Why New Version of Chicago Bulls Bench Mob Isn't That Different from the Old One
There has been a lot of discussion about whether the new "Bench Mob" for the Chicago Bulls is better or worse than the old one. In the end, though, the bottom line is that it's really not that different.
Certainly, this new "mob" is better offensively, while the other is better defensively, but those are incremental, not massive differences.
The thing about the Bulls is that they are about roles more so than players. Rather than saying, "We have these players, so we're going to go out and do these types of things" they say "We need to do these things to win games, so we need to go out and get these types of players."
So, when you look at the individual components of the new mob and the old mob, you can think, well Kirk Hinrich is different than C.J. Watson because he's older, or Jimmy Butler doesn't have the experience that Ronnie Brewer did, so they're different.
But, they have the capacity to fill the same kind of roles those players did. They aren't that different after all.
The point here is that you can't look at the players, you have to look at the roles and whether the new players can step into those roles and accomplish the same things.
The Backup Point Guard Role
What do the Bulls want form their backup point guard? Or for that matter, what do they want from any point guard?
The Bulls require from their point guard a player who can shoot, who can break down defenses off the dribble and who will defend the perimeter.
Hinrich can do any of those things as well as Watson, or at least close enough that you can't tell the difference. Yes, his numbers dropped significantly in Atlanta, but there was a combination of reasons behind that.
Partly, he had injuries and/or was coming back from injuries and shaking off the rust.
Most importantly, his usage was completely different. Over the last two seasons, Hinrich has had a usage rate of just 15.7 percent compared to Watson's rate of 22.8 last year.
Don't confuse "role" with "ability." In the past, when Hinrich's usage has been closer to the same level as Watson's, he's produced the same numbers or better, even when you adjust for minutes. During his tenure in Chicago, he had a 19.8 usage percentage
He also had an assist rater of 28.5 percent. He scored 14.2 percent per 36 minutes and had 6.2 assists.
By comparison, Watson averaged 14.1 points and 6.2 assists per 36 minutes with a usage rate of 22.1 percent and an assist rate of 27.1 during his tenure as a Bull.
In short, Hinrich has shown he's more than capable of putting up the same sorts of numbers as Watson, except doing so using fewer possessions and doing a better job of getting his teammates involved.
Mostly though, it proves that there's not a massive difference either way.
The Gunslinger Role
The Bulls need a player who can be the "gunslinger." Ideally, this is Derrick Rose, but when he's unavailable, they need another player who can step in and shoot and not be afraid to do so.
Last year, that player was John Lucas III, at times to the benefit and at times to the detriment of the Bulls.
This year, they have their newly drafted point guard Marquis Teague to do exactly that. The only thing is that while Lucas was playing as well as he has ever or will ever play in his life, Teague enters at the same level and has a tremendous amount of room for growth.
Again, though, it's not about the player, it's about the role, and Teague can fill that role.
The Shooter Role
The next role the Bulls need is the "shooter" or the "zone-buster: who is the three-point specialist. Last year, that role was filled by Kyle Korver, Ashton Kutcher's eerie doppelganger.
This year, the Bulls have Marco Belinelli. Belinelli doesn't fill the role quite as well as Korver, but he fills it capably enough. Korver had a massive .644 effective field goal percentage on three-point shots, which accounted for nearly 70 percent of his attempts.
Belinelli wasn't quite as effective, but he wasn't a slouch either, garnering a .565 eFG percentage from deep.
What Belinelli offers that Korver didn't, though, is the ability to create shots for himself. While only about six percent of Korver's shots were unassisted, nearly 20 percent of Belinelli's were.
So Belinelli can fill the same role as Korver, but he can also contribute something that Korver wasn't able to—the capacity to put the ball on the floor.
The Defensive Wing Role
Any self-respecting Bulls fan loved watching Ronnie Brewer on defense. His ability to absolutely shroud an offensive player, even the best, was a sight to behold. Even players like Dwyane Wade have been slowed, if not stopped, by him.
