Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, easily one of the league's best coaches, should consider making changes to his rotation this season.
The Bulls currently have more losses than wins (14-18), something fans certainly aren't accustomed to. It's pretty difficult to win games when you're franchise point guard, Derrick Rose, is out for the season (torn meniscus) and other starters have battled injuries as well.
Plus, key reserves from last season, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli, are now playing in different cities.
Despite all the losing, the Bulls still own the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the East is that bad.
Thibodeau has done a decent job reducing Joakim Noah's minutes. The All-Star center is averaging 32.4 minutes per game, about six fewer than last season. This, of course, helps prevent him from getting injured. Thankfully, Noah has missed only one game this season.
What are a few other changes Coach Thibs should think about?
Keep Luol Deng's Minutes Down
Ever since he arrived in Chicago four years ago, Thibodeau has played Luol Deng a boatload of minutes. Deng led the league in minutes per game the past two years and is ninth this season with 37.4.
The two-time All-Star has reached the 40-minute mark six times this season, including a whopping 55 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Deng has played fewer than 30 minutes in each of his past two games, as he attempts to get fully healthy following an Achilles injury. It's pretty much a given, though, that his playing time will increase here shortly.
Thibodeau needs to keep Deng's minutes down. Sure, he's an immensely talented player, but there's no point in running him into the ground. This is the regular season and not the Eastern Conference finals vs. the world champion Miami Heat.
Deng has missed nine games this season due to injury. And continuing to play 37 minutes a night is a good way to miss more contests in the near future.
Many fans out there would like to see the Bulls tank the season and draft someone like Duke's Jabari Parker. But if the Bulls want to make the postseason, "Lieutenant Deng" must stay off the injured list, especially with Rose unavailable.
Start D.J. Augustin
The Bulls have made a number of smart decisions over the years, such as choosing Derrick Rose over Michael Beasley, hiring Thibodeau and drafting Jimmy Butler. Picking up D.J. Augustin clearly wasn't a bad idea, either.
Waived by the Toronto Raptors in mid-December, the point guard was signed by Chicago a few days later. The 2009 lottery pick has looked sharp during his 10 games as a Bull, averaging nearly 10 points and six assists per game.
Although Augustin has played well, Thibodeau prefers to start Kirk Hinrich at point guard instead, via Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:
"His size, defense, his ability to run the team. I think guys get in rhythm with him."
There's no denying that Hinrich is the better defender, but Augustin is the better player. Starting three games when Hinrich was injured, Augustin averaged 13.7 points and eight assists while shooting 53 percent from three-point land.
Hinrich is one of the league's least productive starting point guards, as he's contributing 7.8 points and 4.7 assists per game. Plus, he's shooting a ridiculous 28.6 percent from the arc.
Augustin was huge during the Dec. 21 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He recorded 18 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, two steals and hit four of his six three-point attempts.
While Augustin is no D-Rose, the Bulls could use his scoring punch, outside shooting and playmaking in the starting lineup.
Play Erik Murphy More
We've gotten to see a lot of rookie Tony Snell this season. He has appeared in 26 of the Bulls' 32 contests, playing roughly 19 minutes a night.
But what about fellow first-year player Erik Murphy?
Unless you're a huge Bulls fan, you might not have known he was even on the roster. The University of Florida product has played just 16 games, logging a total of 37 minutes. While Snell is a part of Thibodeau's rotation and has started nine games, all Murphy does is collect a slew of DNP (Did Not Play) Coach's Decisions.
Murphy plays power forward, perhaps Chicago's deepest position. He is buried on the bench behind starter Carlos Boozer and backup Taj Gibson, who is having the best season of his career. So therefore, it's easy to see why he serves as a cheerleader rather than a rotation player.
However, it wouldn't hurt Thibodeau to use Murphy a little more and see exactly what he brings to the table. The second-round pick possesses the ability to shoot from downtown, which is the main reason the Bulls brought him to Chicago.
Murphy hit 45 percent of his three-point attempts as a senior at Florida. That's an outstanding percentage for any player, especially for someone who stands 6'10."
With increased playing time, he wouldn't have a Wilt Chamberlain/Michael Jordan-type of rookie impact. Yet, there's a chance that he could emerge as a much-needed "stretch 4." The Bulls definitely need help from beyond the arc, as their 32 percent ranks 29th in the league. Only the Detroit Pistons own a worst percentage.
C'mon Thibs, give Murph some clock!
All stats are from basketball-reference.com and accurate as of Jan. 5, 2014.
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