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Hard at Work

5 Jan 2012

With the Rip-returns-to-Detroit stories out of the way, the media narrative after last night’s dull trouncing of the hapless Pistons has shifted to the question of playing time:

Why did Tom Thibodeau play his starters nearly the whole game when they had a huge lead and were on the second night of a back-to-back?

This, as Sam Smith notes, is par for the course with Thibodeau. Luol Deng is averaging 39.4 minutes per game, second only to Monta Ellis, and Derrick Rose is 10th at 36.9 mpg. They were fourth and 14th, respectively, last season.

Smith writes:

If you like Thibodeau’s coaching, this comes with it. He believes in playing your best players the most minutes. When the Bulls won championships in the early 1990’s, Michael Jordan averaged more than 39 minutes per game and Scottie Pippen averaged just under 39 minutes. And both were slightly older than Rose and Deng are now. So second guess all you want. I seriously doubt it’s changing.

So … there’s that. It’s probably true that there’s little point in getting worked up about it, since it’s not going to change. But since when do sports fans have the ability to change anything about their teams?

Continue freaking out.

Your captain on that journey is Doug Thonus, whose head nearly exploded when Rose stayed in after smashing his elbow in the final minutes:

I won’t say that he should have definitively been out of the game with 3:30 left and a 16 point lead. … However, after going down, Tom Thibodeau had a WTF moment by keeping Rose in the game afterwards. Really? REALLY? After the game, Derrick Rose can’t lift his arm over his head, but he obviously had to be in there for another 2 minutes with the Bulls up by 16 against the Detroit Pistons, because obviously the team with perhaps the best defense in the NBA couldn’t be counted on to hold a 16 point lead for 3 and a half minutes against one of the worst offenses in the league without Derrick Rose in the game.

Moreover, Thonus advances the largely persuasive argument that the Bulls’ primary goal this season is getting to the playoffs healthy, so they can be at full strength for the seemingly inevitable rematch with Miami. Take a page from Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich, Thonus argues, and give your most important players some strategic rest.

But I don’t know if this argument fully holds water. These Bulls haven’t played or played together quite as long as those former Celtics and Spurs champions, and they sure aren’t playing as well as Thibodeau wants in these early days of the season.

I come down near Alex Sonty, whose typically thorough examination of the issue is also worth reading:

Right now, the Bulls need the work more than they need the rest.

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