After 16 games, including the daunting ‘circus’ road trip, and atop the Central division standings with a 9-7 record, only the most cynical fans could fail to be somewhat excited about the potential of this year’s Bulls. At the same time, however, there has been a predictable chorus of early criticisms lobbed at three of the four guards who were brought in during the off-season.
Kyle Korver has shown enough flashes of his pure shooting ability that, especially on a team with few other long-range weapons, he has been mostly embraced by fans. C.J. Watson recently muffled the catcalls of naysayers with a 33 point outburst when starting in place of the injured Derrick Rose, and Keith Bogans remains a solid defender while disappointing on the offensive end.
The fourth new face, Ronnie Brewer, may be the most interesting and under-exposed of the group. Hampered by a hamstring injury early on, Brewer has steadily progressed, and, while still coming off the bench, he is enjoying greatly increased minutes as a reward for his valuable contributions on both ends of the floor.
It is true that Brewer is neither a strong outside shooter, nor an especially good ball handler, but he is a very unusual athlete, particularly in the context of his natural off-guard position. At a legitimate 6’ 7”, with long arms and serious hops, Brewer is capable of doing damage around the basket that most guards can only match in their dreams.
Defensively, Brewer has shown himself to be both dynamic and valuable. His physical attributes make him a disruptive force on the perimeter, as he is well-capable of getting his hands on balls in the passing lanes, and closing out effectively on jump shooters. In the context of a flexible team defense such as the one that the Bulls are developing, Brewer is also versatile, as he can switch to cover smaller forwards and hold his own.
While cherry-picking a single statistic after only 16 games is not the foundation of a strong argument, it is interesting to note that Brewer is currently averaging 5.1 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes. That’s close, to use just one amusing example, to Tyrus Thomas’ numbers, and Brewer’s number is in the context of a team that features one of the top defensive rebounders in the game (i.e. Noah).
What strikes me as most tantalizing about Brewer, though, is the potential for him to become a dangerous offensive weapon for the Bulls. Consider, as a backdrop, that Tom Thibodeau is a defensive-minded coach first and foremost, and while he has obviously been an upgrade over del Negro on the offensive end, the Bulls re-tooled defense is much further along than the offense at this early stage.
I also believe that some creative offensive sets can and should be developed around Brewer and his unusual combination of size and skills. With both Noah and Boozer able to hit mid-range shots, and Rose, Watson, Deng and Korver all able to stretch defenses to some degree, I can imagine schemes that would allow Brewer to slash, rub off picks, and make back-cuts to the basket, proving potent on the receiving end of well-executed passes.
To take it one step further, there will be instances in which Brewer with be guarded by players who will be unable to match his vertical game. So, if the Bulls could develop plays in which the defense is drawn away from the basket, and accurate alley-oop passes are fed to Brewer, I expect that he could give opponents fits.
Now, it is true that teams would attempt to adjust to such plays, but the mere threat of Brewer skying over a smaller guard for an easy dunk could prove valuable to the Bulls offense. For example, a forward guarding either Boozer or Deng might be distracted, or forced to cheat because of concern over Brewer cutting towards the basket. There are many possible permutations, of course, but the point is that an effective play can be valuable even if it is used sparingly.
Creativity is, at times, an underrated variable in NBA offenses, and the Bulls have an opportunity to exploit Ronnie Brewer in a creative manner. Who was the last guard to be regularly targeted as a finisher in alley-oops in half-court offenses (Jason Richardson is more of a fast-break finisher)? David Thompson? Speaking of whom, perhaps the Bulls should bring in Monte Towe to help refine Rose’s touch on such passes!
Brewer is likely to continue to prove valuable to the Bulls in any case. But he is still a relatively young player, and there is no reason to believe that he has necessarily reached his full potential. Hopefully the coaching staff will figure out just how to make the most of his unusual talents.
About the Author:
Tony C. grew up in Evanston, and cut his teeth on the exciting, early ’70’s Walker-Love-Sloan-Van Lier Bulls. As you might expect, he is thrilled with the direction and development of the current team, as the emphasis on determination, defense and chemistry is so reminiscent of that classic, earlier era.