Bulls turn to a group of guards to fill hole left by legend

 

Keith Bogans is averaging a little over 25 minutes a game this season.

Keith Bogans is averaging a little over 25 minutes a game this season.

CHICAGO — Maybe it’s that statue outside of United Center, the one that immortalizes the greatest player ever to man his particular position that sets expectations high before people even enter the building.

Maybe it’s the wish list the Chicago Bulls have kept updated ever since Michael Jordan left for good in 1998, the one with his hoped-for replacements (Tracy McGrady, Eddie Jones, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade) written large at the top.

Maybe it’s the label applied to that particular spot on a basketball court — shooting guard — that suggests a certain style and level of production in a truth-in-advertising kind of way.

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Whatever, Keith Bogans is an unlikely fit as the starter at that position in this town. And he figures to remain just that into the foreseeable future, owing both to the Bulls’ needs and to their preferences.

“I love playing with Keith,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “He brings a toughness to our team. He’s a vet. He’s played for [coach Tom Thibodeau] before, so he understands the system. I like his aggressiveness out there. Just tough. Physical. Knows when to give a good foul. I dunno, I just like his competitive spirit — I think it’s good for our team as well. I like playing with a guy like Keith Bogans.”

Shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls is one of pro sports’ glamour positions, right up there with closer for the New York Yankees and quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, where certain current performers (Mariano Rivera) or predecessors (Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman) set the bar impossibly high for those who follow. Walking and soaring in Jordan’s swoosh-steps has been beyond the skills of every Chicago successor, some considerably more than others.

A decade ago, in the floundering Tim Floyd era, the Bulls ran through a series of once-weres and assorted non-luminaries, from Ron Harper, Brent Barry and Hersey Hawkins to Ron Mercer, Trenton Hassell and Jamal Crawford. More recently, the job had been manned by Ben Gordon, John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich — they’re all gone now, too.

In their place this season is a by-committee approach led by Bogans, lacking in glamour and offering modest results through the Bulls’ 3-3 start. Here are the various contributors to a spot formerly defined and dominated by just one:

Bogans: The 6-foot-5 journeyman has career stats of seven points per game and a 39.5 field goal percentage. At 30 and in his eighth NBA season, he is with his seventh team (with two separate stints in Orlando). As noted by Noah, Bogans brings defense and, despite his 4-of-15 results from the arc, a reasonable ability to hit 3-point shots (201-of-546 from 2006 to 2008 with the Magic).

Ronnie Brewer: The presumed starter until a lingering hamstring injury cut into his preparation, Brewer’s playing time has gone up lately and his per-minute production is approaching what he gave to Utah in three-plus seasons (save for his 53 percent field goal accuracy with the Jazz). Pro-rated to 36 minutes, the 25-year-old is chipping in 13.3 points and 5.9 rebounds, though he actually is playing a third of that.

Kyle Korver: Also logging time up front, and averaging 19.8 minutes off the bench, Korver has hit eight of his 14 attempts from behind the arc. He has been banged up, and his mobility qualifies him as a shooting specialist.

James Johnson: The 2009 first-rounder earned his way into the rotation in the Bulls’ comeback victory over Detroit Oct. 30, but his contributions and time have dwindled since. At 6-foot-9, he’s better suited to small forward.

If that sounds like the crew down the block at Arby’s taking over in Julia Child’s kitchen, well, it’s all Thibodeau has to work with at the moment.

“I think they’re getting the job done,” the first-year head coach said after practice Tuesday at the Berto Center in Deerfield, Ill. “I’m comfortable with what we have going on right now.”

One reason the Bulls feel they can carry role players at what traditionally is a star position is the combo-guard production of point guard Derrick Rose. Consider: Bogans and Brewer have combined for 53 points in 224 minutes this season — that’s about two games’ worth of scoring for their backcourt pal. When Bogans scored 10 points against Denver Monday, it was the first time either Bogans or Brewer reached double figures. Rose, on his worst night this season, had 16.

Factor in forward Luol Deng, Noah’s developing offensive role and the eventual involvement of summer signee Carlos Boozer and Chicago, in theory, could be one of those teams that sacrifices scoring punch at shooting guard for stickier defense and more starch in their shorts. In a Raja Bell sort of way.

“The one thing about Keith,” Thibodeau said, “he provides a defensive component to start the game and the ability to shoot the three, which opens up the floor for Derrick to get into some penetration early in the game. … Then Ronnie comes in and it’s a different look. Running the floor, athleticism, slashing, cutting and getting easy baskets. He’s a very good passer and in many ways similar to Luol in that, if you turn your head on him in a pick-and-roll situation, he’ll find an open seam and create easy scoring opportunities.”

The biggest concern about Brewer is that he is a “system” player who owed his initial NBA success to Jerry Sloan’s Jazz attack. At 25, five seasons in, his career is at a crossroads: Will he blossom as a regular and major contributor or will he remain a role player?

With Bogans, that question was answered a long time ago. Both he and his ego made peace quickly with what he kept hearing. The No. 4 scorer in University of Kentucky history — the only four-year letterman besides Adrian Dantley at fabled DeMatha High in the D.C. area — was going to have to find another way to stay employed in the NBA.

“I was a scorer coming out of college, but when I first came into the league, everybody could score,” Bogans said. “I remember coach [Tubby] Smith told me, ‘You’ve got to find something that a lot of people don’t want to do.’ And of course that was playing defense.

“One of my first jobs was, to make the Orlando team, I had to guard McGrady every day in practice. So I just took pride in playing defense. Over the years, I think I’ve gotten a little smarter. Learned how to short-cut a little bit and get help from my teammates.”

Sturdy and savvy, Bogans has the strength to defend taller and more agile players, though his foot speed is limited. Late in the Bulls’ 94-92 victory Monday, he got crossed over by Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups but snuffed the possession moments later with a steal, racing downcourt and dropping a pass that Deng converted for an 88-84 lead. He also hit a pair of 3-pointers.

Providing just enough offense to make the men he’s guarding work harder is part of Bogans’ job description. That, and keeping the fellow next to him in Chicago’s backcourt happy. Rose, for now, is making this shooting-guard-by-committee thing work for him.

“Keith is more like a spot-up shooter, where his guy is never going to leave him,” Rose said. “So if I drive and his guy comes to me an inch, real quick I’m passing him the ball because he’s going to knock that down. Ronnie, [gets out] on the fast break, he’s always cutting behind defense, getting rebounds. You can use him in [many] ways. We’ve got so many plays that both of them are threats any time they come on the court.”

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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About eshaan00
Fan of sports. Like to play football, cricket, badminton etc. I can,t talk nicely like others. But a good listener. Like to have true friend.

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