Bulls' bench is broken

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Bulls' bench is broken

Okay, Ill admit it. I was wrong.

I thought the Bulls would be able to survive the break-up of the celebrated Bench Mob, filling their spots with decent veteran players on minimum contracts. But this is the classic case of a groups collective strength being much greater than the sum of their individual talents.

When you compare the new Bulls reserves to last years group, the only clear drop-off figured to be at the back-up center spot, where we all know a young defensive force like Omer Asik is far superior to 14-year veteran Nazr Mohammed. Most of the other spots figured to be a wash. Jimmy Butler projected as a capable replacement for Ronnie Brewers defense-first game. Marco Belinelli figured to come close to the point production and 3-point shooting provided by Kyle Korver. Nate Robinson would offer the same kind of hot and cold scorer we saw in C.J. Watson the last two seasons. And, of course, Taj Gibson was coming back, reportedly better than ever after a busy summer of work on his offensive game.

But through the first 13 games, the comparison of stats and past performance, hasnt added up to a smooth transition on the court for the Bulls reserves. And even worse, it looks like Tom Thibodeau has lost confidence in his second unit, playing his veteran starters way too many minutes. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah rank first and second in the league in average minutes played. Deng played 47 minutes in the nightmarish loss to Milwaukee, getting a one minute break midway through the second quarter, even though the Bulls were way in front most of the night. Right now, Thibodeau basically has an 8-man rotation, with Gibson, Butler and Robinson the only guys hes comfortable using off the bench. And, Gibson is really struggling right now, possibly because hes putting too much pressure on himself after signing that big money contract extension.

Belinelli is coming off his best NBA season in New Orleans, where he averaged nearly 12 points a game, and shot almost 38 percent from three-point range. In case you were wondering, Korver averaged eight points last season on 43.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Unfortunately for Belinelli, he struggled with his shot during the preseason, and since hes never been a great defensive player, hes basically fallen out of the rotation. Mohammed is a career back-up, and with Gibson now getting some minutes as a back-up center, and Noah averaging 39 minutes a game, there just isnt any time for him to play.

The larger issue involves the heavy minutes the Bulls veteran starters are being asked to play. The NBA season is a grueling marathon, and even the fittest players can break down if not given proper rest. All five Bulls starters have had injury issues in the past, and its crucial to keep them healthy until Derrick Rose can get back. We know Thibodeau wants to win every game, and no one can blame him for that. But looking at the bigger picture, finding minutes for the likes of Belinelli, Mohammed and even Vladimir Radmanovic could keep the starters healthy and fresh for a stretch run with Rose back in the line-up.

The Central Division is clearly up for grabs this season, given the injuries to Rose and Indianas Danny Granger. The Bulls would have taken over first place had they not blown that 27 point second-half lead against Milwaukee, and it looks like 48 wins might be good enough to win the division and earn home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

Losing a game or two for the sake of developing the bench really isnt a bad thing right now. Lets hope Thibodeau will give some of his reserves a longer rope in the Bulls upcoming games, and ease the wear and tear on the starters.

As I said at the top, I was wrong about the Bench Mob. Turns out, it really is impossible to replace that units chemistry and defensive strength. Asik, Korver and Brewer are all starting on their new teams, and Watson is playing a big role backing up Deron Williams and Joe Johnson in Brooklyn. But the Bulls had to make some tough financial decisions to avoid going deep into the luxury tax. The front office knew winning a championship this season would be pretty unlikely, and they wanted to open a new window to build a contending team around Rose in the next year or two. We can only hope losing all the popular reserves will pay off in a home run addition to the roster down the line.

Funky style has Todd Frazier leading White Sox in stolen bases

Funky style has Todd Frazier leading White Sox in stolen bases

It may not be very pretty, but it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of Todd Frazier’s stolen base technique.

Despite employing a walking-lead style that his manager loves to harp on, Frazier swiped two more bags in Sunday’s victory over the Cleveland Indians. Frazier’s 14 stolen bases this season not only leads the team, it’s also the most by a White Sox third baseman since Luis Salazar also stole 14 bases in 1985.

“He’s got that sneaky little stolen base thing where he sneaks off there,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He looks like a fan ran on the field. It works. I don’t know how to explain it, but it works.”

Frazier has learned how to make it work.

Successful only 58.5 percent of the time in his first three minor league seasons, Frazier adapted his style after he and Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan discussed his leads. Frazier, who was successful in only 24 of 41 tries between Cincinnati’s Rookie League team and Double-A, said the talk resulted in an alteration and drastically improved results. Frazier’s success rate increased to 81.8 percent at Triple-A as he was successful in 36 of 44 tries.

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Frazier has converted 57 of 85 tries in the majors (67 percent), including 14 of 19 this season.

“Basically every time I stole a base my first move would be coming up in the standstill,” Frazier said. “(Morgan) taught me the walking lead, basically because the more you get your momentum going toward the base I have one or two steps ahead of somebody. We went over that a little bit, I started working on it in Triple-A and I’d get about 15 stolen bags a year. I’m not the fastest guy, but if I can a step ahead and get two or three or four when the guy throws it they’re not going to be be able to throw it. Sometimes I’ll get picked off and you’ll be like, ‘What is he doing?’ But I’ll take five or six of those a year to get to second base and get two big runs there for us.”

Frazier’s steals on Sunday led to two of three runs scored by the White Sox. Even more important (for the purposes of bragging rights), the stolen bases gave Frazier the team lead over Adam Eaton, who has 12 steals.

“I told Eaton I was going to get him, no problem,” Frazier said. “I told him ‘I’m coming for you,’ and I got two today so I took the lead, which is pretty cool.”

Ventura still isn’t quite sure how Frazier does it. But he’s impressed nonetheless.

“He’s not a normal looking base stealer, but he’s able to create some havoc when he’s out there” Ventura said.

Viewers' Choice: Vote for High School Lites Week 6 Coverage

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Viewers' Choice: Vote for High School Lites Week 6 Coverage

Who wants it more?

We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland’s top prep sports show, in the hands of area football fans in our “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week.” Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the @CSNPreps crew will cover on Friday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights of that game will appear on that night’s “High School Lites” broadcast at 11:00pm, just after White Sox baseball. The show also live streams at csnchicago.com. High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 7:30am and 8:30am the following Saturday. This week, we spotlight the Metro Suburban Blue conference:

Riverside-Brookfield at IC Catholic Prep, 7:15 p.m.

St. Edward at Fenton, 7:15 p.m.

Wheaton Academy at Glenbard South, 7:15 p.m.

Polls open Monday at 12:00pm and close Thursday at 4:00pm. Fans are encouraged to vote more than once! Vote now right here!

Be sure to follow @CSNPreps for updates on the “Viewers’ Choice Game of the week,” along with other football news, scores and highlights this season.

Rules: official votes are tabulated exclusively on Twitter and Facebook via the link above. “Re-Tweets” and “Likes” do not count. Also, the original wording of the Twitter/Facebook voting prompt (including hashtags) cannot be manipulated in any fashion. However, feel free to add emojis, numbers, etc. at the end of an official vote’s text, provided there is a space after the final hashtag. Automatically timed-interval (“bot”) votes will also not count.