NBA PM: ‘Bench Mob’ Key for Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are on pace to finish with the best record in the NBA for the second straight season. In the last two years, the Bulls have managed to lead the league in wins even though they’ve had every starter sidelined by a significant injury at one point or another. Derrick Rose, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have combined to miss 132 games over the last two seasons, but the Bulls continue to win thanks to a group of reserves that come up big every time their number is called.
C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik have emerged as key contributors for the Bulls, whether they’re coming off the bench or sliding into the starting lineup. They call themselves the Bench Mob and they’ve quickly become fan favorites in Chicago. Bench Mob shirts and signs have become commonplace at the United Center as fans have embraced the team’s second unit.
The Bench Mob’s origins can be traced back to last season after Watson, Brewer and Gibson had a particularly impressive outing in a Bulls’ win. Boozer was asked about the outstanding bench play and he tried to think of a nickname for the team’s reserves. He mentioned the “Second Wind” or “Second Starting Five,” but Watson and Brewer weren’t impressed.
“Me and C.J. have lockers right next to each other. They were asking Booz about our second unit and he called us the ‘Second Wind’ and the ‘Second Starting Five.’ I was like, ‘That’s not a cool name. We have to come up with something cooler than that,’” Brewer said with a laugh.
“One of my teammates in college, JuJuan Smith, came off the bench and came up with the ‘Bench Mob’ name at Tennessee,” Watson said. “Me, Ronnie and Taj wanted to come up with a catchy name for our bench so we went with that. We picked it up and we’ve been calling ourselves that ever since.”
The Bulls believe they have the best bench in the league, which allows them to stay on the court longer than most second units. The reserves have also been called upon late in games by head coach Tim Thibodeau, such as last week against the Miami Heat. Chicago’s bench outscored Miami’s reserves, 47-7, and the second unit outlasted the Heat’s starters in overtime.
“We have so much talent on the second unit that we can sometimes outplay the opponent’s starters,” Brewer said. “Our team is a true team. When guys go out, we have guys who always step up. Other teams may have one or two key contributors who make a difference in a game. We always have three, four or five guys who are playing well and doing things to help the team win.”
“If we’re not the deepest team in the league, we’re one of the deepest,” Watson said. “We play ten-deep each and every night. If one person goes down, the next man steps up. We’ve been doing a great job of that all year. Everyone on the bench is ready and able to play big minutes. We all stay ready and work hard in the gym. Even when we’re not playing a lot of minutes, we keep working on our game and staying prepared. Coach has a lot of confidence in us, which helps us be more confident on the court. He knows that we’re going to play hard and always bring it on defense. Offensively, he knows that we take good shots and protect the ball. He has a lot of confidence in us.”
Not only has the Bench Mob meshed together on the court, they’ve become close friends away from the game. The group is constantly hanging out and having fun together.
“We’re close,” Watson said. “We’re always going out to eat and hanging out together. We just try to keep it cool and have a good friendship off the court. When you have friendships off the court, it makes everything easier when you’re on the court together.”
“Everybody on our team is close,” Brewer said. “This team is different than any other team I’ve been on. I mean, we’re super close. We’re always going out to eat or going to the movies with each other. It’s not to build chemistry or anything, it’s just because we all like each other. That’s not always the case, especially when you spend so much time with guys practicing, traveling, playing, lifting and going to all of the different events during a season. We’re close and it translates on the court. When you can trust all of the guys who are on the court with you, it really helps.”
Injuries have forced the Bulls to rotate different players in and out of the starting lineup this season. All but four of Chicago’s players have started at least one game this year, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While the injuries have kept the Bulls from playing at full strength, they have also helped Chicago’s backups grow because they’ve been forced to take on larger roles.
“I think it has helped everyone’s confidence,” Watson said. “When guys have been out, we all tried to play well to keep our record great. Even when Derrick was out, we were able to step up. I think it gives us more confidence and then he has more confidence in us too. He knows we can win without him and, when he comes back, we can have a well-rounded team.”
With the playoffs less than two weeks away, the Bulls are feeling confident in their balanced attack. After losing to Miami in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, Chicago is extremely motivated entering the postseason. Ask those in the locker room and they’ll say that anything less than a championship will be a disappointment.
“We’re confident, but more than anything we’re very hungry and very determined,” Brewer said. “Last year, we finished with such a great record but we felt like it was all for nothing because we didn’t accomplish our goal in the postseason. This year, we feel like we’re in the same situation. We know the only way to shut people up and get over the hump is to win a championship. We’re taking it one game at a time, but we’re looking forward to going out and competing against whoever is put in front of us.”
Smith Expected to Test Free Agency: When the New York Knicks signed J.R. Smith in February, they knew they were getting a steal. The 26-year-old returned from his lockout stint in China and signed for the room exception worth $2.5 million. That’s one-third of what Smith made last season with the Denver Nuggets, but the shooting guard didn’t have many options given his midseason return to the NBA.
This offseason, Smith will have many more options. He’s expected to opt-out of the final year of his contract and hopes to sign a multi-year deal this summer, according to sources close to the situation. The Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic are among the teams expected to express interest in Smith if he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Teams are always looking for players who are able to create their own shot and Smith can do exactly that. Since joining the Knicks, he has provided plenty of offense off of the bench, averaging 12 points per game. While Smith has a reputation for being somewhat high maintenance, he won’t have any problem finding a potential suitor this offseason. There are plenty of executives who believe his on-court contributions are worth his sometimes questionable decisions off the court.
The Knicks will have a difficult time re-signing Smith this summer. Re-signing Jeremy Lin will likely be the team’s top priority. Because Lin hasn’t been in New York for two seasons, they don’t hold his Early Bird Rights, which means the Knicks are not allowed to go over the cap to re-sign him. That means the Knicks will have to use their mid-level exception to keep Lin, who can sign for a maximum starting salary of $5 million due to the Gilbert Arenas Provision. Landry Fields, Steve Novak, Baron Davis and Jared Jeffries will also be free agents this offseason.
If Smith opts out, as expected, it likely closes the door on a future with the Knicks.
USA Today’s 2012 All-USA Teams: This afternoon, USA Today released their annual All-USA high school basketball teams, which feature the very best blue chip players from around the country.
The All-USA first team consists of Nerlens Noel, Jabari Parker, Kyle Anderson, Shabazz Muhammed and Marcus Smart. The second team features Tyler Lewis, Kasey Hill, Amile Jefferson, Anthony Bennett and Perry Ellis. The third team includes Rodney Purvis, Katin Reinhardt, Brandon Ashley, Alex Poythress and Isaiah Austin.
Check out these NBA comparisons for the All-USA team. Can Shabazz Muhammad, Jabari Parker and Nerlens Noel be the next Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett?
NBA Chats: There are two NBA chats on the schedule today. Salary cap guru Larry Coon kicked things off at 3 p.m. EST. If you missed it, read the chat transcript here. Next up, Lang Greene will be hosting his weekly chat at 8 p.m. EST. Feel free to drop him a line on anything NBA related. You can always find our upcoming chats here.