Tom Thibodeau has a reputation for sensibly assessing analytics, traditional scouting and other factors to create logical basketball gameplans. The Bulls coach also has a reputation for maniacally demanding his players compete until their bodies fall apart.
At first glance, Thibodeau he been nearly infallible in his third season as head coach:
- Year 1: Win Coach of the Year
- Year 2: Increase team’s winning percentage
- Year 3: Make team missing its best player competitive to win a playoff series
But many believe Chicago is missing its best player because Thibodeau overused Derrick Rose and is getting less-than-hoped production from its second-best player because Thibodeau overused Joakim Noah. The accepted logic is Thibodeau’s Achilles’ heel is a desire to win every regulars-season game no matter how much physical stress that puts on his players.
And that very well may be the case.
But, like everything else about his coaching, Thibodeau’s limits for his players are derived from what he – and the Bulls – believe to be sound logic. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:
Lost in the accusations about Thibodeau is that he has looked at the science — the science that’s available, at least.
Before becoming the Bulls’ coach, he was an assistant with the Boston Celtics, who were one of the first NBA franchises to
embrace basketball analytics. General manager Gar Forman is quick to point out that the Bulls have an analytics department and that minutes played in correlation with injuries is studied.
‘‘It’s hard to generalize,’’ Forman said. ‘‘Different players’ minutes will affect [things in] different ways, so it’s hard to generalize that assumption in whole. We have studied that. I mean, different body types, different years, how many years you’ve played, the age, all those things are factored in.’’
And from everything the Bulls have come up with, they are fully behind how Thibodeau hands out playing time.
‘‘In our scenario, Tom paces the team throughout the year, and we think he does a good job at that,’’ Forman said.
Like any good analyst, Thibodeau must continually re-evaluate his processes. Injury data can be very difficult to learn from, because no injury is alike, and everyone reacts differently. It could simply be bad luck how much Rose and Noah are suffering.
Thibodeau might think he’s right, and the Bulls might think he’s right (which is important, because it seemed at lease possible his insistence of giving big minutes to his players might cost him his job one day), but at a certain point, is it worth the risk? Maybe Chicago would be better off reducing the playing of time of its top players – just in case. Is the reward really worth the risk, even if the Thibodeau wisely believes he’ll be correct?