Chicago Bulls: Has The Bench Mob Improved this Offseason?
Last season, the Chicago Bull’s self-named “Bench Mob” was perhaps their greatest advantage outside of MVP point guard Derrick Rose. The combination of Omer Asik, Taj Gibson, Kyle Korer, Ronnie Brewer, CJ Watson and later John Lucas III had a punch that rivaled some starting fives. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau even opted to use these bench players to finish games when his starters were struggling (most notably subbing in Gibson for Carlos Boozer). They were fan favorites, and provided great locker room chemistry.
You would think, then, that the Bulls would try to maintain their depth, if only for another year, as many of these players only had team options left on their contracts.
Think again. With Gibson the only returning player from the mob mentioned above, Bulls’ management has had to retool their supporting cast. Their most recent addition, Nate Robinson, seems to be an upgrade from Lucas, the third string point guard who surprised fans last season with his scoring ability. But Robinson is better statistically, has more NBA experience and has worked with Thibodeau before.
Either way, Robinson’s services are clearly a short-term solution to Derrick Rose’s absence, and will fall behind Kirk Hinrich in the point guard rotation.
Hinrich, who is returning to the Bulls after being traded to the Washington Wizards two seasons ago, will take up point guard duties in place of Watson, who recently signed with the Brooklyn Nets.
While Watson is younger, he battled injuries both seasons he was with the Bulls. He also seemed to seal his fate with his notorious brain cramp at the end of Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers, a pass to Asik that ultimately led to a shocking first round playoff exit.
Hinrich, on the other hand, has generally proven to be more durable (though he did struggle with various injuries the season he was traded), and has experience leading a team. He is a tenacious defender as well, and should fit in well with Thibodeau’s “defense-first” culture.
Asik, Korver, and Brewer were also let go, effectively replaced with Nazr Mohammed, Marco Belinelli, and Jimmy Butler (who rode the bench for the Bulls last season). Vladimir Radmanovic was also picked up.
While Mohammed is nowhere near an adequate replacement for Asik’s defensive presence inside, he should be able to play at a high enough level to sustain the 14 minutes Asik averaged last season. Belinelli and Radmanovic should be able to provide the long range shooting Korver brought (along with the spotty defense), and Butler should be able to defend like Brewer. He also has greater offensive potential if he can extend his shooting range.
So while the immediate differences between the two bench squads may be negligible (the incoming team may even be an upgrade skill-wise), the biggest question surrounding this new group will be chemistry. Last year’s bench mob became a tight knit group and won the hearts of Bulls fans. With so many new faces, it will be interesting to see if they can jell as well as their predecessors, and if they can find their respective niches within Thibodeau’s system.