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How to rest Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler in a playoff game

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The Bulls are wearing down Rose and Butler. The Bucks are exploiting that.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Enough has been said at just about every media outlet that Tom Thibodeau does not rest players enough. He unapologetically plays Jimmy Butler for league-leading minutes, as he did Luol Deng; plays Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose for full quarters.

After opening the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs with a commanding 3-0 lead over the Bucks, the Bulls have failed twice to close out the series, losing Game Four 92-90 and Game Five 94-88.

Milwaukee forward Jared Dudley credits Thibs unwillingness to more economically manage minutes for his team extending the would-be short series to a Game 6.

"You saw Butler and Rose trying to force it so much," Dudley said of the two guards combining for a 10-for-41 shooting night in Game 5. "They're playing so many minutes that we're just trying to wear them down.

"We know they're tired in the fourth quarter."

In Game 4, Rose led the Bulls with nine fourth quarter points, but had a crucial turnover in the Bulls final possession of then-tied game. He followed up that possession with allowing Dudley to have a clear passing lane to Jerryd Bayless under the rim for the buzzer-beating game-winning bucket. Butler had five points in that final quarter, but played over 11 minutes of it.

In Game 5, the two played the entire fourth quarter, combining for nine points on 4-for-16 shooting, highlighted by Butler's 1-for-7 brick-fest. On the other end, Rose was torched by Michael Carter-Williams, who closed out the game with eight points, three rebounds, and two assists in the fourth.

It's better to split Rose's and Butler's minutes more often: it minimizes the short-term losses of one on the bench, rather than minimize the production of the entire team in those stretches to rest them. Better yet, reduces situations where the clock is ticking on a close game and both are at higher risk to underperform due to fatigue.

The Bulls are obviously a far better team with Rose or Butler on the floor than with both on the bench, making it very difficult to rest both, especially in a series where points are so scarce:

Butler On-Off Splits
Regular Season
Team Opponent Difference
Split MP eFG% TOV% ORtg eFG% TOV% ORtg eFG% TOV% ORtg
On Court 2513 .489 14.4 108.9 .476 13.0 104.3 +.013 +14.3 +4.5
Off Court 1463 .489 15.4 104.9 .469 12.7 103.8 +.020 +15.3 +1.2
On − Off 63% --- -1.0 4.0 -0.007 0.3 0.5 -0.007 -1.0 3.3
Playoffs
Team Opponent Difference
Split MP eFG% TOV% ORtg eFG% TOV% ORtg eFG% TOV% ORtg
On Court 221 .492 18.2 104.3 .431 13.1 94.3 +.061 +18.1 +10.0
Off Court 29 .415 27.1 76.3 .421 10.3 119.0 +.006 +27.0 -42.7
On − Off 88% 0.077 -8.9 28.0 -.010 2.8 -24.7 .067 -8.9 52.7
Rose On-Off Splits
Regular Season
Team Opponent Difference
Split MP eFG% TOV% ORtg eFG% TOV% ORtg eFG% TOV% ORtg
On Court 1530 .491 14.5 107.5 .471 12.9 103.7 +.020 +14.4 +3.8
Off Court 2446 .488 15.0 107.4 .475 13.0 104.4 +.013 +14.9 +2.9
On − Off 38% .003 -0.5 0.1 -.004 -0.1 -0.07 0.007 -0.5 0.9
Playoffs
Team Opponent Difference
Split MP eFG% TOV% ORtg eFG% TOV% ORtg eFG% TOV% ORtg
On Court 195 .511 18.4 106.6 .427 12.6 96.8 +.084 +18.2 +9.9
Off Court 55 .385 22.9 80.0 .440 13.3 99.0 -.055 +22.7 -19.0
On − Off 78% 0.126 -4.5 26.6 -0.013 -0.7 -2.2 0.139 -4.5 28.9


But they don't necessarily need to be on the floor at the same time so much. They could each give the other one or two minutes here and there to rest and pick up the slack.

