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Bulls management supports Tom Thibodeau’s big minutes for players like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah

Apr 25, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT

Tom Thibodeau AP

Tom Thibodeau has a reputation for sensibly assessing analytics, traditional scouting and other factors to create logical basketball gameplans. The Bulls coach also has a reputation for maniacally demanding his players compete until their bodies fall apart.

At first glance, Thibodeau he been nearly infallible in his third season as head coach:

  • Year 1: Win Coach of the Year
  • Year 2: Increase team’s winning percentage
  • Year 3: Make team missing its best player competitive to win a playoff series

But many believe Chicago is missing its best player because Thibodeau overused Derrick Rose and is getting less-than-hoped production from its second-best player because Thibodeau overused Joakim Noah. The accepted logic is Thibodeau’s Achilles’ heel is a desire to win every regulars-season game no matter how much physical stress that puts on his players.

And that very well may be the case.

But, like everything else about his coaching, Thibodeau’s limits for his players are derived from what he – and the Bulls – believe to be sound logic. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Lost in the accusations about Thibodeau is that he has looked at the science — the science that’s available, at least.

Before becoming the Bulls’ coach, he was an assistant with the Boston Celtics, who were one of the first NBA franchises to
embrace basketball analytics. General manager Gar Forman is quick to point out that the Bulls have an analytics department and that minutes played in correlation with injuries is studied.

‘‘It’s hard to generalize,’’ Forman said. ‘‘Different players’ minutes will affect [things in] different ways, so it’s hard to generalize that assumption in whole. We have studied that. I mean, different body types, different years, how many years you’ve played, the age, all those things are factored in.’’

And from everything the Bulls have come up with, they are fully behind how Thibodeau hands out playing time.

‘‘In our scenario, Tom paces the team throughout the year, and we think he does a good job at that,’’ Forman said.

Like any good analyst, Thibodeau must continually re-evaluate his processes. Injury data can be very difficult to learn from, because no injury is alike, and everyone reacts differently. It could simply be bad luck how much Rose and Noah are suffering.

Thibodeau might think he’s right, and the Bulls might think he’s right (which is important, because it seemed at lease possible his insistence of giving big minutes to his players might cost him his job one day), but at a certain point, is it worth the risk? Maybe Chicago would be better off reducing the playing of time of its top players – just in case. Is the reward really worth the risk, even if the Thibodeau wisely believes he’ll be correct?

  1. acdc363 - Apr 25, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    Very good read! I think I’m personally on the “it’s not worth the risk” side of the argument. Rose did go down in the playoffs though so it’d be borderline acceptable if there wasn’t like 2 minutes left in the game with them up by double digits.

    • pudgalvin - Apr 25, 2013 at 9:29 AM

      Hadn’t the Sixers just turned a 20 point lead into a 10 point lead in like a minute though? You’ll never convince me that Rose’s wasn’t just pure bad luck. And as far as Noah is concerned, Jo himself admitted that the lingering injury was his own fault for playing in games he shouldn’t have. I think the one thing Thibs has adjusted to is not encouraging his guys to play through injuries. Part of the problem is guys like Rose, Deng and Noah want to win every regular season game just like Thibs which adds to the heavy minutes issue. (And before anyone says anything about Rose, remember that last year he played through 5 different injuries hurting himself more each time he came back early)

  2. fanofevilempire - Apr 25, 2013 at 9:28 AM

    I just consulted my analytical dept. and we have come up with the following fact.

    . Both players mentioned are injured, one has already stated he is being over worked and
    the other has stated he will return from his injury when he is 100%.

  3. adoombray - Apr 25, 2013 at 10:23 AM

    Listen I miss D. Rose on the court just as much as any other true NBA junkie, but it’s not fair to criticize Thibs for playing his guys heavy minutes and then in the same breath be critical of Rose not being out there playing. That seems to be the narrative and it’s just a wee bit hypocritical. I don’t mind the heavy minutes because when injuries do happen Thibs and the Bulls have no problem letting guys heal if they tell management they need to sit out, and that’s more than can be said of most other sports, let alone individual NBA teams.

  4. pillsbury13 - Apr 25, 2013 at 11:01 AM

    This whole complaint about Thibodeau playing his players too much is baseless. Luol Deng led the league in minutes played during regular season at 38.7. Here’s the list of others:
    Kobe Bryant – 38.6
    Kevin Durant – 38.5
    Lebron James – 37.9

    This criticism of Thibodeau is based on the fact that people always need something to critique. Yes, he’s been coach of the year…yes, he increases his team’s winning percentage, yes, he keeps his team’s competitive…BUT we HAVE to find something he does wrong because nobody is perfect. Rajon Rondo, Iman Shumpert, and Ricky Rubio did not get injured because they played too many minutes. This are “freak injuries” that could happen at any time.

