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Figuring out the post-season power forward rotation

Will Gottlieb Avatar
March 31, 2022

Rotations famously shrink in the playoffs.

For the most part, the Bulls rotation is set. DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Alex Caruso, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu will handle the guard/wing minutes. Nikola Vucevic will be the primary center, with Tristan Thompson minutes sprinkled in.

The biggest question is at the power forward spot.

Billy Donovan will have to toggle between Patrick Williams, Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. until he finds some combination he likes.

Mark Karantzoulis and I talk our way through the pros and cons of these options and who we want to see take on the primary role in the playoffs.

Will: First of all, I think we should put it out there that none of the power forward options are going to be locked in for 28 or 30 minutes let alone 36. This is going to be a timeshare based on matchups and performance.

With that said, what are you looking for from the Bulls power forward spot in the playoffs?

Mark: As you note, so much of this is matchup dependent. That’s reason enough for Donovan to keep his options open. Further to this, each available option the Bulls have at the 4-spot seemingly brings something different to the table.

Without diving into the various benefits and traits each player brings, the minimum expectation should be influencing the outcome by defending multiple positions, cleaning the defensive glass, and sprinting lanes through transition.

That’s the baseline requirement.

Donovan needs to determine which one of Patrick Williams, Javonte Green, Ayo Dosunmu or Derrick Jones Jr. is best suited to bring this defensive-minded mindset.

It would be ideal to lock Williams into this role. Perhaps if plays as he did versus the Wizards more consistently. Can he be relied upon to do so, though? Does Donovan have enough trust in Williams?

Will: Right now, the answer to that is no.

I say ‘right now’ intentionally because all of this can change at any point. But Donovan has stated on multiple occasions that Williams isn’t impacting the game the way he needs to in order to earn a larger role. He’ll have to earn his minutes. This isn’t a critique of Williams, the player, but it’s also not an excuse for the amount of time he’s missed.

Frankly, Williams has not been good since coming back. He’s barely taking any shots, he’s not been a great defender—often getting beaten off the dribble, stuck on screens or giving up backdoor layups.

Just take a look at his game log since returning.

I feel the need to state this every time we talk about him: none of this is to say he won’t become a great player, but we’re not even seeing the flashes right now. It’s a shame his injury robbed him of this opportunity to develop because that four-spot will now be Green’s to lose, in my opinion.

You’re a big Javonte guy (I am too) — but I’m curious what you like so much about him where you feel comfortable having him take on the bigger wings and power forwards of the world?

Mark: Unlike Williams, I never have to worry about Green’s intent and willingness to be engaged in a game. Here’s an example of what I mean: before their duel against the Knicks, Donovan talked about the need for Williams to more consistently make teams “feel” him. Put another away, Donovan is alluding to Williams’ propensity to float through games. The reverse is true for Green.

In that respect, Green is a known quantity. There’s no questions about who he is and what he brings. Having certainty of outcome from a role player is highly valuable. In a playoff game, that matters more to me, even if perception suggests Williams carries far more potential than Green.

It’s a conservative mindset. Perhaps I’m wrong! But with so few games remaining and so many questions surrounding the Bulls at present, leaning on options that provide some semblance of surety is reassuring.

Will: Green definitely has his limitations, but where he lacks height and length, he makes up for it with active hands, sharp rotations, timely cuts and a very solid 43.9 percent on corner threes.

I do think Donovan should continue to inject Williams into the lineup, especially in the final games of the regular season. If he’s going to be able to contribute at a high enough impact to earn rotation minutes, he’s going to need more reps to get there.

I think there are also plenty of scenarios where DeRozan or Caruso are the de facto four playing in guard-heavy lineups with some combination of White, LaVine and Dosunmu. The Bulls have a big wing problem so Donovan will have to get creative.

Where does Derrick Jones fit into this?

Mark: If Donovan’s rotations are anything to go by, he doesn’t!

Assuming Jones Jr. remains out of the rotation, that does bother me. I’m a proponent of small-ball. I thought the Bulls found a niche with Jones Jr. masquerading as a center. He has deficiencies when playing the five, but he also gives opposing bench units something different to think about when compared to your standard, traditionally-sized big.

Tristan Thompson and Tony Bradley (remember him) fit that description. Donovan seemingly wants that type of player as his backup five. I don’t think he enjoys using Jones Jr. at power forward given his shooting limitations — or that his best offensive skills come as a rim-roller or baseline diver.

At this point, I would be shocked if Jones Jr. plays. That’s a shame, as he’s had some really good moments this season.

Will: In a shocking turn of events, I agree.

I’d love to see more Jones at backup five down the stretch. I’m holding out hope Donovan is just waiting to pull that card when he absolutely needs to, but not getting my hopes up.

To me, it feels like Green will log the heavy minutes at four with Williams anywhere from 12-20 minutes behind him. The rest will be a split into smaller lineups with Caruso or DeRozan.

This is subject to change — especially with how Williams performs over the next few weeks. He would be the one who has the most upside at the position, so he’ll continue to get chances.

I’m curious to see how this evolves in the post-season.

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