Do minutes matter? How can the Bulls stay healthy this season

"if healthy" seems to be a phrase I use a lot when describing the Bulls chances. It's odd and not so odd at the same time. Odd, because the phrase really describes any team. What are the Heat's championship odds if one of their key pieces tears an ACL this year? Not so good, but I never think to add the phrase "if healthy" for them.

However, the Bulls lost Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah two seasons ago while losing Deng and Hinrich [and still missing Rose] last season. With this team, it's hard to imagine them staying healthy. That's the difference.

Health has been such a concern Tom Thibodeau vowed to lower the minutes the guys played. I'm not sure how much difference that will make. Stan Van Gundy had an interesting thing to note about minutes. To paraphrase, it went something like this:

"Does playing a guy 34 minutes vs 40 minutes a night really matter at the end of the season? Those six minutes add up to eight hours of extra work spread out over six months. These are elite athletes, do you really think eight hours over six months is something the body can even feel?"

I get where Stan is coming from and I agree to an extent. However, there's certainly a different level of intensity to game minutes vs practice minutes. It isn't just "more exercise" or "more work". Players do riskier things in games trying to make a play than they do in practice. There are FAR more injuries in games than in practice or training.

The minutes are inherently more dangerous. If nothing else, if you play 34 minutes instead of 40 it seems safe to say that's going to decrease your risk of injury at least at a linear 15% simply by being off the floor 15% more time.

However, the body is most susceptible to injury when it is fatigued, and since game minutes are the most intense, playing more of them in a shorter time will push your body to its most fatigued state which probably means there is a bit of a non linear bump in there as well (we'll say maybe an extra 5-10%).

My guess is if the Bulls trimmed the guys around 40 minutes to 34 minutes is that they'd see a 20-25% reduction in the chance of injury. Now losing those six minutes of performance from your most important players may also significantly impact your odds of winning.

Depending on the chance of injury that may be well worth the gamble since the odds of having a notable injury in a game are probably only 1% anyway, lowering them to .8% or so might not really be all that noteworthy if it costs you five games in the standings.

Of course spreading that risk out over a whole season and the case for rest makes a bit more sense. It's why you likely take the risk every time in the playoffs, but in the regular season you don't need to risk so much.

That said, Tom Thibodeau vowed to reduce minutes for key players this season. He seems to get that it's an issue and is going to respond. 82 games is a long season, and the Bulls proved they could win a road game seven last season. No need to take extra risks for home court advantage.

While I have no proof, I believe that approach to reduced minutes was likely handed down as marching orders to Thibodeau. However, the minutes play out, the Bulls clearly view health as a problem. They created a new position for Jennifer Swanson as director of Sports Performance to help keep their athletes healthy and in good shape.

Jennifer worked with Derrick on his ACL recovery which could be taken as a positive or negative depending on how cynical you are about Rose's health and refusal to play last year. It could also be a bone they're throwing Derrick if he really liked working with her after firing Ron Adams whom he liked a lot as well.

That said, the most likely scenario is simply that the Bulls front office recognizes that it needs to improve it's preventative care for health. Whether they bring in more massage therapists, do more new age work like the Suns, or figure something else out will likely be up to Jennifer, but they recognize they need someone heading up an area to keep their athletes fresher and healthier.

That realization speaks volumes for how the Bulls as an organization attack all facets of improving their team. After a couple of seasons where injuries derailed them, the Bulls went out and looked to address the problem.

Maybe those injuries were flukes and unpreventable, maybe not. However, I like the fact the Bulls allocated some resources towards trying to help. It's just a small way that shows the Bulls have an internal process to try and improve all areas of the organization.

Maybe it's Michael Reinsdorf's influence or maybe not, but I like the direction the business side of the Bulls is taking to help the basketball side since he's taken over. This move, along with moving the practice facility downtown, are things which the business side can do to improve the basketball side.

