade cannot be completed until Aug. 23, and since Love cannot sign a five-year deal until next summer, the NBA could veto this deal, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst

But that’s only if any wrongdoing can be found. If there’s no one to reprimand, the NBA wins. 

And it wins big.

 

One-Year Boon

There are plenty of risks for all parties involved. 

Will Love fit in and enjoy his time in Cleveland? Is the pressure on LeBron James to win now after the Cavaliers added another superstar? Will Andrew Wiggins develop into the building block the Minnesota Timberwolves desperately need? 

Little about this deal is safe, which is kind of the point.

This cannot be considered the best thing to ever happen to Love. Not if he’s truly going to forfeit—even in theory—the freedom to explore free agency. James cannot be deemed Executive of the Year because he endorsed Love’s arrival weeks after serenading the masses with a letter that emphasized patience.

Risks are everywhere, hence interest is everywhere.

All eyes will be on Cleveland, and a superstar troika of Love, James and Kyrie Irving. The former’s arrival could even spell the entrance of a certain future Hall of Famer, per ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard:

Suddenly the NBA will have been gifted this new superteam, a national interest gem that promises twists and turns and excitement within a disadvantageous market.

Goliaths aren’t supposed to form in smaller locales. The collective bargaining agreement actively deters superteams in general, but diminutive markets are handicapped further. Money is typically an issue and, more importantly, so is appeal.

Cleveland will have bucked conventional wisdom. The Cavaliers aren’t trading for everyone here, just Love. They kept Irving, and they convinced the world’s greatest player to abandon sunny Miami for a shot at redemption. It lends credit to the argument that superstar parity does exist in the NBA, which is great for the league.

As is the fate of Cleveland’s 2013-14 crusade.

If the Cavs succeed, if they steamroll the Eastern Conference and make a play for James’ third championship, it will be just as thrilling as the Miami Heat‘s 2010-11 inaugural campaign. The appeal of three new-to-each-other stars—two of whom have never been to the playoffs—playing deep into the postseason is exceeded by nothing and no one.

And if they flop, well, that’s good for the NBA, too. Their failures, like Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding discusses, would offer insight into the futures of two megastars:  

Love has a long way to go in proving he is the NBA’s latest Pau Gasol, not good enough to avoid losing alone but completely ready to sacrifice for Spain, the Lakers or whomever to maximize whatever chance he has to win.

If Love is really a winner, contrary to all previous evidence, it will be revealed very soon.

If not, though, LeBron’s feel-good route to redemption may never be completed.

With that failure comes more questions.

So, more interest.

 

Free-Agency Fiesta(s) 

Anything less than a title—Eastern Conference or NBA—will be seen as a failure. Never mind that it’s the Cavs’ first season together. This will give way to talk of future demise.

Whatever under-the-table, handshake agreement Love may or may not have with the Cavaliers means little. Could he leave if the team is unsuccessful, if he’s unhappy playing third fiddle to Irving and James? 

It’s Love’s camp that has been downplaying a “Cleveland or bust” mantra and privately reiterating his desire to reach free agency, according to Steve Kyler of BasketballInsiders.com. 

It’s Love who apparently didn’t want to play in Cleveland leading up to the draft, per ESPN Boston‘s Jackie MacMullan

It’s Love who, in theory, remains a flight risk, regardless of what happens next season.

Would anyone dare leave LeBron? That’s the game fans and NBA buffs will play between this trade’s completion and next July. 

Imagine the buzz that would accompany Love’s decision to leave. He will have deserted James. He will have willingly left an all-time great to play elsewhere for less money.  

Does James’ two-year deal become an issue at that point? Or is it still viewed as a business decision?

“I don’t plan on going nowhere,” he said, per Windhorst. “I don’t have the energy to do it again.” 

Unwavering loyalty is easier to maintain when staring at a future alongside Love and Irving. It’s far more difficult to profess faith and uphold optimism if Love’s free agency mucks everything up.

Lose him, and the Cavaliers will have traded the No. 1 pick for a rental. 

Keep him, and James’ free agency remains a nonissue while giving the NBA a half-decade supply of riveting plots and storylines to promote and follow.

 

A Different Return

Danger sells. 

That’s what this reported trade is: dangerous. It doesn’t matter if Love stays or goes, if the Cavaliers win or lose. This deal puts an entirely different spin on James’ return. 

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s baby with Love. They wouldn’t be a team he’s just joining; they would be a vision he helped create through ringing endorsements and closed-door courtships

What happens next would be on him, but that’s more than pressure to win.

James and Cleveland are rebuilding their relationship—one in which he holds all the power. This deal will define his return and the circumstances under which it is later remembered, as Cavs: The Blog’s Nate Smith passionately pens:

LeBron coming back is a big deal. I just want it to be for the right reasons, and want the guy to have a little humility. I don’t want to feel used again, and I fear LeBron doesn’t know what he’s doing as a GM and that he’ll stab me in the heart again. But I don’t have any control over how James lives his life or runs this team. I’ve just got to have faith, I guess. People in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio deserve to walk a little taller. Who am I to begrudge them their desire for that? The Wiggins thing sucks. It makes me mad. I don’t have to like it, but I’ll come to accept it. That’s what fandom is: a never-ending playoff game between acceptance and hope.

More layers. Layers upon layers upon layers. More things to dissect, more intentions to unveil, more perspective to harvest. 

This trade, and the capricious chain reactions—whatever they are—it promises, has it all.  

“No matter what the outcome is, I just want to end up in a great place where I can win,” Love said on SportsNation in June, via ESPN.com.

No matter the outcome, no matter who loses, the NBA, so long as this trade weathers time constraints and rumors of dissolution, wins big.

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Louisville’s Rozier: ‘We’re going to be darn good’

University of Louisville’s Terry Rozier sees great potential in his team

      
 

 

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Beck/Bucher: Is Steve Kerr to the Knicks a Good Idea or a Bad Idea?

NBA champion and former general manager Steve Kerr has seen the NBA from multiple perspectives, and it only seems right that a man with his pedigree should step into the head coaching realm.

But is he the right fit for the Knicks?

Tune in to the video above to see what Howard Beck and Ric Bucher think!

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Portland Trail Blazers’ Good Luck Charm Comes in 15-Year-Old Boy

Portland Trail Blazers super fan Matt Vachter has been the Blazers’ secret weapon this season.

Vachter, who suffers from cerebral palsy, goes to many of the Blazers’ home games and has gotten to meet the players, cheerleaders and coaches before and after the games.

The players show him lots of love and even made a custom jersey for him, but the incredible addition to Vachter‘s story is that when he attends games and gives daps to players, the team is 39-5. Now if only they could get him to go on their road trips.

[Portland Trail Blazers]

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Risk/reward move good for Bruce Pearl, Auburn and SEC

For SEC basketball, it is a needed shot in the arm.

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If your school beat Duke at home, there’s a really good chance fans stormed the court

31 courts stormed in 11 seasons.

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