Playoff Rotations: Bulling the Trend

Got into a debate recently after a Bulls win against a certain team from where I live. The debate was regarding playoff minutes. So it got me to thinking about a common misconception: playoff rotations.

There seems to be his general consensus that regardless of what contributions a team gets from certain players, the rotation must be trimmed down to eight or nine players come playoff time. Hey, makes sense. You want to keep your best players on the court the most amount of minutes possible. But what about in cases where depth is your team's strength, like this year's Bulls? Should the Bulls just scrap players who have made significant contributions to the team's overall success this season just to play the Noahs and Boozers and Rips more? I think in this particular season with the truncated schedule you might see some teams open up their playoff rotations, for the sake of fresher legs or otherwise, and the Bulls will be one of those teams.

Looking at total minutes played this season, the Bulls top 5 most used line-ups this season involve 11 different players. Now, JL3 is in one of those line-ups which speaks to the injury issues of this shortened season, so I think we can say the Bulls rotation goes a solid 10 deep. By minutes per game, those 10 players (Rose, Rip, Deng, Booz, Noah, Watson, Brewer, Korver, Taj, Asik) all average 15 minutes or more (Asik at just under with 14.8), enough minutes to have an impact on the game. I mean, I think we can safely say Omer has an impact on games and thus their outcome. Now, is Thibs supposed to just cut Asik from the rotation, reduce him to maybe 5 minutes a game at most for the sake of playing the best 8 or 9 guys all the time? Even a guy like Lucas has put in 14 minutes a game (including one memorable 45-minute performance) for 45 games! Obviously, if Rose is healthy, Watson should be getting any remaining minutes at the PG and thus Lucas should be on the bench. It really does speak volumes to Thibs as a coach in keeping the winning going while depending on production from so many different places. So now the playoffs come. What will happen?

I think Thibs has to go with what's working. The Bulls' depth is one of their biggest strengths and lucky for them they have a good mix of situational players they can bring in depending on being up, down, pace of the game, whatever. If getting a win in the playoffs involves Asik, Taj, and Korver being on the floor late, so be it. Get the win.

There is another team this year that operates somewhat in the same manner. The Spurs this season are consistently going 5-6 deep off their bench. They have 12 guys(!) averaging 19 minutes or more.

It really does speak volumes to Thibs Pop as a coach in keeping the winning going while depending on production from so many different places.

No wonder they are the two leading candidates this year for Coach of the Year.

Considering their Big 3 are a bit older, they could realistically continue distributing minutes in this manner come playoff time. I fully intend to see Pop using Bonner, Neal, Stack Jack, Splitter, Blair, everyone. I'll admit I'm not watching a ton of Spurs basketball these days, so if I'm wrong, please tell me.

Conversely, let's look at a contender at the other end of the spectrum, the cHeat. This particular team has 10 players playing significant minutes per game (though Turiaf is still fairly new to the team, so really you can almost say just 9 players). While Thibs has players like Taj and Korver he has confidence in coming off the bench, how much confidence do you think Lil' Spoe has in guys like Joel Anthony, Shane Battier, and Norris Cole coming in and playing important minutes in the postseason? What do I mean by important minutes? Well, enough to allow Wade, Lebron, and Bosh to keep fresh legs after a grueling season. That puts them in quite a predicament as I can see the Heat's legs wearing out as the postseason drags on. If Thibs keeps spreading the minutes out and Spoelstra keeps playing the main 3 players over 40 minutes a game, who do you think will be less weary when a potential ECF matchup begins and plays out?

This might be the right time for a team with good depth to outperform a team that might be more talented (individually). I, for one, feel confident in knowing these Bulls players all know their role and their job within the scheme of the team. The consistency of this year's team is truly a thing of beauty to watch and hopefully it's a wave they can ride all the way to a championship. Let's see if they can "buck bull the trend" and prove that sometimes it's OK to go against conventional wisdom and trust your knowledge as a coach of who your team is and what is their character.

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