Due to one of the league’s worst COVID outbreaks and a slew of unfortunate injury trouble, the Chicago Bulls became no stranger to the “next man up” mentality.
We’ve seen bench talent like Tony Bradley, Matt Thomas, and Tyler Cook all clock games with 27 or more minutes out of necessity this season. Meanwhile, players like Derrick Jones Jr. and Troy Brown Jr. have been on an emotional rollercoaster as they step in and out of the rotation, while young mainstays like Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu have seen their roles change numerous times.
All things considered, it’s a good thing that players up and down the roster got experience in big moments this year, and I have to imagine that’s a larger reason why Donovan’s playoff rotation remains fluid.
“I think that’s the thing rotation-wise, we have to be open to anything, and playing anybody,” Donovan said. “In a certain game somebody might be playing well or maybe it could change. These guys, in particular, have done a really really good job with all that stuff that we’ve had to deal with this year – from COVID to injuries – of keeping themselves ready to play.”
First, let me make one thing clear: This could simply be something a smart coach says. Donovan isn’t going to spill all his beans and go minute-by-minute on who he expects to take the floor, and he shouldn’t. The last thing you want to do ahead of a series where you’re a massive underdog is tip anything in your hand. But I also tend to believe there is as much truth in what Donovan is saying as there is strategy.
Beyond the inclusion of Ayo Dosunmu, Alex Caruso, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Williams, and Nikola Vucevic, we lack clarity on who could round out an eight-man rotation. Heck, even the amount of playing time for Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams could be in question at times. While I expect both to play a significant role due to a mix of positional necessity and in-season success, one is a rookie and one is a second-year player who missed 65 games. Imagining either could have a short leash at times throughout the game isn’t particularly difficult.
But, ok, let’s assume those six are locks: Who are the next two players to eat minutes? I think the obvious next choice is Tristan Thompson due to his playoff experience and Milwaukee’s overwhelming size in the frontcourt. The Bulls signed him in large part for a postseason run, so he should be set to eat his 10-13 minutes a game. So … who gets the final spot?
My best guess is Coby White. The Milwaukee Bucks allow their opponent to shoot the most 3-point attempts per game, and the mere potential of White’s hot hand is likely enough to have him playing some key possessions. But that decision leaves out a guy who has played a huge role as a scrappy defender, good offensive rebounder, and high-energy off-ball mover: Javonte Green. Not to mention, Derrick Jones Jr. – who clocked some strong minutes against the Bucks this season and played 22.8 minutes a night over the last four games of the season – is also on the outside looking in.
I think those two players represent why Donovan said what he said. Green and Jones (especially Green) provide a knack for the highlight-reel play and a level of defensive versatility that could prove pivotal in this upcoming series. With that being the case, Donovan likely isn’t scared to hand either some of White’s minutes if his shot isn’t falling. And, again, Dosunmu or Williams could also see their playing time eaten into if the production isn’t there from Game 1.
Honestly, this is one of the things I’m most interested to see play out in the upcoming week. As a team stepping into the playoffs for the first time, and a group that had contributions from so many different players this season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see some rotational tweaking from game to game.