The Chicago Bulls have won 205 regular season basketball games in the last four full seasons. They played the last two of those seasons without Derrick Rose.
This season, Rose is back (kind of), Joakim Noah continues to impress, Pau Gasol is seemingly reborn from Kobe’s shadow, and guys like Jimmy Butler, Aaron Brooks and Taj Gibson seem primed to improve their considerable skillsets.
Tom Thibodeau has pulled every last ounce of potential from his teams for these past four seasons. The team has played in top gear for long stretches of the regular season, ignoring the “marathon” mentality that other franchises have adopted around the league. Thibs doesn’t seem wired to take it easy on any day.
Tom Thibodeau is trying to kill Jimmy Butler by playing him 40 minutes a game
– Eric Rosenthal (@ericsports) November 16, 2014
This is the season where he might want to pump the brakes and make sure his roster is healthy when the playoffs come around. The Cleveland Cavaliers have shown some distinct growing pains, while the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards have started off at a pretty solid clip.
Many thought the Bulls would be the best bet to spoil LeBron’s homecoming. Well, the Bulls should be looking across to the Western Conference to figure out the best way to topple LeBron: staying rested.
Gregg Popovich is a master at utilizing his entire roster. Last season, not one player saw 30+ minutes on the floor. Over the past five seasons, Pop has played only 10 players longer than 30 minutes per game.
The most minutes any Spurs player has logged since the 2009-10 season is Tony Parker, who played 32 minutes per game in three of the last five seasons.
Here’s the more important stat: In five seasons, Popovich has given out between 10 and 29 minutes to players a startling 57 times in five seasons. That means on average, he plays about 11 guys each season for 10-29 minutes.
This is not by chance; it’s brilliant and it’s a huge reason why the Spurs have been successful. It’s also a reason why they’ve managed to bounce back from such a heartbreaking loss to the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Thibs, on the other hand, rides his stars. Last season, he played six players for more than 30 minutes per game. Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer also played 28 minutes.
Then, the minutes drop quickly to Tony Snell’s 16 minutes a game. The Bulls were dead come playoff time, when they were outmatched by a younger, spunkier Wizards team.
This season, Thibs has four guys playing 30+ minutes a game, which does not include Rose (28 MPG). Noah is on a 30-minute restriction and Thibs is pushing that limit, playing Noah an average of 30 minutes a night. Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Mike Dunleavy are the other 30+ guys on the roster.
Where can Thibs find the minutes to spread out among his roster? He needs to look no further than three youngsters who are getting about 10 minutes per game right now: Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott.
There is no need for Dunleavy to be playing 31 minutes per game since he’s not playing well enough to deserve those minutes. He only scores 11 points per game and he isn’t rebounding well, either. His PER is 14.7, which is below average.
LeBron James has logged a massive number of minutes in the past four seasons with the Heat. Four runs through to the NBA Finals can wear down a body, even one as strong as his.
David Blatt is still playing him 40 minutes per game right now. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are also logging 38+ minutes each (LeBron is already asking for fewer minutes).
The Cavs are also being forced to work a lot harder to snag wins than they probably predicted. The Boston Celtics forced a maximum effort on Friday night and those types of games add up over the course of a season.
Tom Thibodeau has the roster to take down King James before he makes it to the NBA Finals for a fifth straight season. The key is how he uses his roster, as the Heat were outmatched by a fast moving, sharper Spurs team last year.
The Bulls shouldn’t be playing anyone more than 30 minutes per game. They should take some lumps during the regular season, develop some talent, keep the stars healthy and take their chances in the playoffs.
The other way of doing things hasn’t quite worked for the Bulls yet.
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