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In this week’s joint column, Mark and Will map out the ideal version (within reason) of the Bulls rotation and substitution pattern in preparation for their matchup with the Bucks.
Here’s a Youtube video version of this project:
This was a beast of a puzzle. Essentially, we built out lineups based on continuity, offensive and defensive impact and more. We lay out our decision-making process and talk through the answers to our biggest questions.
Starters and major decisions
It’s obvious that LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic will be out there to start and close games, but one of the more challenging aspects of this exercise was deciding who starts at point guard and power forward. Essentially, the Bulls will need to pick two of Dosunmu, Williams, and Caruso.
We felt it best to go for the combination of size and experience by starting Williams and Caruso together. Starting Caruso over Dosunmu also made it easier to tether DeRozan’s minutes to Caruso’s.
We created a eight-man core rotation with room to sprinkle in minutes from players deeper on the depth chart.
It’s possible this number is reduced further. Assuming one of his young players (Ayo Dosunmu, Coby White, Williams) struggle, the rotation could tighten to as few as seven.
“Clearly, in the playoffs, two-way players are guys that generally stay on the floor for a long period of time,” Billy Donovan said.
The Bulls are light on two-way guys at this point, so Donovan will have to go with what works.
Keeping it real
We tried to keep this as true to the current rest plan as possible. That means LaVine and Vucevic playing together for the first 8-10 minutes of the first quarter and coming back in during the second quarter for two stints in each half.
DeRozan on the other hand, plays three stints per half. He exits the first quarter a little sooner than LaVine and Vucevic, re-enters to lead the second unit and checks out one more time before returning to finish the half with the closing group.
With that in mind, our strategy was to never go a minute without LaVine or DeRozan on the floor. We also wanted to keep at least two of Caruso, LaVine, DeRozan, Vucevic on court at all times. The Bulls are young and thin in their depth, so it’s important to keep one of their best two and two of the four best players on the court at any given time.
To that end, we decided to tether LaVine and Vucevic’s minutes, as Billy Donovan usually does, in an attempt to have two scoring outlets while DeRozan sits.
We then tethered DeRozan and Caruso to ensure a good offense/defense balance, and spacing and decision making in the event that DeRozan sees heavy trapping. Lineups with this duo are +12.2 points per 100 possessions.
Another key criteria in balancing the rotation is ensuring that a three-man combination of Ayo Dosunmu, Coby White and Patrick Williams play as few minutes together as possible. Achieving this may prove difficult given the Bulls have relied upon their young players heavily throughout the season. However, in high stakes playoff games, these inexperienced players are prone to mistakes. This risk is amplified when playing them together. Where possible, Dosunmu, White and Williams need to be out there with veterans
Power forward depth remains the biggest question mark. The Bulls are short on longer bodies, which is not ideal in a matchup against Milwaukee. Depending on performance, any of Derrick Jones Jr., Javonte Green and Tristan Thompson could eat into William’s minutes.
We’re emotionally preparing ourselves for Thompson minutes but couldn’t stomach putting him down for minutes next to Vucevic.
The rotation being reduced to a point that only two bench players receive game time is reason enough for Jones Jr. to not be an option in the playoffs. Jones Jr. has largely been absent from Donovan’s rotation ever since the acquisition of Thompson.
We’d prefer Jones Jr. play over Thompson at center. However, nothing about Donovan’s rotation from the past few months suggests this is likely.
We’re hoping to keep DeRozan, LaVine, Vucevic at 38 minutes to start. Caruso, in an attempt to keep his back pain under control, at 36. Though we imagine, expect even, their minutes to creep into the early to mid 40s as the series progresses.
“The minutes you’re trying to manage in the regular season is kind of out the window because there is really no back-to-backs,” Donovan continued. “There’s generally a day in between, sometimes two. These guys are generally more recovered in the playoffs than they are in the regular season with the number of games.”
It remains to be seen whether Caruso will be healthy enough to manage even 36 minutes a game. Being such a physical and foul-prone defender, he is susceptible to losing minutes in a few different ways.
All of this is subject to change. Donovan will have his hands full mixing and matching these pieces until he finds something that works.
The playoffs are a menace, so Donovan will have to make adjustments early and often. In fact, it would be a surprise if this rotation stays the same for more than a game or two.
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