Going small has been the recent trend in the NBA, with the Cleveland Cavaliers being the latest to make the trek by starting Kevin Love at center.
The Bulls are a little different in that current space, with five big men who could probably qualify for the position—although they’ll be down to four in their preseason opener as Lauri Markkanen will be out for the first two games with back spasms.
Bulls fans will have to wait to check out their new building block, but it’ll give Fred Hoiberg a chance to mess around with rotations in the meantime with games against New Orleans and Dallas on back-to-back nights starting Tuesday.
Quincy Pondexter will also miss both games with a left hamstring injury, which is about as far as Hoiberg would divulge when asked about a starting lineup, guarding his thoughts with CIA-like privacy.
As for the trend, if Hoiberg was given truth serum he might say having a center who can shoot from long range is a dream of his, but he may have to settle for streaky-shooting Nikola Mirotic at the center spot at times.
“I like the way the league is going. It's why I gained 10 pounds because I might play five. It's a joke,” the dry-witted Mirotic said. “I might play five (center) you never know, we'll see.”
Even with Mirotic at 260 pounds, he’s probably better playing against smaller lineups so he won’t be pushed around as much, and he’s a decent rebounder despite his deficiencies. Putting Mirotic and Markkanen together will be a sight seen often this year, one would think.
“I like the way they're playing it right now because last year we played some together, Bobby (Portis) and me. I think here at some point they'll play Lauri and me. It's a new game right now.”
The new game will have a bit of an old feel against the Pelicans, considering they employ arguably the two best big men in the league in DeMarcus Cousins and Chicago-native Anthony Davis, versatile bigs who can play inside-out.
“This preseason will be good for us because we’ll see a lot of different lineups,” Hoiberg said. “Starting tomorrow and playing New Orleans twice in the preseason with two 7-footers on their front line and two of the better, more versatile players in our league at the 4-5 spots.
“And then facing a guy like Love, which will be a tough lineup having to defend with their small players. Hopefully, have some things in your offensive package to counter that on the other end.”
Make no mistake, Hoiberg will throw some funky lineups out there now and when the games count, especially to show off an offensive system he’s been desperate to display in his first two years.
Considering the Bulls are where they are in terms of talent, players like Mirotic will likely be in myriad positions to make plays, whether Mirotic keeps the weight on or not.
It’s why Mirotic’s aim is to “play simple basketball”, something he hasn’t always been successful at during his first three seasons.
“I know that it's gonna be tough matchups tomorrow, having to guard (Cousins). But play good defense, play solid on offense and try to execute,” Mirotic said. “We've been working very hard the last week of camp. For me, offensively if I'm open take my shot. Run the floor, play defense and rebound the ball.”