It shows the process of change, evolution, and involvement is going on with in the organization. It doesn't guarantee a championship, but along with paying the luxury tax for two seasons, it shows commitment to the team. As a fan, I'm very happy to see that.

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  • It's inevitable that Thibideau is going to play his key guys extended minutes from Day 1. A leopard can not change its spots.

  • In reply to RichG:

    Eh, I disagree, I think the reverse is true. I think coaches in particular learn and adjust as time goes on.

  • Micro managing minutes only become hard in tight games or with a bench you don't totally trust, which the Bulls had a lot of both last season. Thibodeau is a thinking coach who studies and learns from past errors. And I'd like to think the same about managent and getting the coach bench players that can and will play within the coaches system. Having a solid bench that can easily swap out 5 for 5 worked well with Asik, Gibson, Korver, Brewer, and Miles. Maybe a bench of Mohammad, Gibson, Dunleavy, Hinrich, James, and or Teague will allow Thibodeau to rest his starters more. This really looks like a bench he can trust and that has been the real issue all along. A solid bench can hold, gain, or take the lead for the starters, thus, Thibodeau can ease up on his starters. This will in turn produce healthier less injury prone starters.

  • part of the reason why Deng and Noah saw heavy minutes was the new bench last year didn't look very good during the start of the season. Belinelli couldn't hit a shot and Nazr looked like toast. The coach was forced to play some key starters more minutes. Dunleavy is more consistent and will fit Thibodeau's bench offense so Deng playing 40 minutes a night makes zero sense. The backup center minutes slot is still a major concern but this is where Taj Gibson needs to step up after that massive payday he's getting. Taj Gibson should be playing at least 25 minutes a night this year. Personally I think the heavy minutes for some key players is only one of the reasons for injuries, the main reason is Thiodeau's physical hard nosed playing style he demands and "intense practices" which wear down the players. You have to be durable to be a Thibodeau kind of guy but he has to do a better job of pacing them through the season.

  • In reply to Defense-Rebound13:

    I agree that Taj needs to step up this season after what looked and felt like a letdown last season.

    However, at 6'7.75" and fairly slender he is simply not a center. The only solution is Nazr giving us a performance similar to what Kurt Thomas gave us a couple of seasons ago, or God forbid playing the BozoHole at center. There has been some evidence that the Holes performance was less attrocious in his limited minutes at center than it is at his usual PF slot. Maybe that is the solution, start Taj and bring the Hole off the bench. Obviously, that is not happening for a multitude of reasons, none of which necessarily make basketball sense.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I think it just depends on match ups. I agree Taj isn't a center, but most teams are playing small ball some section of the game.

  • Player Minutes: where to draw the line? You could use a Reference point and look it up.

    Looking up current and historical player minutes the stars Mike, Kobe, Scottie, Shaq, Durant etc. big time players play 36-40 minutes a game. Everybody else it's usually 34 or less.

    Not really complicated(Thibs)... EXCEPT this which is often overlooked in these discussions IMO, when teams are dominant some nights stars may get a lot less minutes i.e rest playing middling opponents and other nights against marquee match-ups they may get a boatload as in never see the bench. Without true stars however, no lead is truly safe as we've witnessed with multiple Bulls collapses see Sacramento.

    Thus Thibs aka win at all costs plays guys until they are dead with fatigue. Does this take into account the big picture as in playoffs and overall team health?? Probably where the criticism of Thibs is valid but then do you want to build a winning culture? A catch .22 really and less blaming Thibs here then the simple fact that Starless teams have to Grind to win. Including One Star teams like Rose and the Bulls.

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    Agreed, its all about the talent that's on the roster. If Thibs had a balance talent team, then players wouldn't have to play so many minutes. I really don't think that some Bulls fans just don't understand that the players that are on the Bulls roster is good but just not talented enough to get to the finals. Or shall I say get past the Heat. Maybe recent history over the last few years will change for the better for the Bulls this year...we will see.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    No one's team is talented enough to get past the Heat on paper. No team will be this year or likely next year.

