When point guard Derrick Rose returns from his ACL tear rehab, season-long starter Kirk Hinrich will move to the bench, and the Bulls will be 10 deep with players who can start and be successful if need be.
All of this bodes well for the Bulls to make a long playoff run and give the defending champion Miami Heat a run for their money for the Eastern Conference title.
Here is a look at the contributions made by the bench so far this season (and remember, that does not include Hinrich, who will join the bench soon):
Jimmy Butler - In his five starts in place of Luol Deng at the small forward spot, Butler averaged 14.2 points. When Deng came back, he continued his scoring streak with games of 19 and 18 points, proving that the positive energy that came from his starts could translate to big performances off the bench. Butler's contributions have been so exciting, some fans want Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to start Butler at shooting guard in place of Rip Hamilton, but that would push back:
Marco Belinelli - Belinelli started 12 games in place of Hamilton, scored in double figures in 10 of them and had a stretch of nine straight games in which he reached double figures and averaged 17.6 points per game. His ability to drive to the hoop for scores is a key component most people believe the Bulls need to take pressure off of Rose when he returns, and Belinelli has proven his basketball instincts with two very opportunistic game-winning shots this season.
Nate Robinson - Robinson is topping his career average, with 11.5 points per game. He has started five times in place of Hinrich, but he has a tendency to be loosey-goosey with the ball and commits a high number of turnovers at times. But his scoring ability is a huge factor for the Bulls, and he had a game-high 24 points against Milwaukee off the bench in that Jan. 30 game. When Hinrich is pushed to the bench, there will be a lot of questions about which point guard spells Rose - Hinrich for defense or Robinson for offense?
Taj Gibson - Gibson has struggled this season after signing a big contract in the summer, but getting his second start of the season against Milwaukee, he showed that the play of Butler, Belinelli and Robinson as occasional starters had rubbed off.
So, what's missing? There is a backup for every starter, and two for Rose when he returns. But there is no backup for Joakim Noah (Nazr Mohammed has played in only 32 games this season and averaged just six minutes per game as the only other true center on the roster). The plan is to play Gibson and Boozer on the front line when Noah needs a break, but the Bulls must hope Noah stays healthy for the long playoff run to occur.
The 2012-13 Bulls are good. Whether they are good enough remains to be seen. But if they stay healthy, there is no reason they can't make the Eastern Conference playoffs interesting all the way to the end.
Kent McDill has covered the Bulls for three different companies: for United Press International from 1985-88, for the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights, Ill., from 1988-99 and currently for NBA.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title "100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die'' published by Triumph Books.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jimmy Butler
- Marco Belinelli
- Nate Robinson
- Kirk Hinrich
- Taj Gibson
- Derrick Rose