In a perfect world Tom Thibodeau would have his entire roster available for tonight’s preseason matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, but as his teams have done the last three seasons while battling injury, the “next man up” mentality again comes into play.
Kirk Hinrich (concussion), Jimmy Butler (knee) and Joakim Noah (groin) will all rest with injuries, leaving the opportunity for Thibodeau and the Bulls to use different lineups as they continue to finalize their rotation as the preseason comes to a close.
“You’re starting to get closer to the season, so you’re starting to establish your rotation,” Thibodeau said. “So we have to prepare ourselves for every possible situation. Some guys are moving along really well, this has been a good opportunity for Taj (Gibson) to get extended minutes at the 4 and the 5. It’s a good opportunity for us to get a good look at Mike Dunleavy, so he has an opportunity now to start and so that’s been good. And I like the opportunity we had with Derrick and Kirk together also.”
Tonight’s lineup includes two players already part of the Bulls’ rotation – Mike Dunleavy starting in place of Butler and Nazr Mohammed for Noah – but that means two more spots on the second unit. With Gibson playing so well (15.0 points, 8.6 rebounds in five preseason games) Thibodeau will again get a good look at two rookies looking to earn minutes in Tony Snell and Erik Murphy.
“That’s just how the NBA is,” Murphy said of the Bulls’ nagging injuries. “One night somebody can be hurt, one night your name could be called, so you’ve always got to stay ready. I think that’s the one thing is always just being on edge and being focused and ready when your name’s called.”
Added Snell: “I’ve just got to stay ready; you never know what’s gonna happen. I’m just trying to stay ready and whatever opportunity comes I’ll try to take full advantage of it…It’s working as best as I can defensively, working together [as a team] to stop (the Bucks).”
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For the team, tonight’s contest is just another test, both of how the team has been practicing and how closer they are to being ready for the regular season, now just eight days away.
Thibodeau’s Bulls are a league-best 5-0 – perhaps a testament to his coaching style and the team’s depth – and he admitted his team is moving better in space, taking better care of the ball and keeping the pace active and quick with Derrick Rose in the mix, yet despite their modest 94 points per game, he said these tune-up games are a chance for his team to improve in every aspect.
“There are other things that I think we can do better: Sustaining spacing through a second and third option; the young guys coming in, knowing what their job is because they may find themselves out there and they’ve got to be ready to do it. And then defensively, everything is five-man offense and five-man defense, so if one guy is not doing their job it’s going to make everyone look bad.”
Still, Thibodeau said there’s always a balancing act on his end on how much to push the group with the regular season just more than a week away. But for Thibodeau, that doesn’t mean the effort can be lacking, even in a preseason contest.
“I think that you’ve got to be careful in pacing yourself because the regular season is right around the corner. That’s when the moment of truth will begin. I think the guys said, and I’ve mentioned it before, Taj has been our best practice player. So he’s had a great preseason, want him to continue to build off that.
“But in order to play well, you have to practice well first.”