BROOKLYN—Another road game, another reunion for the Bulls.
Former starting shooting guard Keith Bogans and ex-“Bench Mob” floor general backup point guard C.J. Watson are Nets reserves.
“Some of their bench guys, we’ve had. We know how good C.J. is. We know how good Keith is,” Thibodeau said of the pair. “They’re really solid players, they play to win, they bring a lot of intangibles to a team. Both guys can start, both guys can come off the bench. They’re great team guys, so it was a good pick-up for them.”
Bogans, who started for the Bulls two seasons ago, has started 16 games for Brooklyn this season, but is mostly used off the bench, from where he produces 4.2 points per game in 18 minutes a night.
Watson, who has seemingly found a niche as a backup to upper-echelon point guards, is averaging 6.2 points per game in an identical 18 minutes each evening.
Saturday in Atlanta, the Bulls will see another former teammate, sharpshooter Kyle Korver of the Hawks.
Thibodeau impressed by Nets’ Lopez development
Nets center Brook Lopez wasn’t initially named an Eastern Conference All-Star, but got the nod when a replacement was needed for injured Boston point guard Rajon Rondo.
After dealing with injuries, constant trade rumors and a sub-par supporting cast during his first few seasons, Lopez, a talented offensive player has taken the next step in his development by becoming a better defender and more physical rebounder, something Thibodeau believes is key to Brooklyn’s improvement this season.
“Well, they’re healthy. They got off to a great start. They stumbled a little bit, but when you look at it and you dig a little deeper, you see that Lopez was hurt during that time. When he’s been healthy, they’ve been terrific,” Thibodeau said. “It looks like defensively he’s really improved. Offensively, he’s always been terrific. He’s got soft hands, he’s got touch, he’s got good post moves. If he gets to his spots, tough to stop. But I think defensively, he’s seeing things a lot quicker now and I think that comes with experience. He’s altering shots at the rim. He’s really playing well for them.”
It also doesn’t hurt that the Nets are playing much more inspired basketball under interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo, who got the job after Avery Johnson, the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month in November, was fired in December.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, that’s as good as it gets, in terms of backcourts. They’re an elite backcourt,” Thibodeau observed. “Gerald Wallace has been terrific, so it’s a deep team…their record says what they are.”
Butler could face tough defensive assignment
Although Jimmy Butler has emerged as a reliable scoring option for the Bulls as of late, Thibodeau still considers the second-year swingman’s ability to defend his top priority.
Against the Nets, Thibodeau didn’t rule out the possibility that Butler, who recently forced Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant into a rough offensive outing, could see time defending the likes of shooting guard Joe Johnson, another one of the most talented scorers in the league.
“He’s going to have to guard multiple guys. [Gerald] Wallace is a good matchup for him also. But those type of players, you never guard them individually. You have to guard them collectively with your team,” Thibodeau explained. “Jimmy can play the two, three and four, and they have the ability to play big, play small, so he has to be ready to guard all three positions.”
Regardless of how he fares Friday in Brooklyn, Butler’s exploits have made him a favorite topic among teammates, as evidenced by Carlos Boozer interrupting an interview about his own hamstring injury to lament the fact that the athletic wing wasn’t chosen to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, a game featuring some of the league’s best rookie and second-year players during All-Star weekend in Houston.
“Jimmy got robbed, by the way,” Boozer said. “He should have been in that game.”