Tryin’ for Zion? Try putting Robin Lopez on the bench.
As the Bulls continue to tip-toe the line between tanking and trying to be competitive, Lopez seems to be the key to their decision.
The big man almost led the Bulls to another victory Friday night, putting up 22 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three blocks against the Clippers. His performance was fun to watch and, if not for another third-quarter meltdown by the rest of the team, would have helped them to another win. With Friday’s game as a perfect example, it seems that having Lopez is on the floor is often the difference between a Bulls win and loss.
Here’s some pretty telling stats for reference: the Bulls are 1-16 in games where Lopez plays less than 15 minutes, not including the games where he didn’t play at all. Conversely, the Bulls are 3-1 in games where Lopez plays more than 35 minutes.
But it’s not just the points or rebounds that make Lopez so crucial to the Bulls’ success; it’s all the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet, too. Lopez’s screening ability and the danger he presents for opposing teams in screen-and-roll situations are on-court difference makers.
If winning is the goal, Lopez should be on the floor for 35-plus minutes a game, but since winning isn’t realistic this season, it would be more beneficial to hold Lopez to just under 15 minutes a game. Cutting his minutes would give more floor time to Cristiano Felicio, who is posting career lows in points, rebounds and assists.
Quietly moving Lopez to the bench in favor of Felicio walks the fine line between outright tanking and being a serious competitor without ruffling the feathers of other players or stunting the development of the Bulls’ young core. Coach Jim Boylen speaks almost daily about the importance of development this season, but because Lopez is not a serious building block for the future, the young players will have to learn to win without him next season anyway. Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the rest of the Bulls’ future building blocks can develop the ability to pick up the slack Lopez leaves behind when he’s on the bench, moving them closer to the number one draft pick without stunting development.
And you never know, maybe they’ll even win one of the remaining 13 games in the process.
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