67RIEFNS No. 1: Tom Thibodeau managing his bigs

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The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the doldrums of the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order over the coming weeks.

Tom Thibodeau has a reputation for running his top players into the ground with high minutes, and it’s not totally deserved.

It’s just mostly deserved.

Since Thibodeau began coaching Chicago four years ago, the Bulls have four of the top 11 minute-per-game seasons.* No other team had more than one.

*Luol Deng in 2011-12 (39.4), Deng in 2010-11 (39.1), Jimmy Butler in 2013-14 (38.7) and Deng in 2012-13 (38.7)

Aside from Derrick Rose, whose injury history DEMANDS careful minute management, Chicago’s top talent is concentrated at power forward and center. With Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls are absolutely loaded at the 4/5.

There are only 96 minutes per game to go around at those positions, though. Based on last year’s minutes per game Noah (35.3), Gasol (31.4) and Gibson (28.7) nearly fill that, totaling 95.4.

I suppose Thibodeau could get imaginative/foolish and play all three together. But there’s a much bigger chance he could use Mike Dunleavy and/or Doug McDermott a bit as stretch fours, And there’s a much, much bigger chance Mirotic deserves regular playing time.

Finding minutes for everyone will be a squeeze.

One area the Bulls’ front office and Thibodeau reportedly don’t see eye to eye is the coach’s minutes distribution. This could be Gar Forman’s way of forcing Thibodeau’s hand.

I believe coaches are predisposed to play their best players as much as possible. Thibodeau just acts on that inclination more than most. Will that continue now that he has so many options at one position? Will depth give Thibodeau the strength to counter his instinct to identify top players and use them extensively?

I can’t wait to find out.