Tom Thibodeau has had to juggle quite a few lineups this season, and even with all of his rotational ingenuity, there are a number of his players who could stand to sit a few more minutes.
Under normal circumstances there are a number of factors that affect a player’s on-court time.
Opponent matchups, in-game situations and efficient production are some of the most weighted criteria for playing time.
Then there are times when something like an injury forces a coach’s hand, and a player who seldom sees the floor is called upon to fill the void.
Thibodeau has dealt with all of these scenarios, and while he’s done as good of a job as anyone with his adjustments, there are a few players who would benefit from more time on the pine.
Preserving the Point
Kirk Hinrich missed 22 games over the course of the 2012-13 season due to a myriad of injuries.
Derrick Rose’s return for the 2013-14 affair was supposed to lighten the 10-year veteran’s workload, but a meniscus injury to the former removed any chance of respite.
Now Hinrich is serving a second term as the Bulls' starting point guard, and that is bound to have some drawbacks if his playing time isn’t reduced.
Using last season as a point of reference, he is playing a similar amount of minutes and has already sat out a five-game spell with back spasms.
Reducing his workload is easier said than done.
The most sensible solution would be to use another point guard to steal more rest for Hinrich, but D.J. Augustin is the only other backup now that Marquis Teague is toiling away in the NBDL.
Given that the starter himself admitted to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson that last year’s role wore him down, it would be prudent to be proactive so that this year is not a repeat.
Trading away Luol Deng has created another black hole-like talent void that is going to take a huge collective effort to overcome.
Thibodeau must do all that he can to preserve the health of his remaining contributors.
Finding a way to scale back Hinrich’s time on the floor could be the key to sustaining a serviceable backcourt.
Banking on Butler
Jimmy Butler is the most likely successor to Deng as Thibodeau’s all-around workhorse.
While that may be flattering in some ways, it is a frightening concept under current conditions.
Butler missed nearly four weeks in late 2013 with a turf toe injury.
The toe ailment is a delicate one that can be easily re-aggravated, but the Bulls seem to be throwing caution to the wind now that the third-year wing has recovered enough to play again.
A lot of the Bulls’ future stock rests on Butler’s shoulders. It would seem logical for a team that has only a quark’s chance of competing for a championship this year to not push him so hard, especially coming off of an injury.
Rookie Tony Snell has shown a lot of promise, so far. Add a few more minutes to the youngster’s rotation to ward off the temptation of making a Deng 2.0 out of Butler.
Padding the Middle
The issue here is not the game-to-game playing time but rather the total minutes put in.
Noah has played the most total minutes of any of his teammates this season.
As the games keep coming and the former Florida Gator keeps trucking, those miles are going to add up.
To be fair, Thibodeau did say back in July of 2013 that Noah’s minutes will come down, per ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell, and he has made good on that assurance.
But this team has not been able to shake the injury bug. Couple that with the Bulls having only one reserve center in Nazr Mohammed, who only plays 8.0 minutes per game, and it’s easy to become a little concerned.
Solving this riddle is similar to the one that confounds Hinrich—adding another center.
Since the Bulls management waived Andrew Bynum immediately after acquiring him, per the team's official website, their 12-man roster is one below the league minimum for signed players.
Chicago could add a free-agent center who can be used to provide a few more minutes of valuable rest for Noah.
The importance of this team’s emotional leader has never been higher.
Everyone on the roster needs Noah in uniform and on the court to help them navigate what is bound to be another tough transition.
Safeguarding the Future
The recent moves by the Bulls front office shows that their sights are shifting to retooling for another run at returning to title contention.
While they make moves that put the team in the best position to add the necessary talent, Thibodeau must do his part to help insure that the remaining athletes are in the best condition to contribute to that vision.
It is definitely not an easy task.
Thibs is a fierce winner who can do no less than demand the best from his players; however, it is possible for him to keep his high expectations and preserve the health of his squad.
In the long run, everyone who is a part of the Bulls organization knows that the intention is to set this team up to win for many years.
Thibodeau will definitely do his part to help facilitate that plan.