    • tims8705 - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:14 PM

      Could not agree with this post any more. Wish I could like it more.

      These are professional freaking atheletes. It is their job to play games. Is Deng banged up because he played 38.7 minutes per game instead of 38.3 minutes per game? An extra half hour of court time over the span of 4 months? Seriously? NBA minute trackers are becoming as annoying as MLB pitch counts. Sorry, you’ll never convince me a guy playing an extra 1 minute per game was the sole reason someone got injured.

  5. heat256 - Apr 25, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    I don’t think there is a tangible correlation between minutes played leading to more injuries. I think the bigger factor is simple fatigue, both physical and mental. The season is long enough for us fans, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for the players. Playing 80 games at 38 plus minutes a game and then going into the playoffs and playing over 40 minutes can’t be easy, no matter how fit you are. Heavy minutes didn’t cause Rose’s injury, nor Noah’s or Kobe’s. They are flukes and happen. You can possibly toss up the theory that the likelihood may increase because you are playing more, but it’s still hard to definitively say it’s the cause.

    • mckaymatt - Apr 25, 2013 at 12:39 PM

      Not saying I necessarily disagree with what you’re saying, but there is scientific proof that muscle fatigue can lead to injuries. When people have nagging injuries your body compensates for that by putting added stress on other parts of the body. I’m pretty sure it’s known that if you have a groin pull on one side, that by playing through it, you can pull your other more easily because you are over compensating.

      I think the author of this article did try to get that point across, as did some of the people up top. They said that Rose came back from multiple injuries too early and every time he came back he ended up getting something else injured (not saying they were all related, you can get two injuries in different spots by bad luck). But he came back and was still nagged by previous injuries, and playing high minutes once the muscles get weak it puts more pressure on the ligaments, especially when you play like Rose.

      • heat256 - Apr 25, 2013 at 1:10 PM

        And that can’t be discounted, but I would expect you’d see more injuries then since as the year wears on most players in any sport will have fatigued muscles they are pushing through. Again, it could be that it was a freak occurrence. He may have made the same move dozens of times, and nothing happened, but the next time leads to a blown out knoee. Is there a way to prove or disprove whether heavy minutes contributed to it? There doesn’t seem to be a definitive one, or at least one that many people can agree on.

  6. Kevin S. - Apr 25, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Bulls management believes in the science of not paying for a competent bench.

    • pillsbury13 - Apr 25, 2013 at 1:02 PM

      Not sure where that comes from, but OK.

    • pillsbury13 - Apr 25, 2013 at 1:04 PM

      Bulls have a top 10 payroll in the league, so not sure where that came from…

      • heat256 - Apr 25, 2013 at 1:12 PM

        Yeah, but Boozer, Rose, Noah, Deng and heinrich are the guys who are taking up most of it, so it is a valid critique. You can’t rely on Nazr Mohammed to play heavy minutes, and Taj Gibson strikes me as a Chris Andersen type of guy, who is great in short spurts but may look worse as a heavy minutes player.

      • Kevin S. - Apr 25, 2013 at 1:13 PM

        It comes from the Bulls letting 80% of the best second unit in the league walk for nothing last offseason. Watson, Brewer and Korver were all on reasonable contracts, and Asik would have been moveable in the summer of 2014 to one of the teams that carve out cap space for the elite free agents but strike out.

      • lmoneyfresh - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:18 PM

        Not sure what you’re watching, but I’ve seen Thibs turned Nate, Nazr, Butler, Bellineli and Gibson into a hell of a bench. People fell in love with the “bench mob” but this bench is more than serviceable and made up of a group of players nobody else wanted.

  7. iowahbr - Apr 25, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    It’s not a minutes played issue, the real issue is that it is no longer a 1 star league.. The Heat have 2 or 2.5, Oklahoma has legitimate 2, and the Spurs have 2 or 3 depending on where you put Parker. By star I mean a consistent scorer who can get his own shot when the games get tight in the 4th quarter of the play-offs. The Bulls are stuck on 1 although they make the most of the team concept and the 1 star has an injury question mark after his name.

    • pillsbury13 - Apr 25, 2013 at 4:20 PM

      Agree. The Bulls issues have nothing to do with minutes played or a bench. This is a superstar league and until the Bulls find a #2 guard/small forward that has the ability to score 17-20 points a night on a regular basis, they won’t win. It’s that plain and simple. Even Derrick Rose coming back NEXT year and playing the starters less does nothing until the scoring issue is resolved.

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