Thibs Ball: Style, not Minutes

With the season winding down and Thibs apparently bending a bit and resting players nursing injuries, the question of what has brought the Bulls to this point comes to mind. The easy explanation/ excuse is Thibs's demanding minutes. While it has been demonstrated that the minutes his top players log aren't really different than what previous superstars on championship teams have played themselves, it really makes one wonder why it is that players eventually break down. I guess you can always blame Fred, but I believe the root of the problem is not the minutes but the style the players are asked to play. The issue here is intensity, but it is also necessary given the Bulls' offensive short-comings. In reality, it's a catch 22.

Why must the Bulls kill themselves for 48 minutes on defense? Simply put, their offense can't really score in bunches (or at all for that matter). This is what separates them from a team like the Miami Heat. The Heat can play just as effective and intense defense as the Bulls when they want to. More appropriately, when they need to. For the Bulls to keep up with just about any other NBA team, they have to give maximum effort on defense all game. It is the only way they can stay in the game. They are holding teams to under 90 points yet can't score more than that themselves. Eventually this wears on the players because, quite frankly, it's unrealistic to expect that kind of effort and physicality for 48 minutes night in and night out.

I bring up the comparison to the Heat because 1) they are the team everyone else is chasing, and 2) their roster makeup may not be ideal, but their identity is what everyone strives for. Yes, the Heat fall behind to mediocre teams seemingly every week before tearing their hearts out in the 2nd half/ 4th quarter. Why? Well, because they can afford to go light on defense for stretches of games. They always have the ace in the pocket, and that is that when it comes down to later in the game, they can hike up their shorts and really tighten up on D, give that max effort when it really matters and know that their offense is efficient that they can make up any deficit. Suddenly, you have James, Wade, and Battier, three of the better perimeter defenders in the league, locking down on defense and basically negating anything the opposing offense wants to do.

Now we come back to the Bulls. Particularly with this year's rendition of the Bulls, they simply don't have the scorers or shooters to evaporate an opposing team's lead. They've got to give it their all from start to finish just to stay in the game. Maybe if Rose were playing it'd be a little different, but that is neither here nor there. Really, if you look at it, the dynasty Bulls played it in a similar fashion to the Heat. They'd surrender a lead to the other team now and then, and it was no big deal. They have a similar roster, with 2 superstar wings and not an extremely effective big man to speak of (no offense to Luc Longley, Bill Wennington, Brian Williams, John Salley, James Edwards, Robert Parrish, etc.), good shooters around those wings. The Bulls might let you get a bit of a lead, but watch out in the second half because they would put their foot down and take over the game.

The current Bulls have to take advantage in other ways, with rebounding and good ball movement. Well, guess what, those two things require a lot of effort. So are guys breaking down because they are playing a lot of minutes? I'd say it's more a case of them having to play at such an intense level for all those minutes. And the injuries are something of a result. Guys like Hinrich and Rip just can't hold up to that style of play anymore. Deng has been the walking wounded for two seasons now. We saw what happened to Rose trying to play such a style in a truncated schedule. Noah, Gibson, the list goes on and on. These guys are getting wear & tear injuries because they simply can't hold up.

While I do think Thibs can be a bit more aware of game situations and when to give guys a breather to not run them into the ground, I think the real issue is the style and intensity at which he has them play. I don't think them starting to tune him out or growing tired of him is a real concern because ultimately I think the players see the fruit of their labor by continuing to be competitive and win games regardless of who is in the lineup on a particular night. If this team were under .500 and struggling to make the playoffs, then maybe his message would start falling upon deaf ears, but really, it just seems somewhat unreasonable to expect these guys to play at that level for that long each game for an entire season.

So I leave it up to you guys to discuss if it is the heavy minutes load or the style in which they have to play those minutes that is the real issue with the Bulls' run of injuries. Who knows, maybe it's just shitty luck.

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