Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Should Taj Gibson now start over even a healthy Carlos Boozer?
Friedell: Yes. He's the better all-around player. But [coach Tom Thibodeau] has been consistent about keeping Boozer in the starting lineup if he's healthy. The difference is Gibson is just as good as Boozer offensively, and he's much better defensively. At this point, we know Gibson is going to play the crunch-time minutes so he'll be out there when it matters. Whether he starts won't make that much difference in how much he affects the game.
Jon Greenberg: Some would say starting is overrated. It's finishing that's important. Which is, of course, why Boozer was peeved in Sacramento. This isn't new. Thibodeau has been going with reserves at crunch time since his first season. The real question is how to divvy up the minutes. It's already close.
Thanks to his heavy workload as a spot starter, Gibson is averaging 29 minutes a game, five above his career average. Boozer is averaging 29.9, about two fewer than his average. Gibson has performed better as a starter, because that's when Thibodeau is short-handed and also because he trusts Gibson more late in games anyway. In seven games as a starter, Gibson is averaging 18.6 points and 9.4 rebounds while playing a whopping 41 minutes per game. As a sub, he only plays 27 minutes a game and averages 11.7 points and 6.1 rebounds. Either way, he's effective. Boozer has only started this season and is averaging 14.4 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Coaching isn't just about numbers and matchups. Thibodeau knows how to motivate and cajole and control. For "esprit de corps," he's probably better starting Boozer. But Gibson should be getting a few more minutes a game because he makes good use of them.
Scoop Jackson: Only if the Bulls are trying to trade Boozer. If they have Carlos on the blocks and have told themselves that this is the route they'd like to go instead of amnesty, then getting Taj comfortable in the starting lineup now makes sense if eventually he's officially going to be their power forward going into the playoffs and/or next season. Personally, I think Boozer is not going to be here much longer. That's why I say Taj might as well start. Remember how before Deng was traded, he had a mysterious injury that kept him out of a few games before he was sent to Cleveland? I'm just saying.
2. What's closer to reality, Jimmy Butler in last season's playoffs, or this season's Butler?
Friedell: Butler is better than he's shown this season, but I'd argue it's more this year's version than last year's version. That's because I'm not sure if Butler's jumper will ever be consistent enough to think that he will be able to score 15-20 a game. He will put in the work to make himself better, but that hard work hasn't been showing up right now on the floor. He must find a way to knock down that 16- to 18-footer more consistently.
Greenberg: Well, there's really not that big of a gap between the two, so I'll be optimistic and say last season's playoff Jimmy, despite the smaller sample size. In 12 playoff games, Butler averaged 13.3 points and 5.2 rebounds while playing 40.8 minutes per game. He shot 43.5 percent from the field and an impressive 40.5 percent on 3-pointers. Through his first 37 games this season, Butler is averaging 12.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 36.8 minutes per game. He's shooting a wobbly 36.7 percent from the field and 27 percent on 3s. Let's look closer at that latter stat to see how close 40.5 and 27 percent really are. In the playoffs, he averaged 1.3 made 3s and 3.1 attempts. This season, he's averaging 1 make and 3.6 attempts. Not a huge chasm there. This is Butler's first full season as a starter. He started 20 games in the 2012-13 regular season. He's definitely one to watch in the second half, but I think we'll see those numbers improve, if only a tick.
Jackson: Butler in the playoffs. I think by the time the All-Star break is over, Butler will refocus and finally settle into his role as option uno in the Bulls' offense. No excuses (really), but he's had no stability to deal with this entire season. He's gone from the No. 4 offensive option to begin the season, then to No. 3 when Derrick Rose went down, to No. 2 when Luol Deng was traded, to No. 1 now that Boozer is injured/riding the bench. One of the main components that leads to an NBA player finding success is consistency. Players need to know game in, game out what their role is going to be for long stretches of time. Once the trading deadline passes and the Bulls' roster is secure for the rest of the season, Butler will know and be totally comfortable with what he needs and is expected to do every game.
3. Should the Bulls re-sign Kirk Hinrich this summer?
Friedell: If Hinrich will sign for the veteran's minimum and Thibs will keep him on a minutes limit like he's on now, then why not? Hinrich has been mostly solid this season and provides a stabilizing presence in the locker room. He is well-liked by his teammates and can still perform at a high level. The only question with him is whether he can stay healthy. If the Bulls are investing about $1 million in his future, then it's worth the risk.
Greenberg: No. He's had a hell of a run -- well, two runs -- but I think his time is up. The Bulls need a more dependable, dare I say slightly dynamic, backup. It's certainly not Hinrich's fault he has missed time (22 last season, nine and counting this season), and he never thought he was coming back as a starter. But at best, he's a backup combo guard who shoots at a low (and getting lower) percentage. If he wants to come back at a bargain rate to be a pure backup, sure. Obviously, the Bulls should want D.J. Augustin to stay, but I imagine he wants to start somewhere else. An intriguing possibility would be to sign him as the point and slot Rose as the 2 and let them both play on and off the ball. But I'm getting away from the question at hand, and my answer is still no.
Jackson: No, but not because they don't need him or because he won't be of value to the team. The reason is because whatever the Bulls sign him to -- due to the time he's already spent here and how many believe he hasn't sustained a certain level of play -- it will be held against him every game, with every missed shot, with every turnover, with every point an opponent scores on him. For the Bulls, I think he could be of value on a re-sign, but for Kirk it will be miserable. He can easily get the love somewhere else. Like taking Steve Nash's place with the Lakers.