Could The Chicago Bulls Bench Beat The NBA’s Worst Starting Five?


The Chicago Bulls are one of the deepest teams in the NBA. They also have one of the strongest starting lineups in the league to go along with their depth.

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In terms of my own curiosity, I measured how the Bulls’ next crop of players on the roster stacke up against one of the weaker starting lineups in the league: the Philadelphia 76ers.

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of how the Bulls bench would match up and fare against the worst team in the league last season.

Point Guard: Aaron Brooks vs. Tony Wroten

It was a surprise when the 76ers traded Michael-Carter Williams last season, but the play of Tony Wroten is why they did. Wroten has only played three years in the NBA and has improved every year. He dealt with injuries last year and as a result only was able to play in 30 games with 15 starts. In those 30 games, Wroten was impressive and gave the 76ers hope that he could be their starting point guard of the future.

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Wroten averaged 16.9 points per game, 5.2 assists per game and 1.6 steals per game for Philadelphia last season. He put up good numbers, but he still played like a third-year guard. On offense, Wroten turned the ball over 3.8 times a game in just 29.8 minutes, and shot a dismal 40.3 percent overall from the field.

Aaron Brooks can score in bunches and heats up fast. He may not score as much as Wroten, but that was because of less minutes. However, Brooks does score at a more efficient clip, shooting 42.1 percent from the field. Brooks is an underrated passer and can use that to his advantage, as the Bulls have shooters like Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott coming off the bench with him.

Neither guard is great on defense, but both can score. Both players averaged over 18 points per 36 minutes last season, so a shootout would be expected. Brooks and his ability to shoot at a more efficient pace than Wroten gives him a little edge over Wroten, but Wroten’s passing and defense makes up for it. It’s hard to pick Wroten over Brooks because last season was a small sample size of him getting a lot of minutes, but when he did play, he looked like the guard of the future for Philadelphia.

Advantage: Tony Wroten

Shooting Guard: Tony Snell vs. Robert Covington

Robert Covington is a decent three-point shooter, shooting 37.4 percent from the field, but doesn’t bring a lot to the table otherwise. He’s an average defender at best and doesn’t really share the ball to be considered a threat offensively. So why does he start? Because they didn’t have anyone else too. The 76ers are hoping that a change in scenery for second year guard, Nik Stauskas, will help him and he can turn into a starting caliber guard.

Tony Snell was a three-point threat while at New Mexico, but has yet to find his range in the NBA. He’s athletic and does a good job getting to the basket. But, the Bulls want him to shoot better than 34.7 percent from three. Snell is a solid bench player, but isn’t aggressive or talented enough to be a starter in the NBA.

His long arms and quickness help him defend the passing lanes and contest jump shots. Covington isn’t going to drive to the basket hardly at. Last season, he averaged 6.4 threes a game. Snell’s long arms could force Covington to pass more often and take him out of the game.

Neither player is going to win their team the game, but Covington is more one-dimensional than Snell. He shoots a ton from long range and with Snell’s long arms, it could be an inefficient night for Covington. Snell’s defense is the difference maker between these two.

Advantage: Tony Snell

Small Forward: Doug McDermott vs. Jerami Grant

Jerami Grant averaged over 20 minutes per game last season (21.2 minutes per game), but still put up below-average numbers for Philadelphia. Grant was terrible on offense with a 91 offensive rating last season, according to Basketball-Reference. It’s a fair rating however, as he only shot 35.2 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from behind the arc, but still attempted more than two threes a game. To make it worse, he shot a brutal 59.1 percent from the free throw line. To put that in perspective, starting power forward Nerlens Noel shot better than that.

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Doug McDermott didn’t play a lot and dealt with a knee injury during his rookie season, so it’s hard to judge how good of an NBA player he is. He shot slightly better than Grant, 40.2 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from three. McDermott was one of the most versatile scorers college basketball has seen in a long time during his four years at Creighton. It gives Bulls fans hope that he can still be the scorer and shooter Chicago thought they were getting when they traded for him for him last June on draft night.

This is arguably the weakest position for each team. Neither player was overly impressive last season. McDermott has better size than Grant and I think he would be able to post him up on offense, even though Grant averaged a block per game last season. McDermott’s ability to shoot in college gives me hope that with an expanded role, he’ll be able to get in a rhythm and score around 10 points. Grant isn’t a great defender and McDermott should have his way on offense. Neither player was very good last year, but McDermott has more potential on offense and could heat up from outside.

