Apr 5, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls point guard C.J. Watson (7) drives past Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (34) during the second half at the United Center. The Bulls won 93-86. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE
C.J. Watson has been "quietly battling lingering soreness from the left ankle and left elbow injuries he sustained earlier this season" and Tom Thibodeau reportedly wants to rest him over stretches this month, so he can "heal", K.C. Johnson reported earlier this week.
Watson has already started a career-high 20 games this season, despite the shortened season, due to Derrick Rose missing 22 games. From that career-high in the Bulls offense, he's also at career-highs 15.4 points-per-36, .407 3P%, 3.9 APG, and 27.4% usage rate after a great start to his season.
But in March, he banged up that ankle, slowing down his drives to the basket. He shot a .446 eFG% in that month, despite sightly raising his PPG in only eight more minutes than he played in February. And it's only getting worse, shooting 28.3% (17-for-60) from the field and 21 turnovers over the last six games.
His production is falling south in ways more related to that injury than his early season play being a blip. Watson's clearly progressed as a more-rounded basketball players over the last 15 months, so chalking it up to being defended by more everyday starters doesn't work so well, as he's a point guard as well playing with starters more often on his side.
This week, K.C. added that Thibs is weighing the risk versus reward of Watson's pain against keeping his groover for games, likely anticipating the need to more carefully manage the workload of Rose in the playoffs. The erratic production and inefficiencies of third-string point guard John Lucas III adds to that need for Rose and Watson to run the offense at low margins of error, as rotations shrink.
"This time of year, you have to strike that balance of rest and playing," Thibodeau said. "We also want him to be in rhythm down the road. The way the schedule is this month for us, if we need to sit him out of practices, we'll do that. Give him an opportunity to rest there.
"He has played through some nicks. He's got a lot of mental toughness."
With a playoff spot clinched and the Bulls' magic number to clinch the division at four, the question of how much Thibs ought to value homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs is a slippery slope. The Bulls are coin flips, at best, in potential series' with the Heat or Thunder, making every variable sensitive.
The Bulls did re-sign Mike James though the rest of the season; and Rose is expected to return next week. So with four games in five days the week after next, the name of the game may need to be prudence for the Bulls to even be healthy enough to get to the Eastern Conference Finals again. Let alone, winning a championship.