During the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, Wade shot just 38 percent while Brewer was on the court, and averaged a mere 15 points per 36 minutes on 14.5 field goal attempts.
Yes, Brewer is a special defensive player, but when we saw Jimmy Butler play last year, we saw the same instincts, the same aggressiveness to get up on top of great ball-handlers and stop them and the same ubiquitous floor presence.
Butler is a younger version of Brewer, or even better, of Luol Deng. He is fully equipped to step in and handle the same role that Butler did, but with the ability to add some offense to it. While Butler averaged .71 free-throw attempts per field goal attempt, Brewer only averaged .22 per field goal attempt.
Butler averaged 5.6 FTA per 36 minutes to Brewer's 2.2
Butler has the instincts and intensity to be every bit the defensive player that Brewer does, but his ability to get to the line gives him a far better upside offensively.
The Backup Center Role
Where the Bulls give up something on their new bench mob is in their backup center. Omer Asik is clearly a better defensive player than Nazr Mohammed, with better feet and better instincts.
Still, whether or not Maohammed will be the huge limitation on the Bulls defense that some expect remains to be seen. What was required of Asik after all?
Namely, don't get shoved all over the court, stay strong, stay inside and put your hands up when people shoot. At 6' 10" and 250 pounds, Mohammed is capable of doing that.
Perhaps, he won't do it as well, but he'll do it better than people expect.
What he also does, though, is bring more of an offensive ability to the game. The Bulls offense fell off a cliff when Asik came into the game. The team averaged 111.2 points per 100 possessions, while he was off the court compared to just 103.2 while he was on it.
It seems as if he was the best defensive player for both teams.
But actually, advanced stats also indicate that Taj Gibson might have been more responsible for the Bulls' success than Asik. The Bulls were a (+ 6.1) while Asik and Gibson were on the court together. However, when Asik was on without Gibson, they were a (-.5), but while Gibson was on without Asik, they were a (+11.2).
That suggests strongly that Gibson made Asik look better than he really was, and if he could do that with Asik, he can do that with Mohammed.
And Mohammed, while no offensive juggernaut, is a decisive step up from Asik. His career PER is a 15.4 compared to Asik's 12.6. Aside from that, his strength is putting back the offensive rebound.
Asik was able to get the offensive boards, but was frustratingly poor at putting them in in after he grabbed them. He has the infuriating tendency to lower the ball to his knees before going back up to finish and having it stripped away from point guards in the process.
There's simply no excuse for a seven-foot center to get his shot blocked by a point guard on an offensive rebound.
Mohammed averaged .94 points per play on offensive rebounds compared to Asik's .71. Asik turned the ball over 10.1 percent of the time when he grabbed an offensive board and only had a field goal percentage of 35.1 percent compared to 50 percent for Mohammed.
There's no doubt the Bulls will be improved offensively with Mohammed in the fold, perhaps enough to offset the disadvantage defensively.
The Head Coaching Role
Tom Thibodeau, last but not least, is still Tom Thibodeau. His system has worked everywhere he's gone and with every group of players he's had. You can't separate the Bench Mob from Thibodeau's system.
Counting his years as an assistant coach, his defenses have finished in the top 10 in the league in defense 19 times. Since the 1996-1997 season, his teams have finished sixth or better in defensive rating all but two times in 15 years.
At a certain point, it's about the system working. Sure, he had some good defensive players along the way, but the system, more than the components, have made the defense work. There's sufficient reason to expect that the new "Mob" will work defensively.
However, they'll also be a slight upgrade offensively.
But whether they're "better" or "worse," they shouldn't be that much different because they are, for the most part, different players essentially filling the same roles. When it's about the system, you can get away with that, and the Bulls have made the system work for a couple of years now.
The original "Bench Mob" wasn't expected to help the Bulls win the most games in the NBA either. Few picked them to finish better than fourth in the East in fact.
With Thibodeau at the helm, it's only a matter of time before this group starts to have the same kind of synergy as the old.
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