Advantage: Doug McDermott

Power Forward: Nikola Mirotic vs. Nerlens Noel

Both players were rookies last year and were near the top in the NBA’s rookie of the year voting behind Andrew Wiggins. However, both players had very different experiences. Noel started right away after missing a season, starting 71 of 75 games, and Mirotic came off the bench all year and didn’t get a consistent role until the end of the season.

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  • Noel is a force on defense down low, which is a good thing Mirotic can shoot the three. Noel was a monster during his rookie season, averaging 1.9 blocks per game and 1.8 steals per game. It’s hard to block jump shots though and Mirotic’s ability to hit a jump shot and fade away can be used to his advantage. He can also take Noel off the dribble or post him up down low. Noel will get his blocks against Mirotic, but containing a power forward with a shot like Mirotic has all game, isn’t easy to do.

    Coming out of Kentucky, the biggest knock on Nerlens Noel was he couldn’t score. That proved to be semi-true last year, as he failed to average 10 points per game (9.9 points per game) despite playing 30.8 minutes per game. Mirotic was able to average 10.2 points per game in more than 10 minutes less than Noel.

    Mirotic finished second in the ROY voting ahead of Noel, and there’s a reason. His numbers don’t look as good as one might expect, but that’s because he didn’t average more than 20 minutes per game until March. In March, Mirotic played 30.8 minutes per game (the same amount Noel played all season) but was able to score 20.8 points a night and grab 7.6 rebounds a game.

    Noel isn’t an exceptional rebounder for his size, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Mirotic out-rebounded him. However, Mirotic’s ability to space the floor and shoot the outside jumper can take Noel out of the game defensively and make him guard the perimeter in which would allow other players to drive the lane. This is one of the best match-ups to watch, but Mirotic is the better player and his game highlights Noel’s weaknesses.

    Advantage: Nikola Mirotic

    Center: Taj Gibson vs. Jahlil Okafor

    It’s one of the most talented rookies up against a veteran known for defense. Taj Gibson against Jahlil Okafor is an interesting match-up because their games are complete opposites.

    Jahlil Okafor was a stud on offense at Duke last year like most people expected. He could score in any way down low and had great footwork, but he couldn’t hit a jump shot to save his life. Okafor reminds me a lot of a less-athletic Blake Griffin coming out of college.

    Despite being 6’11”, Okafor isn’t a great defender. He was switched off offensive big men while at Duke. He did average 1.4 blocks per game during his only season at Duke, but I would expect him to average less than that during his rookie season.

    Good news for Okafor, Gibson isn’t great in the post. Gibson won’t be making great spin moves to the basket or shoot a Dirk-type of fade away jumper. He’s athletic and can be a threat in fast-break situations, but wouldn’t give Okafor a ton of problems down low.

    Jahlil Okafor is the complete opposite, and while he has yet to play a real minute in the NBA, he is one of the best offensive big men prospects in recent memory. Gibson averages 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes and could help contain Okafor down low, but not stop him. Okafor is talented enough down low that he should be able to still get to the basket.

    It’s hard to pick Okafor over Gibson considering he has yet to play in an NBA game. However, his offensive potential is through the roof and despite not having a great jump shot, he could score at will down low in college. Gibson doesn’t shoot the ball well from mid-range and Okafor could use his size to give Gibson problems down low. It may be an unpopular pick, but if they went one-on-one down low, I think Okafor would be able to score 15-20 points against Gibson.

    Advantage: Jahlil Okafor

    Overall: Chicago Bulls, 3-2

    Chicago’s bench could probably take the Philadelphia starters. Defensively down low, it would be hard to score against Philadelphia, but the Bulls backups are mostly shooters, which would open up the floor. If Mirotic is able to hit his shots outside and force Noel to play away from the basket, Tony Snell would have open lanes to cut for easy baskets.

    Most of the positions are close match-ups, but the Bulls bench players have a little edge over Philadelphia’s starters. In the end, the Bulls have more versatile players that will open up many different play styles against Philadelphia. This just shows how deep the Bulls really are.

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