Tom Thibodeau has always been known as a stickler when it comes to playing rookies, but this season it seems like he’d be nuts not to let the new guys get some court time if the Chicago Bulls want to compete for an NBA title.
Tom Thibodeau’s Rookie Track Record
Over the course of his four-year career with the Chicago Bulls, Tom Thibodeau has had five rookies come through his system. Omer Asik, Jimmy Butler, Marquis Teague, Tony Snell, and Erik Murphy have all come into the league under the watchful eye of Coach Thibs. Of those five rookies, only Omer Asik (12.1) and Tony Snell (16.0) saw an average of 10+ minutes of court time over the course of their rookie season. With that being said though, you can also basically put an asterisk next to Snell’s name as he played during a season in which Derrick Rose was injured and the team’s starting small forward, Luol Deng, was traded at the beginning of the new year. Even Jimmy Butler, who averaged a team-high 38.7 MPG last year, only averaged 8.5 MPG back in 2011-12.
These numbers just go to show how reluctant Tom Thibodeau is to play recently drafted players. One can even goes as far as to say Thibs likes his rookies so little that he’s the reason only two of them currently remain on the Bulls roster.
Whatever the case may be, it is clear that Thibodeau has high expectations for his rookies, which is why it’ll be interesting to see just how much playing time newcomers Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic will get.
How to Crack the Rotation
There is no set formula for cracking Tom Thibodeau’s rotation, but just by looking at past examples, the obvious skill that sticks out is defense … shocker. As a guy that prides himself on his team’s ability to shut down the opponent’s offense, Thibodeau only seems willing to play his players if they are willing to play defense. Jimmy Butler was willing to do this, which is why he saw a massive increase in minutes played from his first season (8.5) to his second (26.0).
There are also examples of players who haven’t been willing to sacrifice offensively in order to help the team on the defensive end. Unlike Butler, those players saw a limited amount of minutes and were eventually traded away from the team (i.e. Marquis Teague and Erik Murphy).
Like mentioned earlier, Tony Snell was able to crack the lineup thanks in large part due to the amount of injuries/roster moves that were made over the course of the season. As much as Thibodeau would have liked to play Jimmy Butler all 48 minutes of every game last season, he was forced to bring Snell in to relieve Butler.
Can McDermott and Mirotic Break the Mold?
To think that either McDermott or Mirotic are going to be playing over 20 minutes a game is a bit of a stretch, even for the biggest Bulls fan. Both players are very solid and have thus far shown brief flashes of the hype that surround them coming into the season. While offense is both McDermott (aka McBuckets) and Mirotic’s biggest strength, it will once again be the defense that is the deciding factor in whether or not they will play.
The Rookies Need to Play
All the rookies (excluding Cameron Bairstow) need to play this season and it seems that Tom Thibodeau knows that. Whether he wants to publicly admit it or not, it is becoming more and more obvious that Thibodeau can’t just run his starters into the ground over the course of the regular season. Both McDermott and Mirotic bring some added value to a bench that is already equipped with Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks. Both players have height and can stretch the floor to open the paint for Derrick Rose.
The biggest reason why McDermott and Mirotic need to play though is because they bring much needed depth to the Bulls front court. With an older starting unit (Joakim Noah is 29 and Pau Gasol is 34) and bench (Taj Gibson is 29), a set of young legs can provide some much needed relief and be the difference come the playoffs.
With a good understanding of the defensive playbook and a continuous showing of hustle, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic can both play a critical role on this year’s Chicago Bulls team. Now, they just need to convince the only guy that matters, Tom Thibodeau.
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