Each week leading up to the start of the 2018 regular season, Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman are analyzing a burning question the Bulls must answer this season. One is how Fred Hoiberg will fill out his bench rotation.
Vincent Goodwill: Fred Hoiberg’s first five has some potential but lacks in certain areas on its face, such as ball movement, defensive versatility and natural facilitators. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have options on flipping the identity of this team at a moment’s notice—when he decides to look down the bench.
So while he can decide on playing the most talented players as reserves, Hoiberg has needs he must fulfill that will take precedence to balance out the floor. Wendell Carter Jr. has to play, for more reasons than one. His defensive versatility and low maintenance style on the floor fits with the new defensive philosophy where switching will be heavy, leaving Carter Jr. to fend for himself on the perimeter.
Bobby Portis will get his share of minutes, but more at power forward than center. The advanced stats weren’t kind to him at power forward last season but at center, his efficiency and rebounding skyrocketed—along with factoring in more primary options like Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker and Lauri Markkanen, his scoring punch may not be as needed.
But he has to play and has earned a spot in the rotation.
The swingman spots are where things get even trickier.
With Parker starting at small forward and probably being better suited for a power forward on defense, Hoiberg has options—or a dilemma. LaVine can slide down to point guard in spurts, while Cameron Payne played well enough to finish the season that the Bulls sent Jerian Grant packing days before signing Parker.
Justin Holiday played the good soldier last year, but he’ll battle for minutes with first-round draft pick Chandler Hutchison and third-year swingman Denzel Valentine.
How Hutchison acclimates himself on the defensive end could give him an edge in playing time, although Valentine turned himself into a bonafide floor spreader last year and shot near 39 percent from 3-point range.
Will he have the same opportunity this year now that LaVine is fully in the fold and Parker will also take up minutes at the one spot that isn’t fully stacked?
It’s easy to see Holiday being the odd man out and being counted on for vocal leadership from the bench, and the Bulls will have to play small at times to counter the way the league is going, trotting out lineups that could have LaVine playing small forward.
The second unit will have to be more versatile and agile, particularly defensively. It’s not an easy task when 10 players believe they should be playing but also playing big minutes.
Other than relegating the shot distribution, managing the bench rotation could be Hoiberg’s biggest challenge of the season.
Mark Strotman: Bobby Portis is gunning for Sixth Man of the Year honors, and while forward have a slim-to-none chance of winning it he's very clearly the go-to bench scorer. The Bulls' froncourt is pretty clogged but it's almost a sure bet that Portis will see an uptick from the 22.5 minutes he averaged last season. We've exhausted his per-36 numbers, and how they were on par with Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins, and he quietly had a season that was on par with Lauri Markkanen. Portis may even find more minutes now that there's a legitimate backup center in Wendell Carter Jr. for him to play alongside.
The Bulls aren't paying Jabari Parker $20 million to see spot minutes, so it's safe to pencil him in to the starting lineup.
Denzel Valentine has just enough versatility (and he's the only true 3-point threat off the bench) that he'll find nightly minutes in the mid 20s. These are pretty much set in stone, though Valentine could lose some minutes to Justin Holiday. Holiday will be a trade candidate at some point in the season because of his 3-point range and length. Dealing him could also free up some minutes for rookie Chandler Hutchison, who doesn't appear to have a path to minutes right now (unless he really outplays Valentine in camp).
What that means is Wendell Carter Jr. could be the odd man out, just seeing spot minutes for defensive purposes. That's not to say Carter won't eventually take the role from Lopez, but in the early going it's not as easy as saying Lopez and Carter will split the 48 center minutes.
John Paxson had nothing but positives to say about Cameron Payne after last season ended, so he's penciled in as the backup point guard. Apologies to Ryan Arcidiacano, but that's just about set in stone.
Hutchison and Antonio Blakeney are probably on the outside looking in right now. Despite the Bulls not having great depth on the wings, the more likely option is playing "bigger" with Parker than playing either of these two. Hutchison is the wild card here because he's 22 and was a seasoned college veteran. He's certainly ready to play, and there's a scenario in which he grabs some of Valentine's minutes, especially if the latter continues to struggle defensively.
So here's how I see it playing out on an optimal night:
PG: Kris Dunn (31 minutes); Cam Payne (17 minutes)
SG: Zach LaVine (32 minutes); Denzel Valentine (23 minutes)*
SF: Jabari Parker (29 minutes); Justin Holiday (9 minutes)*
PF: Lauri Markkanen (34 minutes); Bobby Portis (28 minutes)
C: Robin Lopez (22 minutes); Wendell Carter (15 minutes)
*Hutchison could dip into either Valentine's or Holiday's minutes
Other Burning Questions
1. Who takes the last shot?