Every week, 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. Which is most likely to happen: Joakim Noah wins defensive player of the year, Taj Gibson wins sixth man of the year or Tom Thibodeau wins coach of the year?
Nick Friedell, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer: All three have a good shot to happen, but I'd go with Noah as the defensive player of the year in this group. He has earned a lot of respect throughout the league for the way he has led the Bulls on and off the floor this season. He is the linchpin of Thibodeau's stout defense and the player from which the rest of his teammates take their cues. Noah isn't going to win the MVP award, but this would be a nice consolation prize for him.
Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com columnist: There's a groundswell of support for all three, or there should be. I'm guessing Gibson for sixth man is the most likely, with Noah and Thibs finishing in the top five of their respective ballots. I think Noah has a very strong case for first-team All-NBA, and he'll get MVP votes. Gibson might not be the instant-offense scorer that defines most sixth man winners, but he's clearly the most well-rounded substitute in the league. He has been a premium post defender since his second season in the NBA, but his offense has opened eyes this season. I think he beats out ex-Bull Jamal Crawford for the award and then, starting next season, graduates to a full-time starter.
Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: Jo as DOY. That's easy. Not that Taj and Tom don't deserve those respective awards, but the NBA has to find a way to make up for not giving JoNo the MVP when "technically" he might be more deserving of it than anyone else in the league.
2. Will the Bulls be worn out in the playoffs like they were in years past?
Friedell: While nobody ever really knows how a team will perform in the playoffs, my guess is that the Bulls won't hit the wall as hard as they did in years past. Aside from his use of Jimmy Butler, Thibodeau has made a concerted effort to pull back on some of the heavy minutes guys such as Noah and Kirk Hinrich played, when healthy, last season. Those little bits of extra rest should help over the course of the postseason. What will be interesting is to see just how much, if at all, Thibodeau uses his bench -- besides contributors such as D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson.
Greenberg: I don't think so, besides the typical wear and tear that every team shows this time of year. Butler is fourth in the league in average minutes at 38.3, but the next-highest Bull is Noah, who is tied for 32nd at 34.9. Noah's 2,620 minutes is tops on the Bulls but only 23rd in the NBA. Thibodeau will never live down his "minute man" reputation, but aside from Butler's workload, he has deftly handled a seven-man rotation for much of the season. I side with Thibodeau on the point that great players log big minutes, and we harp on it a bit too much. All those injuries created that storyline, though. It seems like the Bulls' tweaks to the training staff have helped. I know that Noah's training regimen is different than in years past, and he finally got rid of his old shoes. Hinrich's health is key and the addition of Augustin has been crucial to keeping him on the floor.
Jackson: There's a great possibility in that. To the degree that if it happens, no one should be surprised. But unlike in years past, they've had a considerable amount of time to deal with the setbacks they've had to face. Mentally that doesn't exhaust you the way it does when major players unexpectedly go down and at this time of year (Derrick Rose in 2012, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich in 2013) or when expectations are high with hope and prayers of an MVP's return that never happens. This year, as worn out as they have the right to be after what they've done during the regular season, they are better prepared to mentally fight through it than they have been in the past.
3. Will Ronnie Brewer jump Tony Snell in the rotation?
Friedell: Yes, I think so. It takes time for Thibodeau to earn a player's trust -- just ask Butler. Snell has shown flashes of being a solid rotation player, but there are still times he frustrates Thibodeau. Brewer is a proven defensive commodity. If he can get back into basketball shape -- and knock down an occasional jumper -- I think he'll take a bulk of Snell's minutes in the postseason.
Greenberg: If he's in game shape, yes. Snell's a much better long-range shooter, but he's not Kyle Korver quite yet. He's still learning how to play on auto-pilot, as in without thinking on the floor, just reacting. I think Snell can be a very good pro, but Brewer's got that veteran split-second edge. If Brewer can show he can give Thibodeau 8-10 worry-free minutes, he'll get the call before Snell in the playoffs.
Jackson: Probably once the playoffs start, especially if the Bulls get to the second round. I'm not saying that Snell can't handle the playoff stage, but coaches shrink their benches in April, May and June, and usually vets with playoff experience get the nod over rookies that aren't superstars. Plus, Brewer was brought in to be, and is going to be, a glue guy for this team. He will be a utility player who is going to be asked to do a little bit of everything whenever he is on the court or when the Bulls are in need of something to fill a void. Snell is probably going to be asked to do only one or two things: score and cover for Butler if he gets in foul trouble. By that theory alone, Brewer will probably interrupt the rotation and Snell will be the one who suffers.