By Adam Harris-
(CBS) Tom Thibodeau is the reigning NBA Coach of the Year. He took the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and has been an assistant coach in the NBA since 1989, so it confuses me as to why he continues to haphazardly play his star players excessive minutes, despite numerous injuries and a jam packed, busy schedule where the Bulls play 3.6 games per week.
Derrick Rose has missed five games due to a sprained toe this season and left Monday night’s game against the Nets in the second quarter because of a back strain. Yet, Tom Thibodeau has increased Rose’s minutes as the season has gone on.
Before Rose injured his toe in Minnesota, he averaged 36:18 minutes per game. Since the injury, Rose has averaged 37:17 minutes per game, not counting the game he left on Monday in New Jersey. That means Rose has gradually played more as the season has gone on, even after his toe injury that caused him to miss five games.
I understand Thibodeau wants to win every game possible in the regular season to secure home court advantage for the playoffs, but he can do that and still find time to sit Rose in blowout games.
For example, last Saturday night in Milwaukee the Bulls were leading 108-86 with 1:35 to go in the game. At this time, Thibodeau substituted James Lucas III for Rose for the rest of the night. Rose
played 8:18 minutes in a fourth quarter where the Bulls’s lead was around 20 points the entire period. That is not necessary.
Even Wednesday night against the Hornets, Rose should not have played at all. He was coming off a game where he played just over 10 minutes because of a back strain. As of Tuesday, the Hornets were the second worst team in the NBA with a 4-21 record. This game was a perfect opportunity to give Rose a rest and still get a win. In the five games Rose missed earlier in the year, the Bulls went 4-1. He is not essential against bad teams like the Hornets.
Luol Deng is another example of a player that needs to sit more. Deng has missed seven games due to a torn left wrist ligament, and has elected to play through the pain for the rest of the season. The Bulls need Deng to be as fresh as can be if they wish to make it to — and win — the NBA Finals, so I think Deng’s minutes should be monitored closely, especially in blow outs.
Since coming back from injury, Deng has averaged 36:48 minutes per game, and in these games the Bulls have won by an average of 22 points. Last Saturday in Milwaukee was Deng’s first game back from his injury, and he still played 41:01 minutes. The Bulls won that game handily 113-90. These are all perfect opportunities to give Deng some extra time off to rest his wrist.
Deng has always played a lot of minutes in his career. He averaged the fourth most minutes per game in the league last season and played the third most minutes in the league overall. Of course, he was healthy. This year he has a torn left wrist ligament and needs rest so he is fresh and ready to play through pain in the playoffs.
Tom Thibodeau has shown many great things in his short stint as a head coach, but his management of minutes in this shortened but more compact NBA season has not been good.
If Thibodeau doesn’t start to take care of his injured superstars, they will run out of gas come playoff time. This Bulls team needs all of its parts working well in order to make it past the Pacers and
Heat in this season’s playoffs. This season is different from others because it is extremely compact. The team that wins it all will be the team with the most legs.
Tomorrow night, the Bulls are in Charlotte. The Bobcats have a 3-22 record (the worst in the NBA). It would be smart to sit Rose and play Deng less than 30 minutes. We will have to watch and find out if that happens.