    That's just a metric everyone will lose to.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Actually Doug, the last 2 teams that took the Heat to 7 game series, Pacers and Spurs are talented enough but 2 things went wrong, the Pacers didn't take advantage of grabbing the home court advantage from the Heat and the Spurs simply choked in game 6 of the Finals. The Heat being the champions that they are made both teams pay by winning each series with championship play when it mattered. The Jordan Bulls did the same plenty of times when they were champions. There were more than a few times that the Bulls back then shouldn't have won but the championship mentality and experience would carry the team to win. That's why I keep saying some Bulls fans don't get it. It takes special players to win championships. Rose Noah are special, and Butler is on his way to being that special player. These 3 guys just need a little more help in getting better role players around them to be a championship team imo.

  • I also agree with you guys -- there are trade-offs to either strategy. If Dunleavy is what the claims are, the Bulls will have their best bench ever this year. So Thibs can play the bench more.

    However, the Bulls were considered to have one of the strongest benches in the NBA for, what, 3 years now? Even so, Thibs overworked the starters,especially Deng. This got them excellent regular season records, but it cost them (something sure did) in the playoffs. If it's broken, fix it!

    Ditto with "intense" practices. A case could me made for easing the foot off the pedal a bit during practices. I remember years ago when a swimmer (Don Schollander) and his coach decided to back off for the Olympic qualifying trials in the USA, so he would peak in the Olympics, which he did, winning 3 golds. In the meantime, some thought he was off his training. The "gold" in the NBA is the championship.

    Besides, I see many rookies contribute a lot in their first NBA season. Work these kids more and see if they can develop faster.

  • In reply to rustyw:

    Also agree, this is the reason why Rose said he's not going to recruit players to play with him in Chicago. Sorry folks but this is on the FO to bring in a more talented roster to build around Rose. I'm hearing in Rose voice that he wasn't happy with the FO in letting guys walk for nothing from the 2010-11, and the 2011-12 teams and he's leaving things to management to improve this team before his contract is up or...things may not end very well.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    So if Rose wasn't happy with the FO in letting guys walk for nothing, was he jumping up and down with joy when the FO brings guys in for nothing?

    I'm sure Derrick is smart enough to realize that no matter what, there will be 12 guys on the roster with him when the season starts. That if 3 guys walk "for nothing" (their contracts aren't renewed), they will be replaced by 3 guys who the FO acquired "for nothing" (either with a draft pick or by signing them as a free agent).

    So I guess if the Bulls let Deng, Hinrich and Boozer (amnestied) walk for "nothing" next summer but replace them with LeBron James (FA), Nikola Mirotic (1st round pick) and the Bulls' 2014 1st round pick, Rose will be pissed off that 3 players left for "nothing"?

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Dude you sound like a nagging woman, always trying to twist up a conversation. And no offense to any women that may read this blog but Damn!!!...you and your butt buddy roman sound just alike. And im sure Rose wasn't jumping up and down that much last year, he had a ACL injury remember...LOL...

  • In reply to Reese1:

    That 2/3, I'm not surprised.

    The point of this blog comments thingy is conversation, I'm just trying to figure out your point.

    Other than any time anyone disagrees with you, instead of having a counter-point to their basketball opinions, you just start in with personal attacks and insults. Which is your right, of course, I usually get a good laugh out of them.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Ummm...nooo...i dont attack or insult people, i just respond to idiots like yourself that want to take my comments in every negative way possible. Then you say that i don't make any valid points, when I actually do, their just not the points that you want to hear so I'm sorry that you can't understand that. I'm not going to argue with people that just dont get.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    You are too stupid to even realize what an attack or insult is.

    And too stupid to comprehend plain English, apparently. But thanks for your continual proving of my point, at least everyone else here can understand what they read.

    When you make nothing but negative comments, of course people are going to take them... negatively.

    Moron.