The Bulls have been very productive all season with Aaron Brooks playing alongside at least one of the two. As long as Mike Dunleavy can stay out of foul trouble and Tony Snell continues to also find open looks, the deficit for a minute or two can potentially stave off failures over longer stretches later in the game:

Butler Backcourt Pairings
Poss Net (Per 100 Possessions)
Lineup MP Tm Opp Pace FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% eFG% FT FTA FT% PTS
A. Brooks 1008.7 1929 1907 91.3 -0.8 -3.2 .007 2.3 3.3 .049 .021 7.0 7.1 .053 7.7
T. Snell 499.5 967 970 93.1 -0.6 -1.7 .001 2.9 4.8 .060 .018 5.1 5.3 .040 6.8
D. Rose 1400.7 2756 2755 94.4 -1.1 -5.9 .017 1.3 2.5 .020 .027 5.5 6.4 .029 4.7
K. Hinrich 930.6 1798 1804 92.9 -2.9 -5.8 -.005 1.5 1.4 .053 .006 7.2 7.4 .059 2.9
Rose Backcourt Pairings
Poss Net (Per 100 Possessions)
Lineup MP Tm Opp Pace FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% eFG% FT FTA FT% PTS
A. Brooks 191.7 386 384 96.4 5.5 0.3 .061 4.9 6.6 .109 .089 1.2 -0.2 .042 17.1
J. Butler 1400.7 2756 2755 94.4 -1.1 -5.9 .017 1.3 2.5 .020 .027 5.5 6.4 .029 4.7
T. Snell 406.1 797 800 94.4 -0.7 -1.8 .001 2.5 2.7 .073 .015 2.8 2.8 .030 3.9
K. Hinrich 484.7 973 980 96.7 -3.1 -7.9 .002 1.6 1.5 .053 .014 5.8 6.6 .028 1.1


First, good god, Kirk Hinrich is awful. Next, it is not imperative to the Bulls success that Rose and Butler are on the floor together. Finally, the minutes when Rose and Butler are not on the floor together should not be important minutes, but the on-off court data above shows that those minutes are becoming tragically impactful for all of the wrong reason.

Rose was out so much and Butler played almost 39 minutes per game this season, so it is difficult to take the team's production with Rose and without Butler too seriously when Butler played 1,216 of Rose's 1,530 minutes over the season. But there in plenty of three-man data on Butler with the other non-bigs currently in the rotation:

Butler 3-Man Units
Poss Net (Per 100 Possessions)
Lineup MP Tm Opp Pace FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% eFG% FT FTA FT% PTS
Brooks- Snell 147.5 283 282 91.9 6.6 3.6 .057 4.6 6.3 .102 .081 5.9 4.1 .087 23.7
Brooks-Hinrich 225.4 435 431 92.2 -5.4 -8.4 -.019 4.6 4.9 .158 .010 11.5 11.9 .059 5.2
Hinrich-Snell 96.3 177 183 89.7 3.5 4.2 .019 3.0 8.6 .037 .034 -4.9 -4.1 -.075 5.0
Brooks-Dunleavy 363.1 677 672 89.2 -0.2 -0.5 .001 1.6 2.6 .023 .010 3.0 3.7 .015 4.2


In the playoffs, Rose has only played 11 of his 195 minutes without Butler, over which the team is minus-14. Butler has played nearly 37 of his 221 minutes without Rose, over which the team is minus-10.

But, oh! Just wait! Exclude lineups where Nikola Mirotic is at the three and any which involve Kirk Hinrich and: the Rose's Butler-less lineups are a only a minus-one over only six minutes; the Butler's Rose-less lineups are plus-five over 26.5 minutes.

The problem isn't that the Bulls cannot function without Rose and Butler on the floor together. The problem is that Hinrich is terrible at basketball and the Jumbo Dumbo Lineup doesn't f@>$!ng work!

It should also be added that resting Butler is more difficult in the playoffs when he is the Bulls best player and the best player in the world, LeBron James, awaits them in the next round. Also, let's be honest: it's Rose who needs the rest.

Carter-Williams excels at torching Brooks, so there is no illusion that he doesn't present a defensive liability for the Bulls. But let's not have any illusion that: (a) the Bulls have a point guard who can stop Carter-Williams anywhere near how he can stop himself, let alone any small guard who will frustrate Kyrie Irving; and (b) that any team getting torched by point guards is usually a greater exploitation of bad help defense from the interior.

The multi-year criticism of Thibodeau's rotation management isolated to the quantity of minutes is valid, but Butler is far more valuable as the team's most important player than Deng ever was. And this is the playoffs, where the Bucks defense and the overwhelming challenge of the next round makes Butler's playing time justifiable. And the echo chamber reverberates when Butler gets snippy at questioning his endurance, as he did today.

But there has to be better recognition by Thibodeau of how his units perform and more intelligent creativity as to how Rose can be maximized without becoming a liability.

Stats via Basketball-Reference.com.