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With less depth than ever, Tom Thibodeau ironically broadens rotation

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Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Snell was rolling with 11 points in three minutes against Memphis. The Bulls were rolling on a 23-6 run and up 88-84 midway through the fourth quarter. Then Tom Thibodeau took Tony Snell - who had played the entire second half - out of the game.

We know what happened after that: the Grizzlies finished the game on a 17-3 run, with most of that coming with Snell back on the floor. I don't think you can say that subbing Snell out of the game definitively cost the Bulls the game, but it was a rather strange move. Snell only sat for 51 seconds before coming back, but it seemed rather out of character for Thibs to take out a guy who was rolling, even if he had played the entire second half. We've seen Thibs roll with Jimmy Butler time and time again for entire second halves. Maybe Snell asked for a breather, although that would be somewhat surprising given he's young and his hands were in flames.

But it's somewhat indicative of how Thibs has been operating of late. Even with Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson out, the Bulls head coach has been using nearly his entire roster and distributing minutes more like we've hoped. I'd say there are certain situations, like the Snell one, where it would make sense to push a guy a bit more. But on the whole, Thibs has done a better job distributing minutes.

In January, Pau Gasol played nearly 36 minutes per game and played over 36 minutes seven times. It happened two more times in the beginning of February, but since playing 38 minutes on Feb. 10, he hasn't played 36 minutes in a game a single time. We've even seen Nazr Mohammed get some minutes lately, and not be completely useless!

Meanwhile, Joakim Noah has been on a minutes limit pretty much all year, although there have been some times where Thibs has cracked. But for the most part, Thibs has adhered Noah's minutes limit (albeit begrudgingly) and constantly refers to how many minutes they prefer Jo to play. This has led to some awkward situations in fourth quarters where Noah is on the bench during crunch time, but it helps to have other quality bigs to cover for that.

On the wing, Snell and Mike Dunleavy have been soaking up most of the minutes there with Butler out, but Snell really hasn't gotten the Butler treatment since Jimmy went down. He has a couple high-minute games, but nothing like Butler's mid-40-minute outings that we've grown accustomed to. Even Butler himself saw his minutes coming down before he got hurt. He played under 37 minutes per game in February and played 40 minutes in just three of nine games.

Thibs has been digging into his bench more on the wing. E'Twaun Moore is giving quality minutes. Doug McDermott is getting time again despite being mostly awful outside of that first half in Indiana. Kirk Hinrich is still getting minutes, but it's a much more reasonable amount, although his 25-minute scoreless outing against the Clippers was ridiculous.

The minutes thing has been a point of contention for quite some time, and it's almost certainly one of the reasons Thibs and the front office are at odds. But some evidence is there that Thibs is starting to get a little better with the minutes distribution, at a time where he has less depth than ever. It may very well be an edict from management/training staff (very likely, considering all the injuries), but at least Thibs isn't just flipping them the middle finger and pushing his main guys harder than ever. There are still times where Thibs leaves his starters in too long during blowouts, but baby steps, I guess.

It'll be interesting to see what happens when the Bulls' trio of injured players come back. Then there will be legitimate depth, and we know Rose will be on a minutes restriction. (Yes, I'm assuming he comes back.) Rotations usually shrink heading into the postseason, but the healthy Bulls (which is something we can't totally count on, of course) could still utilize a legit nine or 10 guys for the tail end of the regular season and the playoffs.

Will it happen? We'll see.