The Chicago Bulls’ second unit may not be as starting lineup-worthy as Andre Drummond thinks, but it also might not be far off.
Despite adding only two new rotation pieces into the mix this offseason, the Bulls bench has been rejuvenated. Both Goran Dragic and Drummond have played like the veteran assets this team desperately needed, and it’s completely transformed what the team has been able to do with its second unit.
Last season, the Bulls’ bench averaged the 3rd-fewest minutes and 2nd-fewest points per game. They also held an overall Net Rating that sat just 19th in the league, per NBA Stats. Add the Bulls’ new free-agent signings into the mix, however, and the Bulls’ bench has ranked …
– 4th in minutes per game
– 6th in Net Rating
– 6th in assists per game
– 6th in blocks per game
– 8th in FTAs per game
– 9th in rebounds per game
– 15th in points per game
Uh, how about that for a turnaround!?
No game better illustrated what the Bulls’ new second group is capable of than Wednesday night’s showing against the Indiana Pacers. The bench dropped 43 points and saw six different players clock at least 10 minutes of action. Dragic paced the group with 13 points and 5 assists on a 5-9 shooting effort from the field. Meanwhile, backup big man Andre Drummond snatched 13 rebounds (which included 4 OREBs) in only 17 minutes of play to go along with 8 points.
The stable play of both experienced talents paired with Alex Caruso’s defensive intensity, Coby White’s heat-check potential, and Javonte Green’s energetic two-way play has formed quite the imposing bench mob for Billy Donovan to deploy. Not to mention, it has given Zach LaVine another lineup that can help draw out his strengths.
Indeed, last season Donovan opted to stagger DeRozan in with the second unit. While this allowed for the All-Star to (as the kids say) “get his” with endless isolation opportunities, he also proved to be about the only offensive option on the floor. With the Bulls now adding LaVine into that group with Caruso, Dragic, and Drummond, it has given the bench a far more potent identity. The combination of players has provided the team with an uptempo attack that feasts in transition and gives LaVine a chance to flash more of his playmaking skills. For opposing bench lineups, it has already created all kinds of trouble.
The four-man combo of Dragic, LaVine, Caruso, and Drummond has so far put together an absurd 57.9 Net Rating. Now, to be completely transparent, this is based on just 27 minutes of action in two games. In fact, while we’re at it, let me emphasize that ALL these positive stats are currently based on such a small sample size. We’re going to have to revisit this conversation in a couple of weeks after this “bench mob” has more playing time under its belt.
Having said that, there is no denying that these are extremely encouraging early returns. And we can at least put a little bit more weight in the 15.7 Net Rating that the two-man combination of Dragic and Drummond have accumulated in 70 minutes over the first five games. They legitimately look like a lethal off-the-bench duo, which I guess leads me to this …
I’m sorry! Even if it might be too early to make any grand conclusion, I think I’ve seen enough to apologize for my initial lukewarm reaction to both free-agent signings. The Bulls believed that Dragic had enough basketball left in the tank to fill a big hole on this roster, and he’s proving them right so far. As for Drummond, while I appreciated the boost he’d give in the rebounding department, I failed to see where he fit into how this team preferred to play on either end. However, the energy he’s brought as a rim-runner, screen-setter, and even rim-protector has far exceeded my expectations. He helps this second unit push the pace by securing boards, and he brings a level of toughness that the roster previously lacked. Sure, he might try to do too much at times, but that’s ok to have from someone who sees just 15-17 minutes a night!
So, yeah, this is so far one of those situations where I couldn’t be happier to be wrong. Again, we’ll check back in on the second unit’s status in the coming weeks, but the Bulls’ depth is a key reason they’ve looked as competitive as they have early on. Let’s hope they keep it up.