The Bully Pulpit

Could The 2016 Chicago Bulls’ Bench Be Better Than The 2011 ‘Bench Mob’?

Bulls Bench

Bulls talk over the last week has mostly been about whether a big three of Jimmy Butler, Dwayne Wade, and Rajon Rondo can mesh and be as good as they look on paper. Straying away from the big names for a moment— let’s take a look at the 2016 version of the bench mob.

It seems like just yesterday when Derrick Rose led the Bulls to the number one seed in the East over Miami. That team was backed by a legendary bench who showed they could compete with opposing teams’ starting lineups. CJ Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, and the White Mamba were a dominant force. I have a bold prediction: this year’s bench will blow that squad away.

Brooklyn Nets vs Chicago Bulls

Photo Credit: Shinya Suzuki, Flickr

There’s no doubt that the starting lineup will feature Rajon Rondo, Dwayne Wade, and Jimmy Butler at the 1, 2, and 3 respectively. The front court, on the other hand, will be the enigma. With those three, the best 3-point shooter will be Jimmy Butler who shoots 32.8% from deep, not bad, but far from good. The Bulls do have long range tools in Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, sometimes Bobby Portis, and presumably Denzel Valentine. Some have said the presumptive starters in the front court will be Taj Gibson and Sideshow Bob, but I wouldn’t be so quick to assume. This starting lineup would be atrocious from deep, and wouldn’t be able to compete against the small-ball teams in the West. There will be three options for Sophomore coach Fred Hoiberg to take a look into. Taj/Sideshow Bob, Niko/Sideshow Bob, or Niko/Taj. Each combination has its pros and cons.

While the Bulls starting lineup raises questions, it includes 18 All-Star selections, a Most Improved Player, a winner of multiple assist titles, four NBA Championship wins, a scoring title, and three truly dominant players at their positions. Fred Hoiberg has to get creative, but this chemistry experiment will be a good one. If you listen to a Fred Hoiberg interview soundbite, you’ll hear the word pace countless times. He emphasizes a quicker offense, more shots, and better ball movement. While the first team promises none of those, his second unit may be picturesque to his visions. Fred displayed success as a collegiate head coach, now he has two of the last three AP Player of the Year winners in Doug McDermott and Denzel Valentine on that presumptive unit.

Point Guard: Jerian Grant

Jerian Grant was linked to the Bulls in the 2015 Draft, but they ended up with Bobby Portis, who was predicted to be a lottery pick. All was worked out during the Derrick Rose trade, though, in which the Bulls acquired Grant in a multiple player deal. Grant had a mediocre rookie season with the Knicks last year, averaging 5.6 points and 2.3 assists. Though his full season stats weren’t anything to wow over, Grant ended the Knicks 2016 season as their starting point guard. He averaged 14.5 points, 3.7 assists, and 3.7 rebounds in April across six games to close out the season. Grant enters the Bulls roster as an explosive finisher and coming off his best stretch as a pro.

Shooting Guard: Denzel Valentine

Denzel Valentine is coming off a do-it-all college career. He averaged 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.8 assists, and shot the deep ball at a 44.4% clip in his senior season at Michigan State. Valentine dropped to the Bulls at 14 in the 2016 Draft, likely because of a history of knee injuries. Valentine and people close to the young talent deny any problems in that area, as he only missed four games in his four year career at MSU. Oh yeah, and Tony Snell may be in the mix here, but we all know how that goes.

Small Forward: Doug McDermott

Defensive woes are the only thing stopping this kid from being a big upcoming name in the league. Though he has gone through some shaky stretches, Doug has shown that he can score from anywhere on the court against both first and second units. He shot the three ball at a top-five percentage among qualified players at 42.5%, and showed up on a few highlight reels with some monster jams this past season. Expect Doug to step up, expand his role, lead the bench in scoring, and be in the running for Sixth Man of the Year.

Power Forward: ??

Like I said before, I really don’t know how this will go. Nikola Mirotic can really stretch the floor with the starters, but that would be at Taj and Sideshow Bob’s expense. All are deserving starters at their positions, which means the third man out will only make the bench better. Bobby Portis will be playing with the second unit as well. His rookie stint was up and down, as he averaged 7 points and 5.4 rebounds. His role varied as the season went along, but he seems to be a solid overall big who can shoot. Best of all, he has a heart of gold. His Per 36 minute averages were 14 and 11, which is pretty darn good for a rookie, if you ask me.

Center: Cristiano Felicio

I never thought much of Felicio as an NBA player until he got some late season opportunities in March and April last season. In an April match-up against the champs, Felicio stuck it to Kyrie with a monster block, grabbed 5 boards, and went 7-7 coming off the bench. There could be some promise to this big Brazilian, stay tuned.

Get Ready

Whatever comes of this season, I promise you that the second unit will be an exciting one to watch in the Windy City! Or don’t believe me, this is the internet, you’re allowed to be a jerk…

 


Shoutout to @DawkinsMTA for his reliable and thorough highlight mixes!

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