Despite missing star point guard Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls have managed to stay right in the thick of the playoff hunt. As of Jan. 15, the Bulls are 21-15 and only three games behind the Miami Heat for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls received a great deal of criticism during the 2012 offseason for letting go of C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Omer Asik—a group which Chicago fans fondly referred to as the "Bench Mob." Critics claimed that these moves were purely financial decisions, which is absolutely the truth.
In order to fill these roles, the Bulls acquired Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed and promoted Jimmy Butler to the rotation. While the Bench Mob was an impressive unit that won Chicago many basketball games, the Bulls as presently constructed are better built to win a championship if Derrick Rose can return healthy.
Which is not to denigrate last year's bench, which won the Bulls many games. Without a doubt, it was one of the best bench rotations in the entire league. If the starting lineup came out slow, the Mob could be counted on to get the team back into the game. So let us preface this argument by saying that the Bulls would have been more than happy to keep all of these players if they had agreed to play for less.
It was a purely financial move to drop them. Other than Omer Asik, who Chicago couldn't afford to keep, they made the conscious decision to dump the others for cheaper parts in order to save marginal amounts of money. So while the front office should get credit for putting together a team on the cheap, Bulls ownership should be as reviled as ever.
The issue with the current bench rotation is that it is just that: a bench rotation. This unit is run as a full lineup; typically, Luol Deng is the only starter left on the floor. Because of this, the Bulls are able to win many regular season basketball games against vastly weaker benches.
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However when teams get to the playoffs, their lineups shorten so that their best players are on the floor for a greater portion of the game. When this happens, the bench advantage that the Bulls have is mitigated by being put up against stars like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
The reason that the Bulls are better off with the players that they now have is that the current bench is much more practical relative to the stars of this team.
In the old Bench Mob, the only player who could really play effectively next to Derrick Rose for any extended minutes would be Korver. Watson's role would decrease because he would not have a second unit to lead, and he would struggle to create his own shot at times playing next to Rose. Ronnie Brewer had no jump shot, which made playing him at shooting guard difficult.
The new bench rotation gives the Bulls more options to match up. Kyle Korver was effectively there to distract the defense by standing on the three-point line. When the Bulls came up against the Miami Heat, the Heat were able to quickly close out to Korver with their athletic wing players, knowing that Korver wouldn't drive to the basket. Marco Belinelli on the other hand has the ability to pump fake and make something happen on the floor if an athletic wing comes running at him, which is much more practical in a half-court offense.
In addition to Belinelli, this bench has Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich—both players who can handle the ball and create something off the dribble. In 2011, the Bulls were hindered when Derrick Rose was the only true ball-handler and shot creator on the team, and the Heat were able to take him out of his element.
While the Bench Mob is sorely missed right now, Bulls fans will come to realize that the roster as presently constructed is built for the playoffs and will be more helpful to Derrick Rose if he can come back healthy.