Over the last couple of years I’ve came up with a cute way to summarize how the Chicago Bulls have been successful under Tom Thibodeau. They are the three Ds: defense, D-Rose, and depth.
During Thibodeau’s first two years, all three were strong. Derrick Rose was in MVP form, the defense was suffocating, and the depth was fantastic with the bench mob of C.J. Watson, Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson destroying opponents. The result was the best record in the NBA two consecutive years.
Last year, Rose was taken out of the equation. The defense was still there, and although the original bench mob was gone, players like Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, and Jimmy Butler (before he became a starter) provided excellent depth. The result was an impressive 44 wins and a victory in the first round of the playoffs.
Now this season, the three Ds were supposed to be all together again. Rose was back, and the bench was fortified by the signing of Mike Dunleavy and the shift of Kirk Hinrich back to the bench.
It hasn’t turned out that way through three games. Defense is still there (and is probably the only one that won’t ever go away), but Rose is not up to speed yet. He will be soon, though.
What is very disconcerting is the lack of the third D, depth.
Dunleavy has provided little of what he was brought in to do, which is shoot the ball. He is shooting just 39 percent from the field, and averaging just 6 points per game. On a team starved for floor spacing, Dunleavy seemed like a perfect fit to come off the bench and snipe from long range. It’s certainly early, and Marco Belinelli struggled last year just as Dunleavy is, but it’s concerning. What is really disappointing is how many wide open looks it seems that Dunleavy has missed.
Kirk Hinrich has been okay. Averaging 7 points and shooting 42 percent from 3, he’s given the Bulls what you would expect on offense. That’s not his main value to the team. When Hinrich has been in, though, it just seems the offense grinds to a halt. No good looks are created, and it seems that every possession ends with a late shot-clock jumper. Defensively, he continues to play hard and play well, but has seemed a step slow on many occasions.
Taj Gibson has been the exception. Gibson is averaging 10 points, 6 rebounds and is shooting 48 percent from the field in just 25 minutes per game. As usual, the Bulls’ defense has been stingy with Gibson on the floor (and not Carlos Boozer).
Backing up Joakim Noah is where there is real concern. Nazr Mohammad is a good veteran and a solid locker room guy. At this point in his career, though, he can’t be trusted to play long minutes. This leaves the Bulls with, essentially, three viable big men. With Noah’s history of missing games through seasons with nagging injuries, this could turn into a real concern.
I’m still going to wait and see how the bench comes together. It’s only been five games. On paper, it is a good mix of skills. Rookie Tony Snell is an unknown and could come in and provide some athleticism and energy. Further, a deep bench outlives its importance once you get into the playoffs, as rotations shorten and coaches want to keep their best players on the floor, so it may be a moot point months from now in a playoff run.
Until then, though, the Bulls are down from 3 to 1.5 Ds (defense and half of Rose). It’s no surprise, then, that they are 2-3 to start this young season.
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