Center Nazr Mohammed, Bulls on path to boost each other
BY SETH GRUEN For Sun-Times Media October 22, 2012 8:58PM
Besides defense, Nazr Mohammed (left) is a source of offensive rebounds and scoring near the rim. | Nam Y. Huh~AP
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Date Opponent TV
Oct. 9 Bulls 92, Grizzlies 88
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Updated: November 24, 2012 6:19AM
Bulls backup center Nazr Mohammed has played in the NBA for 14 seasons on seven different teams and never has experienced what he’s gone through the last three weeks of training camp.
The physical demands have been as tough as other training camps — not unique in that regard.
Instead, it’s the terminology Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has expected Mohammed, 35, to master that has challenged the former Kenwood Academy star.
‘‘It’s the most mentally demanding training camp that I’ve been through,’’ he said. ‘‘As far as physically, it’s up there. But once you get hard, it’s hard.
‘‘You’re asked to stay sharp at a high level for a long period of time. And not everybody can do that, but I know I’m capable of doing it because I’m doing it now.”
Thibodeau echoes that sentiment. After the Bulls chose not to match the Houston Rockets’ offer sheet for Omer Asik this offseason, they were desperately in search of a backup center capable of defending the rim — the most vital component of Thibodeau’s defensive scheme.
So while general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson worked the phones of agents, Thibodeau sought the recommendations of some of his coaching counterparts.
‘‘I had spoken with a number of coaches who had had him previously, and the story was the same,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘Every team, they said he’s a great worker, totally committed to the team, keeps himself in great shape and he’ll be ready. Whatever role you’re going to ask him to play, he’s going to handle his role great. So you can’t play as long as he has played with every coach saying the same thing [without playing consistently well].’’
As it has been for the Bulls overall, this preseason has been up and down for Mohammed, who at times has shown he can be more than the defensive anchor. Unlike Asik, whose offensive role was mainly as a screener, Mohammed can score around the rim. More important, he’s a great offensive rebounder and can provide second-chance scoring opportunities.
Nineteen of his 34 total rebounds this season have come on the offensive end. Twice this preseason, he has scored in double figures. In the preseason opener on against the Memphis Grizzlies, he scored 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, seven offensive.
For a veteran such as Mohammed who seems to be able to make an immediate impact on experience alone, training camp still plays an integral role. His game isn’t where he wants it to be yet.
‘‘New guys [are] trying to get a feel for what they can do, and they’re trying to get a feel for what you can do,’’ he said. ‘‘So even though you’ve been in the league and guys have seen you on another team, it’s night and day when a guy is your teammate.”
As far as meshing with the other Bulls, Mohammed couldn’t be in a more ideal situation. This training camp makes it easy for him to know where and how he needs to improve.
‘‘Mental lapses just aren’t accepted,’’ he said. ‘‘But a guy like me, I like that because I like order. I like to know when I’m wrong and when I’m right.’’