The Chicago Bulls are holding their heads above water while Derrick Rose remains sidelined, but their consistency has been quite baffling. Last week, they lost to the lowly Charlotte Bobcats at home before beating the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat on the road.
What do we make of this?
The inconsistency has been there for much of the season. In some outings, their defense is suffocating and they share the ball effectively on offense. On such nights, they handily beat average opponents or even upset top-notch foes like the Heat.
But on other occasions, their defense lacks energy, players appear tired and their offense doesn't know who to turn to. On these occasions, they are susceptible to losing to anybody or giving up excessive points to a quality opponent (i.e. the Houston Rockets tallied 120 points against Chicago on Christmas Day).
There are clearly some kinks in the Bulls' framework that need to be ironed out. The great news for Bulls fans is that Rose will likely play at some point this season. His presence alone will help work out some, if not most, of the kinks.
But there are still other issues to be handled, and a few rotation changes could cure some of the inconsistencies seen from Chicago this season. Below are the changes that would be most influential in the coming weeks.
1. Play Kirk Hinrich More Minutes
When Hinrich is healthy, he should be playing more than the 27.5 minutes per game he's currently receiving.
At first glance, this thought may be perplexing, because Nate Robinson has been a decent addition who brings more to the table offensively than Hinrich. Some may even lobby for Robinson to receive more minutes than Hinrich.
But the advanced stats, according to 82games.com, tell us differently. Hinrich possesses a plus-44 plus/minus rating on the season. Robinson, on the other hand, comes it at minus-35, which is the second-lowest on the team.
Further, Hinrich has a defensive rating (which is simply the points given up per possession while the player is on the floor) of 1.01. Robinson's rating is higher at 1.06.
What can be gathered through this is that the Bulls are more efficient with Hinrich on the floor. It's not easy to ascertain this in some games, especially when "good Nate" is cashing treys and dropping floaters. But on a consistent basis, Hinrich is more productive and should thus see 30-plus minutes per game.
2. Insert Jimmy Butler into Games Earlier
Jimmy Butler is proving that he's a formidable weapon this season, but some games we don't see much of him. And most games we typically don't see him in the game's early stages.
It's not like Butler should be starting, but appearing in the first quarter is something that should be happening, mainly because of the production he's giving on both ends of the floor.
Butler's defense is unquestionably superb, as his length and athleticism enable him to match up against elite wings, even LeBron James.
But his play on offense has been subtly stellar as well. Interestingly, Butler's offensive rating is listed at 1.06. This is the second-highest on the team, which is very telling considering that Butler's typically just viewed as a defensive stalwart.
He may only be averaging 5.0 points per game, but he is shooting a quality percentage (50.0 percent) and is often raking in offensive rebounds. Because of the layers to his game, he should not only be inserted earlier, but he should also be getting 20-plus MPG (currently at 17.4 MPG).
3. Don't Split Time Between Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli; Play Rip More
Marco Belinelli has displayed why he was a wise offseason signing. He's averaging 9.8 points per game while shooting 41.7 percent from long range. Further, he's revealed the capacity to put the ball on the floor and create in savvy ways.
But his play has not been at a level where it justifies him splitting time with Richard Hamilton, something we've often been seeing as of late.
Why shouldn't we see these two players splitting time? Simple reason: Hamilton does more.
Hamilton scores more effectively (12.0 PPG in about the same amount of MPG), is more potent running off screens, is a better passer and is a more active defender.
What's more, Rip is a veteran leader who has won a championship. He's an integral piece to how far Chicago can go this season and he should remain in their core. There is reason to not overuse him since he's battled injuries the past couple seasons and he's 34 years old, but his level of play warrants more than 25.0 MPG.
He provides the intangibles as well as championship experience, so the Bulls should utilize him more frequently (approx. 30 MPG).
Each of these rotation changes is minor. But they are still tweaks that could spark significant dividends as the season unfolds. If the Bulls couple these changes with the return of Rose, they could be on the verge of contending for a championship.
There's plenty of reason for Bulls fans to be optimistic about the rest of the season. They are just a few rotation changes and a superstar away from being an elite team. If they inherit a healthy Rose and make the appropriate maneuvers to their rotation, we could see them reach the NBA pinnacle sometime soon, even this season.
*Stats in this article were as of January 11, 2013.