By David Schuster-
(CBS) As you assess the Bulls, the question crops up of who is the most important figure? Is it Derrick Rose, who’s coming back from two devastating knee injuries and who’s the one player who can create his own shot off the dribble? Is it Joakim Noah, who remains the heart and soul of this team for what he does both on and off the court? Or is it newly acquired Pau Gasol, who brings (finally) low-post scoring and a championship pedigree?
No doubt, all of the above players are paramount to the team’s success this season, but the argument can easily be made that the most important person for Chicago is the man who sits to the far left of the bench, the coach Tom Thibodeau.
I can already hear some people squawking, saying that a coach doesn’t score any baskets, dish out any assists or play the rugged necessary defense to win games. All true, but make no mistake that on this team that it’s Thibodeau who sets the tone for everything. If ever there was a coach or a manager that has complete control, it’s Thibodeau. And sometimes it could be to the detriment of his team, as he can cross the line of micro-managing.
But where Thibodeau really comes into play is how he’ll eventually divvy up the playing time of his roster. I’m not one of those guys who looks at just the average number of minutes of a player. If the situation calls for a player to play 38 or 40 minutes a night, thae so be it.
But in a blowout contest, a coach can take the bigger-picture look and decipher that it’s just not smart to have your players on the court. Thibodeau hasn’t always followed this creed, and that’s where the Bulls are opened up to the risk of injury. Since the night it happened, I’ve argued that Derrick Rose shouldn’t have been on the court in that playoff game against Philadelphia in April 2012 when he suffered his first knee injury (the Bulls were up 12 with just more than a minute left when he suffered the injury). And yes, I know that he easily could have suffered the same injury the next day or any other day, but that’s not the point. The point is that he suffered the injury in a game when he should no longer have been on the court. And there’s numerous other situations during Thibodeau’s tenure that he has kept players in games that they should’ve already been pulled from.
This season, you will see a much deeper roster Chicago roster than in recent years — so much so that it’s almost as if team management went out of its way to “Thibodeau-proof” the roster by forcing its coach to play the bench a lot more. But will he? Thibodeau has already stated that he likely intends on playing a nine-man rotation, and that could be one or two players short of what he should be doing.
The starters are set with Rose, Jimmy Buter, Mike Dunleavy, Gasol and Joakim Noah. The second unit (as of now) consists of Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich, Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson. Gibson. But if Thibodeau shortens the rotation to nine players or fewer, one or two of rookies McDermott and Mirotic might be glued to the bench. And we haven’t even discussed getting Tony Snell some minutes, which could be beneficial, too.
The Bulls brass said all offseason that it want this roster as healthy as possible come April, May and hopefully June. That means that the Bulls need to get veterans like Gasol and Dunleavy as much rest as possible, along with Rose and Noah, who are both coming back from knee surgeries.
There’s no doubt that Thibodeau has displayed that he is an incredible X’s-and-O’s coach who gets the most out of his players. But if he truly wants to get the most out of them when it comes playoff time, then he has to change his ways and figure out the best way of using his roster.
David Schuster is a reporter, update anchor and weekend host for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @Schumouse.