After losing six reserves (Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, John Lucas III and Brian Scalabrine) from last year's squad, there has been much debate about whether the newfound Bench Mob can replicate the performance of their predecessors.
Over the past couple seasons, the bench production has not just been decent. It has been outstanding. The Bulls have compiled the league's best regular-season records in both 2010-11 and 2011-12. This only happens through a team that boasts superb depth.
The Bulls don't figure to challenge for the league's top mark again this year, chiefly because of Derrick Rose's absence. But once they regain their superstar in the next few months, the question becomes if they have enough pieces to support Rose off the bench. Does the Bench Mob 2.0 have enough firepower for the Bulls to be true contenders once Rose returns?
This is becoming a burning question as Bulls fans await Rose's return, and in recent games, there have been reasons for optimism.
The main figures of optimism have come on Chicago's wing. Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler have revealed why both Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver were expendable. Belinelli and Butler both come at a much cheaper price, and their performance has been as good, if not better, than the former Bulls wings off the bench.
Belinelli, in particular, has mightily impressed in the last week. Due to an injury to Richard Hamilton, Belinelli has been inserted into the starting lineup and he hasn't disappointed. In his past three games, he has notched 23, 16 and 22 points, respectively.
He has shown range on his jump shot while also flashing his ability to handle the rock and create. This element to his game was never witnessed in Korver's repertoire. It's apparent that Belinelli actually brings more to the table than Korver, the former fan-favorite. ("Give me the hot sauce!")
In fact, Belinelli's game has been so eye-opening in the past week that there's reason to wonder if he should remain in the starting lineup upon Hamilton's return. Belinelli's ability to spread the floor is valuable for the Bulls' starting core, and perhaps Hamilton would be more influential off the bench, where he could provide a veteran presence and some stability.
As of now, we'll still refer to Belinelli as one of Chicago's weapons off the bench when everybody's healthy, but no matter what, his encouraging play is beginning to warrant him more and more minutes.
Jimmy Butler has also surpassed expectations thus far this season. He is a lockdown defender and has been a very active offensive and defensive rebounder. Further, he has a knack for making game-changing plays, such as a steal leading to fast breaks or securing a rebound when it is desperately needed.
These intangibles exclaim Butler's value, and his offensive efficiency is heading in the right direction. While he still at times remains hesitant to shoot, his field goal percentage rests at a spectacular 54.7 percent.
Belinelli and Butler figure to be core bench contributors for the remainder of the season, and they are the prominent reasons for optimism when it comes to the depth of Chicago's bench.
The point guard spot is another area where Bulls fans should carry no concerns.
The main question here is how Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson will be used upon Derrick Rose's return. Will Hinrich slide into the backup point guard spot while Robinson inherits a "bench warming" role? Will they share backup point guard duties and each log limited minutes from game to game? Or, will Robinson surpass Hinrich on the depth chart and become the team's primary point guard off the bench?
We have no idea how this is going to play itself out, but the good thing is they are both more than capable of quarterbacking the second unit.
Further, both can play off the ball, so they might even see some minutes alongside Rose. The bottom line is that either of these players can handle the backup point guard load and will contribute to Chicago's success.
The only area of concern in regards to Chicago's bench comes in the frontcourt. Taj Gibson remains an instrumental piece (although he's off to a slow start this season), but the loss of Omer Asik has been quite costly. Veteran Nazr Mohammed is not even close to the dominant defensive center that Asik was during the past couple seasons.
Therefore, if the Bulls bench proves to be inept this season, its downfall will come from the frontcourt. There is an indisputable lack of depth here. In some games, the Bulls simply rotate Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson. This may work in the regular season, but it's risky come the grind of the playoffs. If one of these players merely tweaks an ankle, the Bulls are in major trouble.
If Noah, Boozer and Gibson can all stay healthy and out of foul trouble on a consistent basis, then Chicago's frontcourt will be up to par. However, even with a healthy Rose, it's reasonable to question if their lack of frontcourt depth could come back to bite them.
The main element to Chicago's success this season (as well as future seasons) hinges on the presence of D-Rose. But an effective bench must come alongside him and elevate this team even further.
They currently have a handful of reasons for optimism coming off their bench. Belinelli, Butler, Robinson, Hinrich and Gibson are all quality supporting characters that can spark this team to a deep playoff run.
But Rose and Co. just have to hope that the lack of a backup center doesn't become their downfall. Once Rose returns, this could be one of the couple (if not the only) missing piece(s) to the championship puzzle.
Stats used in this article were as of December 10, 2012.
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