Are Tom Thibodeau's Reservations About Reserves Costing the Chicago Bulls Games?

Mike B.Correspondent IDecember 19, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 14:  Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls reacts during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on November 14, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Bulls defeated the Suns 112-106 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has opted to play starters heavy minutes this season rather than rely on his reserves. Is this strategy costing the team games?

Luol Deng and Joakim Noah—the Bulls’ two best players with Derrick Rose out (knee injury)—are receiving an insane amount of playing time. Deng is leading the entire NBA with 41 minutes per game, while Noah is second in the league with 40.3.

So why play the starters a boatload of minutes? Thibodeau obviously doesn’t trust his second unit too much.

His failure to use the bench may be the main reason behind the Bulls’ ugly loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in November. 

The Bulls were brilliant for the majority of the game, owning an astounding 27-point lead late in the third quarter.

Unfortunately, though, a nightmare would occur for Thibodeau’s squad.

The Bucks, who went on a 31-4 run in the second half, outscored the Bulls 30-12 in the fourth quarter and wound up winning the contest 93-92. Yes, that’s right; Chicago blew nearly a 30-point lead, which is simply inexcusable.

During Milwaukee’s spectacular run, Thiboudeau was reluctant to make adjustments by subbing in bench players to end the drought.

Each of the Bulls’ five starters—Deng, Noah, Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich played at least 35 minutes, with Deng logging a ridiculous 47 minutes. Only three reserves for Chicago got into the game.

Meanwhile, Bucks coach Scott Skiles went with six bench players. And three of those reserves played more minutes than Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee’s two best players.

Maybe if Thibodeau had used his bench more, the Bulls would’ve picked up an easy win instead of getting embarrassed on their home floor.      

Coach Thibs has often gone with an eight-man rotation this season, meaning that only three reserves—usually Taj Gibson, Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler—see the court. That’s understandable for a playoff game in May, but it doesn’t make much sense for a regular-season game in late November.

Thibodeau needs to trust the bench and expand his rotation to more than just eight players.

Although the Bulls’ second unit isn’t as great as the “Bench Mob,” which called Chicago home the last two seasons, it can still help out in the win column.

Thibodeau obviously believes in the trio of Gibson, Robinson and Butler, and rightfully so. While Robinson brings scoring and energy to the table, both Gibson and Butler are stellar defenders who can play multiple positions.

However, Thibodeau should consider playing Marquis Teague more and allowing Vladimir Radmanovic to avoid the usual “DNP-Coach’s Decision.” Teague, the rookie floor general out of Kentucky, looked pretty good off the bench while Hinrich was out briefly due to injury. And Radmanovic can stretch the defense with his outside shooting, something the Bulls could certainly use.

Shooting guard Marco Belinelli, who began the season on the bench, moved into the starting five to replace the injured Hamilton earlier this month. The 6’5” sharpshooter has blossomed into a dangerous scoring threat ever since his promotion.  

Once Hamilton returns, Belinelli should remain a starter, playing alongside Deng, Boozer, Noah and Hinrich.

Rounding out a new 10-man rotation should be reserves Gibson, Hamilton, Butler, Robinson and Teague, with Radmanovic and Nazr Mohammed playing every once in a while.   

Let’s go back to the Bulls' meltdown versus Milwaukee. Thibodeau’s stubbornness may have cost the Bulls the game. And then again, you could also blame the team’s not-so-elegant defense for blowing the lead.

However, if he continues to avoid the bench and play his starters a slew of minutes, Thibs could end up costing the Bulls a lot of games since guys like Deng and Noah could simply break down.

And if that happens, Chicago can kiss the playoffs goodbye this season, even if Rose comes back in a few months.

With that said, free the Bench Mob 2.0, and give your stars some rest, Mr. Thibodeau.

Don’t wait until it’s too late.