Has Fred Hoiberg Fixed the Chicago Bulls' Rotations and Minutes?
The day before the Chicago Bulls tipped off against the Cleveland Cavaliers on opening night, a report by Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson came out that claimed the Bulls’ depth was going to allow Fred Hoiberg to keep “most all players' minutes,” to around 25-32 per game.
While it wasn’t far-fetched to believe, it certainly was a complete 180 in the thought process of how to value and predict the Bulls’ playing time compared to the Tom Thibodeau years.
For instance, Jimmy Butler led the league in minutes per game over the last two seasons, and the two years prior to that, Luol Deng led the league in minutes per game for Chicago. Last season the Bulls’ starters averaged nearly 33 minutes per game, and in 2013-2014 the Bulls starters played an average of more than 34 minutes per game.
Over the last three seasons Thibodeau had the Bulls’ starters always inside the top five in minutes per game, while his bench player’s minutes were never higher than 25 in the league in that same time span. Even when the Bulls got to the point where they had solid depth last season, only the Clippers played their starters more and their bench fewer minutes than the Bulls.
However, now with Hoiberg running the show, times are changing. Even though Butler has logged 37 and 34 minutes through the Bulls’ first two games, no other Bulls player has exceeded the 32-minute threshold. Hoiberg is utilizing the Bulls’ quality depth to his advantage, and so far this season, the Bulls’ bench is up to an average of 17.4 minutes per game.
Rotate Bulls to Maintain Freshness
One of the biggest complaints from both fans and management of Thibodeau were his rotations last season. Thibodeau continued to start Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol together last season, which did not work.
In lineups where the five players got at least 100 minutes playing together during the season, Bulls’ lineups that had both Noah and Gasol in them had a point differential of -14.5, compared to +11.5 in lineups where only one of them was in the game.
Another common complaint was playing Noah and Gasol a lot together took away from then Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic. Last season Mirotic played only about 20 minutes per game, and it was mostly because of injuries. However, despite Thibodeau’s unwillingness to play young guys, in limited minutes off the bench, Mirotic still averaged double figures in scoring, had the third best True Shooting Percentage on the team outside of Butler and Mike Dunleavy, and maintained a PER of 17.9 that was behind only Butler and Gasol.
This season, however, Mirotic is in the starting lineup, and through two games it is already apparent that he is one of the Bulls' top options offensively. Even though it’s only two games, Mirotic has a Usage Rating of nearly 25 percent, he is averaging 18.5 points per game, and he is doing it all with a True Shooting Percentage of nearly 76 percent. He is shooting 38 percent from the three-point line as well. He obviously has the green light.
However, the Bulls’ new rotations and minutes distribution isn’t great for fantasy purposes. If you can’t predict Chicago’s minutes or rotations on any given night, it makes them harder to roster in both daily fantasy and season-long fantasy. On top of that, unlike when Thibodeau was at the helm and the Bulls had pretty set rotations, Hoiberg seems free flowing with his substitutions. Guys haven’t been on the floor for long stretches, and it seems like it will depend on game flow and Chicago’s opponent on any given night to determine the minutes distribution and rotations.
For instance, in their game against Cleveland, Hoiberg subbed 10 times in the first quarter but only subbed five times in the first quarter of their game against Brooklyn. Butler will almost certainly still lead the team in minutes, but after that, it’s going to depend on the night. Not to mention Mike Dunleavy is coming back within the next month or two, and that may push someone out of the rotation, or just muddle the minutes even more.
This style, though, is hopefully going to help keep the Bulls healthy and fresh throughout the season, and allow them to stay fresh during games as well as during the stretch run for the playoffs.