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.

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Alabama DL Jonathan Allen

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Alabama DL Jonathan Allen

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft we will provide profiles of more than 100 prospects, including a scouting report and video interviews with each player.

Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama

6'3" | 286 lbs.

2016 stats:

69 tackles, 16 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 3 FR

Projection:

First round

Scouting Report:

"Outstanding leader and athlete with an ability to rush the passer from outside or inside. Has produced against the run and pass thanks to his strength, agility, elite hand usage, and plus footwork. He might not be the cleanest fit inside as a full-time tackle for some teams, but his talent should trump any size concerns. Allen is a likely first-round selection with Pro Bowl potential down the road." — Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Video analysis provided by Rotoworld and NBC Sports NFL Draft expert Josh Norris.

Click here for more NFL Draft Profiles

White Sox ace Jose Quintana puts on a show in victory over Reds

White Sox ace Jose Quintana puts on a show in victory over Reds

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Those pesky, persistent trade rumors continue to be no match for White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana. 

The 2016 All-Star was outstanding on Thursday afternoon as he made his first Cactus League appearance in nearly a month. Still waiting on word if he'll be the team's Opening Day starter, Quintana pitched seven scoreless innings against a thin Cincinnati Reds lineup in a 4-2 White Sox victory at Camelback Ranch. 

Pitching in front of more than a dozen scouts, Quintana limited Cincinnati to two hits in a 79-pitch outing and struck out three.

"I just try to turn the page quick and keep going," Quintana said. "Never watch behind me and try to go ahead every time I can. I want to put my team in a good position to win games. It's good when you win games in spring training. It brings good energy for the season."

Quintana on Thursday followed the same format he did for Colombia against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic on March 10 as he retired the first 17 Reds hitters he faced. Even after he surrendered a hit, Quintana got back to work. Featuring a fastball that sat between 91-93 mph early, Quintana had Cincinnati hitters off-balance all day. After he exited the game, Quintana sprinted to the right-field bullpen to throw 15 more pitches as he continues to build arm strength.

The outing is more of the same consistency the White Sox have come to expect from their trusted lefty. It's also why they refuse to remove the high sticker price attached to Quintana, who has competed at least 200 innings the past four seasons with a 3.32 overall ERA in that span.

As Opening Day approaches, the White Sox continue to listen to offers for Quintana but have refused to budge on their price. Manager Rick Renteria said on Wednesday he needed a few more days before naming his starter for the April 3 opener, which suggests the team would still trade Quintana at this late date. But unless one of the team's suitors finally antes up, it's hard to believe that anyone other than Quintana would take the mound against the Detroit Tigers when the 2017 season kicks off at Guaranteed Rate Field.

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Quintana is on target to pitch again Tuesday, though perhaps in a minor league game as the White Sox face Kansas City that day. His next turn would come on April 2, which would easily afford the team the chance to push him back one day. 

Giving Quintana the nod in the opener would be the latest honor bestowed upon him. Earlier this month, Quintana dominated the eventual WBC champion as he didn't allow a hit until there were two outs in the sixth inning. That performance came after an outstanding campaign in which Quintana finally appeared in an All-Star Game.

All of the above has Quintana feeling pretty good about his abilities. 

"I have confidence in me, and every time I go out there I just try to have fun and enjoy that time," Quintana said. "I spend good time with my teammates. Every time I go to the mound, I feel pretty good."

Nicky Delmonico homered and singled in a run in the victory for the White Sox. He drove in three runs and hit his third homer of the spring. Leury Garcia also had two hits and made a pair of nice defensive plays at second base.