Bulls’ new-look bench mob is searching for an identity this season
It isn’t the biggest group, and it isn’t even sure who’s playing from game to game, but the Bulls’ bench has been doing a number on the first-teamers in practice and wants opposing teams to feel that sting.
DeMar DeRozan wasn’t underselling the facts.
There were many moments throughout the preseason scrimmages that the bench players gave the Bulls starting five all they could handle.
That’s why he has no problem being staggered out there with his minutes and running with that group. Whether it’s alongside Alex Caruso, Troy Brown Jr., Javonte Green or even rookie Ayo Dosunmu, DeRozan knows what the opposition is going to get.
“The second unit usually kicks our ass in practice, so to be out there with them, running forward, they just kind of bring the energy,’’ DeRozan said. “Second group is always coming in with energy on the defensive end and we just try and get out and run.’’
That’s exactly the identity the bench squad is trying to brand.
They showed it throughout the unbeaten preseason, and want to make that their stamp into what will hopefully be a playoff run.
“That second unit for me personally, seeing what we’re capable of in practice, I think we’re capable of a lot,’’ Brown said on Friday, when asked about the bench. “In general being able to guard and switch everything, like one-through-five, whoever we have, and still having that offensive balance to kind of match it, whether we have DeMar in [running with us], Zach [LaVine] in, Zo [Lonzo Ball], Alex, Derrick [Jones Jr.], it’s a lot of options. I think the biggest thing for us is keeping our chemistry up and making sure we’re keeping ourselves accountable this year, making sure we come in here and we’re trying to get better.’’
What will be interesting for this group as roles continually get defined throughout the season, is how they stack up against bigger benches. Much like the Bulls starters, the reserves will usually play small. That means using athleticism and physicality to mess with offenses.
Brown feels like they have the players to do it on a nightly basis, especially after coach Billy Donovan laid down the expectations in camp.
“[Donovan] kind of went through roles and told each one of us what our job was and what he expected,’’ Brown said. “That clarification gave a lot of us a relief, kind of like, ‘OK, well I can go do those three things if that’s what you want from me. That’s easy.’ ‘’
And as far as the supposed butt-kicking going on in practices of the first unit? Brown smirked.
“It’s a respect level, but at the same time we want to make them better, so every day we come in here we play as hard as we can, and so that’s the job as a second unit,’’ Brown said. “It’s to put pressure on your first unit so that they can get better.’’
Donovan has seen his share of future Hall of Fame point guards, coaching both Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. So to put Lonzo Ball in that same class when discussing point guard IQ was definitely elite company.
“Listen, when I had those guys, Chris had been in the league for 14 years and Westbrook for seven, eight years so they were a little bit older,’’ Donovan said. “Lonzo’s still a young player getting better, but I think he’s a very instinctive player.’’
Patrick Williams was back in the starting lineup after suffering a left shoulder injury in the third quarter against Detroit. Williams did finish the game with the Pistons, but was feeling it on Thursday.
He didn’t want to watch the film of the play in which he was tied up with Killian Hayes, but Williams said it could have been way worse.
“But from what I’ve heard, I got lucky honestly,’’ Williams said. “I got blessed.’’