    Again, people will notice I made the offer to just discuss basketball and leave out the insults and personal attacks, but you are not mentally capable, apparently.

    I wonder if the last 1/3 is going to also prove my point?

  • I noticed that piece on the hiring of Jennifer Swansen on bulls.com a couple of weeks ago. I was a bit surprised that it never came up here.

    Interesting move by the Bulls, although, I don't see exactly where she fits in with whatever the Bulls existing training staff already did or didn't do. Is she now the heading honcho for all physical training. Interesting that they brought in a woman to do the job. I wonder how accepting the all male players will be in taking instruction about their bodies from her. Apparently Rose is on board so that is a start.

    As for the fatigue vs injury thing, I think that Van Gundy's simplistic linear analysis is very naive. There was an extensive piece on this subject on ESPN last year, which was based on fairly extensive medical studies of elite athletes that basically said that once the muscles reach a certain point of fatigue the chance for injury goes up significantly if not exponentially. I think that this point is fairly intuitive and logical. The only real argument is when does each persons body reach this point and how do you know when they have.

    Does Kobe Bryant rupture his achilles last season if he wasn't playing 40-45 minutes a night at the time of his injury? Injuries happen for a multitude of reasons, and will always be subject to speculation when they are not violent(contact) in nature.

    My sense is that fatigue/playing too many minutes does have an impact on performance, especially in the skill aspects of the game rather than the effort areas. That alone, should be a good reason to be more careful about watching each players minutes. But realistically, you hardly ever see a player telling his coach that he can't go, or wants less minutes so it is a very difficult situation to manage properly. Never the less the Popovich/Rivers model seems to be better suited to the long grind of the NBA life, season after season.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    You noted (according to ESPN) that "studies of elite athletes that basically said that once the muscles reach a certain point of fatigue the chance for injury goes up significantly if not exponentially. I think that this point is fairly intuitive and logical."

    That certainly makes sense. So, if a coach overworks players, the coach is inviting injuries to his players. That is, IMO, unethical during the regular season, and it is also counter-intuitive for the playoffs. So why do it? Poor judgment.

    Additionally, it delays the progress of rookies/2nd year guys. By the time they are beginning to blossom in their third year, they may be too expensive to keep, at least to keep all of them. It could be wiser to accelerate the learning curve for these guys, unless the team is on the cusp of a championship. Even then the kids could help a lot if they mature faster.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I would guess that pushing yourself past that point of fatigue does exponentially increase your odds of injury, however, i would also bet that the accumulation of minutes doesn't affect that. It's only whether you take the risk in an individual game.

    It'd be interesting to see the data for injuries and look to see how many of them happen in which minute the player was on the floor to see how the data lines up. It may be interesting to filter by contact injuries and non contact injuries [ie remove the ones where a guy obviously just lands wrong and would hurt himself no matter what].

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    In general I would agree with the individual game theory vs accumulation theory.

    However, you always hear players talk about not having their legs in back to backs or at certain other times in the season. This would seem to be an accumulation effect, does this have any bearing on injuries? If the players compensate for their "dead legs" then they might increase their likelihood of injuries.

    The issue is probably a lot more complicated than many of us realize, maybe modern mega data will someday solve the issue.

  • Maybe Thibs wanted to limit the minutes last year but due to injuries and a weaker bench was unable to. How do you cut Loul's Minutes when his only backup is already playing 28+ minutes at SG... How do you limit Noah's minutes when you have a massive talent drop off going to Nazr.

    Nice to hear they are addressing the issue. Will it help I don't know. Likely can only help though as they have been probably the most injury prone squad the past few seasons. Having everyone back should help with minute management as well. Hope they can stay healthy or atleast be healthy for the playoffs.

  • In reply to Chad:

    Butler wasn't playing 28 minutes a game at shooting guard. Butler only averaged 26 minutes a game period. It seems pretty obvious that you could have played Butler 8 more minutes a game and got him to 34 and subtracted 8 minutes from Luol if you wanted and then you'd have achieved your goal.

