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Readers Q&A: K.C. Johnson's Bulls mailbag

Bulls fans Q&A: Can the newcomers play defense?

Two weeks into training camp and nobody has gotten injured, including the mail carrier who brings your questions to the Tribune Tower. OK, so they’re actually emailed but this is an old-school mailbag.

Will the Bulls’ defense suffer with all the new faces on this season’s team? -- Cornell, Broadview

If you can’t play team defense, you won’t play for Tom Thibodeau. Remember Marco Belinelli’s first month in Chicago? He even drew a DNP-CD (did not play-coach's decision) one game. By season’s end, he had adjusted to the system and obviously played a huge role.

Everyone keeps talking about how Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott aren’t great individual defenders. While that may be true, Gasol in particular will serve a defensive purpose in that he’s a legitimate, 7-foot rim protector. (As an aside, he has blocked a couple shots in ferocious fashion early in preseason.)

I thought Joakim Noah made a strong point on Media Day. On this team, Gasol won’t be asked to guard stretch fours on the perimeter. He’ll be inside, protecting the rim. By this point, the Bulls’ defense under Thibodeau is pretty well established. I expect that success level to continue.

How many wins do you see (from) this team with this season? -- Wince, Pensacola, Fla.

Sports predictions are about as accurate as Shaquille O’Neal’s free-throw shooting. Here’s what is known: The Eastern Conference is better. Tom Thibodeau has proven he maxes out the roster and the regular season. And Rose is due for some good fortune. So, assuming decent health for Rose, 50-32 seems a safe guess. Please place the emphasis on "guess."

Has anyone done an article on Mike Dunleavy and Doug McDermott competing for the same job with both (being) coaches’ sons? The conversations have to be pretty good, don’t you think? -- Dan, Fullerton, Calif.

Though he isn’t competing for a wing job, don’t forget Kirk Hinrich, whose father coached him in high school. McDermott has been pretty funny about his dad coaching him, mostly joking about how much he yelled at him. Dunleavy has one of the driest senses of humor on the team, so you can tell he grew up around the game. More seriously, Thibodeau has talked about McDermott’s work ethic and basketball IQ. Can’t see how being a coach’s son hurts that.

This team is very deep. So deep that they could and should use a 10-man rotation. We all expect the starters to be Rose, (Jimmy) Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol and Noah. But who do you think should come off the bench and do you think a 10-man rotation is ideal? -- Telvin, Maywood

Obviously, it doesn’t matter what I think but what Thibodeau thinks. And he already has talked about how using a 10-man rotation is difficult. It certainly sounds like his ideal rotation is nine.

The starters you mention are five. Gibson, Hinrich and Aaron Brooks are locks to come off the bench. So you’re looking at a battle between Mirotic, McDermott and Tony Snell for the last spot. My guess is McDermott will initially see the most court time, though it’s obviously based on performance. Mirotic is hurt a bit by Gasol, Noah and Gibson gobbling up the frontcourt minutes and small forward being a tough matchup for him defensively. The Bulls are just thinner at wing, which is why I guess McDermott will see more playing time.

Thibodeau almost always changes the subject when asked about Snell, though Snell did close well in the second preseason game against the Pistons. You also have to almost assume injuries, so the rotation likely will change.

When the Bulls had a deep team in 2010-11 and 2011-12, Thibodeau usually used a nine-man rotation and sporadically a 10-man rotation. But remember that someone like Kurt Thomas, who didn’t play much early, came up huge when Noah got injured. As Thibodeau likes to say, you need everybody.

Why did the Bulls sign Hinrich but not D.J. Augustin? -- Andrew, Pasadena, Calif.

Because Thibodeau loves Hinrich. Because they feel he fits better with Rose. Because he’s a better, bigger and tougher defender. The Bulls loved Augustin. Thibodeau routinely called him the savior of last season. No matter what they said publicly, re-signing both wasn’t going to happen. They chose Hinrich.

If Mirotic had been in this year’s draft, where do you think he would’ve been picked? Top 10? Top 20? -- Jeff Reece, Omaha

As a talent, he’d be a lottery pick. As a team need, it’s hard to say since nobody picked a stretch four early. Suffice to say, the Bulls got a bargain getting him when they did.

Thanks for your questions. Talk to you soon.

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