The general theory amongst NBA pundits and Chicago Bulls fans alike is that the back-to-back top seed in the Eastern Conference took a big step back in the offseason. With the exception of the impact of the Derrick Rose injury, I respectfully disagree.
Gone are integral “bench mob” members Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, John Lucas III, Omer Asik and fan-favorite Brian Scalabrine. In are Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli Nazr Mohammed and Vladimir Radmanovic. At first glance, I could understand the negative outlook. But, let’s look a little closer.
In terms of finding a suitable temporary replacement for Rose, as well as a player that will still have a role when the 2010 MVP comes back, the team could not have found a player better than Hinrich.
“Captain” Kirk will run the offense in the absence of the Bulls’ superstar. When he comes back, he will be the top guard off the bench, spelling both Richard Hamilton and Rose. He can play next to either player, and with Rose, will replace Korver as the three-point specialist off the bench.
As a bench player, Hinrich is a clear upgrade over Korver. He is a far better all-around player, especially in regards to passing and defense. As far as a three-point shooter, Korver’s specialty, “Hot Sauce” may be elite, but Hinrich is far above average.
While Rose is out, Belinelli will fill the role as the gunner off the bench. Belinelli is a better three-point shooter than Hinrich, though not quite as good as Korver. Regardless, I believe he will fill the role adequately and will see reduced minutes upon Rose’s return.
Replacing Ronnie Brewer’s role as the defensive stopper off the bench will be Jimmy Butler. Perhaps, I am in the minority here, but I am excited about this change. In limited time last season (mostly only playing while Luol Deng was hurt), I saw a player with potential. Butler’s athleticism, heart and hustle are unquestioned, all attributes that cannot be coached, and that, I would take on any team at any level.
When Rose comes back, are the Bulls better than last season?
As far as the development of the coachable assets, we saw a peek at that in the summer league. Granted, he was playing against lesser competition, but Butler simply dominated, averaging 21 points and seven rebounds per game.
Butler will likely never approach those averages in an NBA season, but expectations for him to someday equal or exceed Brewer’s best season (14 points, four boards, two steals with the Utah Jazz) are not out of the question.
As for the rest of the Bench Mob 2.0: Is Nate Robinson really a downgrade from C.J. Watson? Both are streaky scorers, but Robinson is far stronger and more athletic than the former Bull. Watson came up empty in the playoffs for the Bulls in two consecutive years; Robinson had some huge games for the Boston Celtics in their surprising run to the 2010 NBA Finals.
I believe Robinson can more than equal the production of Watson and John Lucas III who—though he was a revelation—would have barely played had it not been for the injuries to Rose.
Nazr Mohammed may be a downgrade defensively from Omer Asik. However, he will not get stripped on the gimme buckets down low, a maddeningly bad habit Asik had that would prevent me from giving him any significant amount money until it was corrected (yes, I’m looking at you Daryl Morey).
That leaves us to only one loss on last year’s roster: Brian Scalabrine, AKA the White Mamba. Though he was a fan favorite, he provided almost nothing in terms of production. If injury pushes him into duty, Radmanovic is a clear upgrade here.
Add a healthy and comfortable Richard Hamilton into this equation, you have to ask yourself, has this team really taken a step back? If Rose is 90 percent of his pre-injury self come playoff time, can this team compete with the Miami Heat, as was previously believed?
I’m a believer. Are you?