  • Wish we could trade Boozer for Lin and Asik. Salaries match and it would bring in good mid level talent for Booz and allow Rose to play off the ball some

  • In reply to FreeJoakim:

    Asik only makes eight million. His salary is spread out differently in terms of what is owed to him financially, but his books money is eight million.

  • ESPN posted its player by player review of the Bulls today.

    For all of those who kept insisting that the BozoHole had his best season as a Bull last year(which he clearly did not) and that he should have been an all star(which is beyond ludicrous) Read this and especially focus on paragraph 3

    "CARLOS BOOZER, PF
    Scouting report
    + Solid low-post scorer with the ability to finish in the lane with either hand.
    + Rugged overall rebounder with good instincts and a nose for the ball.
    + Relatively undersized for a 4, holds his own on defense in isolation, but has poor help instincts.

    Analysis
    It has long been a foregone conclusion that the Bulls will use the amnesty clause to waive Boozer after the 2013-14 season to free up cap space for a run at a younger elite free agent, and to clear a lineup slot for European wunderkind Nikola Mirotic. Whether this all comes to pass depends on whether the 2014 free-agent market really shapes up to be as glittery as everyone thinks and, just as important, whether Boozer proves he can still play at a high level.

    Last season, Boozer had the opportunity to become the focal point of the Chicago offense with Rose out, and he posted the lowest winning percentage (.473) of his career. Boozer's once deadly mid-post game fell off the map, as his shooting percentage from 3-to-9 feet slipped from 54 percent to 32 percent, per HoopData.com. The Bulls were 7.7 points per 100 possessions worse with Boozer on the floor, losing 3.2 points of offense and 4.5 points of defense.

    Boozer is still a high-level rebounder, though, and his efficiency should perk up a bit with Rose's return. His ability to run the pick-and-pop will be a staple of the Rose-led offense, and he has always worked well in tandem with Joakim Noah. However, Boozer turns 32 in November and in three years with the Bulls, he has established that he's on a tier below that of the player who earned a five-year, $75 million deal from Chicago back in 2010. With better values likely to pop up in the marketplace over the next nine months, it seems only a resurgent season from Boozer can prevent him from being an amnesty cut next July."

    To highlight the badness(and not in a good way) the Bulls were 7.7 points per 100 possessions worse with the Hole on the floor, including 3.2 points worse on offense and 4.5 points worse on defense.

    That's with his primary backup being Taj Gibson, who everybody complains about as being a liability on offense. 32% on shots between 3-9 ft, how is that even possible. So he didn't just suck ass on defense as usual, he was nearly as bad on offense, and they didn't even mention his career worst FGP of 47%. Really how much more of an affirmation of his uselessness does anyone need. How is getting rid of him not addition by subtraction, especially when you replace him with Taj and Mirotic(next season).

    Pretty much proves my point that the Hole regularly contributes to losing with his all world pathetic defense and lack of effort, while his supposedly superior offense never contributes to winning.

    I'm not an advanced stats guy, but whenever somebody publishes an article highlighting them it almost always substantiates what I already knew just by watching the games.

    Well, I guess that I can just sit back and wait for the usual suspects to find a way to defy reality and come to the Holes defense, oops bad word when used in conjunction with said player. After all he really should have been an all star last season, just like Deng was.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Oh and for those who didn't believe me last year when I contended that Deng's defense had slipped, especially after the first of the year, here is the final paragraph from Deng's preview/review.

    "Deng's defense, which has been near elite, showed signs of slippage during his ninth season. Deng still moves well and has the reach of a bigger player, but the Bulls were actually a tick better on defense with Deng off the floor, a testament to Butler's rise. Now that they'll both be starting, Deng will benefit from not having to carry as heavy a defensive burden".

    Again, the key phrase being, "the Bulls were a tick better on defense with Deng off the floor". Given his inconsistent/pedestrian offense not really a ringing endorsement of his allstarness and the need to resign him for 4 more years and $40-50 million.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Oh, and here is a blurb on Noah.

