Bulls’ bench figures to be erratic all season
The rebuilt Bulls bench needs a new identity. So how about the "Flash Mob" as a nickname for the reserves?
They can step up when you least expect it, then in the next moment disappear.
The sequence was reversed this week. The Bulls bench combined for just 10 points and 6 rebounds on Monday, as coach Tom Thibodeau used eight players during the collapse against Milwaukee.
Two days later, the Flash Mob performed well, piling up 50 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists in a runaway win over Dallas.
So is this how things will continue, the bench showing up every once in a while?
"It's so early," backup center Nazr Mohammed said after the Dallas game. "It's too early to even start thinking you're in the rotation, out of the rotation. We're still trying to figure out what guys do well, what guys don't do certain things well, build chemistry. Just sit back, wait your turn, work hard and be prepared."
A recurring theme early this season is how the vaunted Bench Mob of the past two seasons is gone. It's time to regroup with a new set of characters.
The reserves have shown promise sometimes. But then shooting guard Marco Belinelli will struggle for weeks at a time, Nate Robinson runs into an opponent he can't guard, and Mohammed's preseason production has flattened like a pancake.
In 2010, during Thibodeau's first season, the Bulls got off to a 9-8 start, gave up 120 points in an early home loss to the Knicks, and still recovered to finish 62-20.
So maybe there's hope for this year's bench players to round into shape. In an analysis of where the reserves stand on Nov. 30, 2012, compared to Nov. 30, 2010, the current subs can't match the production — until you recall that Carlos Boozer missed the first month with a broken hand.
Taj Gibson got off to a great start in 2010-11, averaging 11.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in the first month — where has that been, by the way? — but he was starting in Boozer's spot, not coming off the bench.
Add up Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik and James Johnson (even though he played in just seven of 15 games) and you get 28.1 points, 12.4 rebounds.
Gibson, Robinson, Belinelli, Mohammed and Jimmy Butler have combined to produce 29.7 points and 12.4 rebounds.
The bench has actually contributed more this season than it did in the first month of 2010-11, but that comes with some qualifiers. Asik was a rookie and improved significantly during the course of the season, and his defense is not reflected in the statistics.
Also, when Boozer got healthy, Gibson gave the reserves a heavy boost and the "Bench Mob" was soon born. When Derrick Rose returns from knee surgery and Kirk Hinrich joins the bench, it may not have the same impact.
Korver also presented more of a 3-point shooting threat in 2010-11 than anyone on the current team.
But maybe Mohammed has a point — it's too early to write off the Flash Mob as a disappointment.
Butler, in his second year, has seen his role grow in recent weeks. He's averaged 7.8 points in the last five games, but could stand to grab more rebounds. After scoring a career-high 13 points against Dallas, he was asked to describe his role in the bench mix.
"Energy guy — play hard, hit the open shot and defend," he said. "My teammates stay on me to just stay aggressive and play with confidence."
Belinelli didn't play against Milwaukee, then found the confidence to score 11 points against the Mavs. He didn't produce 11 points in the previous six games combined.
"It's never been easy in my NBA life," Belinelli said. "I remember my first year in Golden State, I didn't play a lot. In Toronto, a little bit. It's hard, but at the same time, I just try to work hard every day, work on my shot. I try to do the things the team needs to win the game."
Mohammed logged 12 minutes against Dallas, his longest stretch of playing time since the Game 2 blowout in Cleveland. Thibodeau said he thinks Mohammed matches up better against true centers and taller front lines.
"Thibs watches enough film on everybody," Mohammed said. "So whatever he says, he's going to have a lot of statistics and film work to back it. I definitely feel comfortable out there against the big centers, guys who post up. Over the years, it's been getting smaller. So I'm comfortable out there against the smaller guys, too."
Picking on the Flash Mob, or the New Bench Mob, appears to be pointless. Until Rose comes back, nothing about the Bulls is going to look as good as it used to.
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