For a while during that 5-game losing streak, it looked like the Bulls were actively trying to fall out of the playoff picture. The offense couldn’t score and the defense couldn’t stop anybody. Fred Hoiberg’s wildly changing rotation saw a dozen different players take the floor in multiple games. Not only that, the new guys who arrived at the trade deadline were getting minutes ahead of roster staples like Nikola Mirotic and Rajon Rondo.
That all changed on Monday night. Rondo got his starting job back and ran the offense to perfection, pushing the pace and getting all teammates involved. Mirotic returned from the inactive list to score 24 points and pull down 11 rebounds. Meanwhile, former Thunder mates Cameron Payne and Joffrey Lauvergne combined to play just 14 minutes. The result was a 115-109 win for the desperate Bulls. They’re still on the outside looking in, but just 1/2 game separates Chicago from Milwaukee in the 8th seed.
Consistency For Playoff Push
At the team’s morning shootaround, Hoiberg offered his thoughts on the recent rotation changes. First off, he confirmed that Rondo will remain the starting point guard tonight against Memphis. The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson reports:
Hoiberg said Rondo starts at PG. Payne is out with sore foot.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 15, 2017
Based on Rondo’s 20 point-7 rebound-6 assist performance on Monday, it’s safe to say he’d be starting again regardless of Payne’s status. Payne’s sore foot means we’ll likely see Jerian Grant serve as Rondo’s backup. Grant was the third point guard on the roster to go from starter to DNP-Coach’s Decision this season, but his recent hot shooting should keep him ahead of Payne for the final stretch of games.
As for Fred’s complete rotation, he’s finally getting ready to shrink it down to a reasonable size. Nick Friedell of ESPN got this quote from the coach earlier today:
“Obviously consistency with the rotation is something that we’re going to strive for here the rest of the season. I think you saw that in the game against Charlotte where we basically played nine, Joffrey [Lauvergne] came in when Cris [Felicio] picked up his three fouls. To kind of make it a nine and a half man rotation. So that’s the plan. There could be some circumstances that get a couple guys in there from time to time. The plan is to tighten things up here in this last 16 [games] and hopefully make a push.” – Fred Hoiberg
After the trade deadline, Hoiberg’s bosses explained the reason for making that trade with the Thunder. Essentially, the plan was to open up minutes for some of the younger players on the roster and evaluate the new guys. Ideally, they’d remain competitive and make the playoffs while that was happening.
Well, that losing streak proved that doing both was impossible. Hoiberg was failing to find any kind of success playing twelve guys, and giving significant minutes to newcomers unfamiliar with the system didn’t help either.
Now, the plan is clear…er…ish. Hoiberg is going to ride his three alphas (yes, Rondo included) and a shorter rotation down the final stretch to hopefully win enough games to make the playoffs. Apparently getting back into the playoff mix is more important than spreading the minutes around to young players. Bulls fans can debate until the cows come home about whether or not that’s the right move. But there’s one positive we can take from it: at least it is a direction. Not the mashing together of two conflicting directions, which is what we’ve seen in recent weeks.