What Happened to the Chicago Bulls’ ‘Bench Mob’?


On Thursday night at the United Center, the Chicago Bulls were walloped by the Cleveland Cavaliers, 94-73, providing a final punctuation mark on a bitterly disappointing season.

The lack of production from the Bulls’ second unit of players contributed greatly to the Bulls premature playoff exist. While guys like Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic and Aaron Brooks are responsible for their own sub-par performances, the inconsistency in their playing time went a long way towards explaining their poor performances.

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The Chicago Bulls bench was outscored 141-122 in this series. This is simply unacceptable for a unit that was dubbed by many as the best in the NBA before the season began.

According to Hoops Stats’ website, Chicago has plummeted to 27th in point differential during the playoffs (-8.8), with the Cavaliers bench unit (-11.3) still one spot behind them at 28th.

In terms of points per game, the bench units of Chicago and Cleveland rank 29th and 30th respectively. (The stats from Hoops Stats’ website have not been updated to included Game 6 of this series; however the point here is still valid: the Bulls bench underachieved during the playoffs.)

Nov 8, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich (12) helps Chicago Bulls guard Aaron Brooks (0) up after he was fouled into the bench during the second half of their game against the Boston Celtics at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

A major reason for the lack of bench production has been the rapid decline of players like Brooks, Mirotic and Snell during the playoffs. However, it may not be entirely their fault. The drastically reduced scoring numbers of these three players can be directly linked to the reduction in minutes that each player has experienced in the playoffs.

PlayerMinutes per game (mpg)Points per game (ppg)Shooting %True shooting percentage (TS%)Three-point attempt rateThree-point field goal %
Brooks (Playoffs)11.0 mpg4.5 ppg34.4%42.1 TS%42.6%30.8%
Brooks (Reg. Season)23.0 mpg11.6 ppg42.1%53.4 TS%38.3%38.7%
Mirotic (Playoffs)14.9 mpg5.7 ppg30.3%42.1 TS%45.6%23.3%
Mirotic (Reg. Season)20.2 mpg10.2 ppg40.5%55.6 TS%50.2%31.6%
Snell (Playoffs)12.7 mpg3.9 ppg34.1%47.0 TS%61.4%33.3%
Snell (Reg. Season)19.6 mpg6.0 ppg34.1%55.0 TS%53.1%37.1%

The above stat is particularly problematic for Brooks who is at his best when he is aggressively attacking the basket which opens up the three point shot for him. During the playoffs, only 35 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket. During the regular season, he was shooting 43 percent of his shots from this range.

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  • Tom Thibodeau drastically reduced his rotation for the playoffs this season. As a result, all three of these players, have experienced significant reductions in minutes.

    • All three players showed reductions in points per game averages. Although this is a definite correlation, it isn’t causal for one important reason. All three players have averaged less shots per game during the playoffs, which naturally stems from spending less time on the floor.
    • A better indicator of offensive production is shooting percentage. All three players have experienced at least a eight percentage point reduction in shooting percentage when comparing the regular season to the playoffs.
    • True shooting percentage measures a players efficiency shooting the basketball while taking into account free throw percentage, 2-point field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage individually. It is an overarching indicator of a player’s offensive production scoring the basketball. All three players have experienced at least a ten percentage point reduction in this category.
    • In the cases of Tony Snell and Aaron Brooks, the reduction in true shooting percentage largely stems from their increased reliance on the three point shot in the playoffs. Obviously, the three point field goal is going to be the lowest percentage shot just by the length of the attempt.

    So why are all three players shooting poorly and relying more heavily on outside shooting during the playoffs? The answer is lack of confidence which stems from inconsistent playing time

    Tony Snell has been the most noticeable victim of Thibodeau’s tendency to arbitrarily assign minutes to his reserves. When breaking down minutes into categories, it is very obvious that Snell’s minutes have been detrimentally inconsistent. However, all three players have received very inconsistent playing time throughout the playoffs.

    2014-15 minutes per game20+ mpg15-19 mpg10-14 mpg5-9 mpg> 5 mpg
    Brooks1 game2 games3 games6 gamesN/A
    Mirotic3 games3 games2 games2 games2 games
    Snell2 games2 games3 games3 games2 games

    Regarding Brooks, his minutes totals have been more consistent—however, 5-9 minutes per game is not enough time for a streaky shooter like Brooks to develop his confidence and start finding the stroke on his jumper. It is pretty easy to extrapolate from this diagram that Snell and Mirotic have been dealt extremely inconsistent rotational roles throughout the playoffs.

    This reason alone is why Brooks has been added alongside Snell and Mirotic among the bench players in this series that struggled due to inconsistency in playing time.

    May 12, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) dunks again Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) and guard Derrick Rose (1) in the fourth quarter in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    The stats presented above clearly show a relationship between minutes played and scoring statistics for all three players. For a streaky shooter, establishing a shooting rhythm is key and that can only be accomplished through meaningful minutes on the court.

    The Bulls failed to capitalize on one of their distinct advantages (the bench) and ultimately this contributed greatly to their premature exist from the playoffs at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

    When it comes down to it, the bench struggles can largely be blamed on Thibodeau who failed to establish a consistent rotation and allow his shooters to get into their shooting rhythm. With the season coming to a disappointing end last night, there are few corrective measures that can be taken except for the players in question to commit to perfecting their craft over the long off-season.

    Next: Bulls' Game 6 loss sums up entire 2014-15 season

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