    "Noah was also asked to compensate on defense for the departure of former backup Omer Asik, and he had perhaps his finest defensive season. His block rate was his best yet, and he again was opportunistic in the passing lanes. The Bulls were five points per 100 possessions worse on defense when Noah sat, so he wasn't asked to sit very often. Noah's 36.8 minutes per game were four more than his previous career high. By the end of the season, Noah's old issues with plantar fasciitis resurfaced and he ended up playing fewer minutes during the playoffs than he did through the season. Thibodeau has acknowledged the need to manage Noah's minutes going forward."

    So despite playing the vast majority of Bozo's minutes which result in the Bulls being 4.5 pp 100 possessions worse, the Bulls were still 5 pp 100 possession better with Noah on the floor. Not bad for a guy carrying a 265 lb sack of shit around for an entire season. No wonder he gets plantar fasciitis every year and can hardly walk by the time that the playoffs role around. Can you imagine how good he guy might be playing with a plus defender, I don't know maybe someone like Taj Gibson, or dare I say Omer Asik.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I can't understand why our idiot coach continues to play Deng more minutes than anyone on the roster, and why that moron also keeps playing Boozer 10 more minutes than Gibson (the difference is even more in Boozer's favor in the playoffs)?

    I guess Thibs needs to quit watching so much film and instead read lots more from ESPN and take a much closer look at the advanced stats? The stats certainly seem to prove that he is screwing up the minutes distribution with Deng and Boozer, at the very least.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    There really isn't much that you can understand, is there.

    You need to make up your mind are you a stats whore or not.

    So far the only thing that you appear to be is a world class name calling hypocrite, and obnoxious douche bag.

    Your posts are nothing but a screed of stats, then when you don't like the results of the Stats you rail against them, and call everybody other than yourself and idiot.

    I believe that prior to your 3 part rant on how PER is the single most moronic statistic in the history of the world, you wrote a post comparing Deng to various other players using PER as one of the 3 comparison statistics, listing it #1 by the way. In that same post you actually compared a PER of 15 as being to a PER of nearly 20, showing that you barely having an ability to do basic math never mind having any idea what a standard deviation is.

    Sorry that this particular set of numbers upsets your feeble little ego. Of course they are invalid because they don't support your view of the world, you know the one where you claim that Deng and the BozoHole are the best starting forward combo in the league. By the way the stats were contained in an article published by a writer at ESPN, they were compiled by HoopsData. But I guess that neither of those sources is legitimate when compared to those compiled by the Paducah Princess.

    Also, I don't recall mentioning Thibs or his minutes distribution, I simply posted some interesting "facts" that the open minded and "intelligent" posters on this site might find illuminating, obviously I wasn't expecting you to be in that group.

    Keep up the irrational hate Baby BozoHole.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    The plus minus metrics are extraordinarily spotty and Deng's off the floor minutes are so small in sample size that I wouldn't take much from it.

    There are too many factors to really rely on them for this type of analysis and you'll find that the numbers are definitely not consistent year to year.

    That said, I still agree that Deng is overrated as a defender, I just don't believe the +/- argument really is sound evidence of almost anything.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Come on Doug, you are treading on dangerous territory, you can't call Deng an overrated defender, after all he made second team all defense last season for the first time in his career, and he made his second all star team. Only an "idiot" would dare contradict those opinions.

    Yea, I don't think that the on court/off court result in and of itself was such a big deal, but it added some credence to my overall feeling that Deng's defense regressed noticeably last season, especially after the first of the year.

    Again, I don't spend my time researching advanced stats, I just watch the game and decide for myself. When people who do spend their time researching advanced stats write interesting articles which support my eyeball test I take note of them and sometimes repost them for others to enjoy, and for certain others to annoy.

    Anyway, only one more week to go, you made it through the summer, good job considering how little actually happened in the Bulls world.

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