2017-18 Season

AWAW Roundtable: Let’s Vent About the Minutes Debate, Shall We?


Question 1: Is Thibs playing his starters too many minutes?

Andy: I don’t know.


I suppose it depends on what the team goals are. They are 16-12 right now [eds note: much of this post was drafted before Thursday night’s win over the Kings, so the numbers will sometimes be slightly off], and it isn’t exactly clear to me that alternative playing-time scenarios would’ve led to anything better than that. Still, some tweaks here and there seem like reasonable idea-criticisms. The leaders (as of this writing) are Jimmy Butler (37.4 minutes per game) and Andrew Wiggins (37.0). Both of those numbers are too high, in a vacuum, but the backup wings are just so bad. Shabazz Muhammad has been unexpectedly unplayable. Jamal Crawford takes and makes difficult shots, but his defense is a constant liability and his ball-stopping tendencies make a bad fit on a roster rife with “primary scorers.” The Wolves perform a full 15 points better per 100 possessions in scoring margin when Crawford sits on the bench, versus when he plays. With that in mind, and having seen so many instances where Thibs yells “JIMMY!” or “WIG!” to check in for Jamal when it seems like the right move, I have a hard time griping about the minutes situation at the wing. Ideally, they’d have more depth there. The rest of the starting five is where things get problematic, and that’s because that’s where they actually have depth that is going under-utilized. At point guard, Jeff Teague is playing 34.3 minutes versus the 17.1 played by Tyus Jones. Teague playing more than Jones is understandable, but each is playing well enough that Jones playing under 20 – on this team, right now – is not enough. Whether he cuts into Teague’s full slate or plays next to him here or there, Tyus should get more burn to help balance out the playing-time distribution. And likewise in the frontcourt, Gorgui Dieng is too good of an all-around bench player to only average 17.4 minutes per game. (That’s why he’s on a $64 Million Kahntract!) Towns is too central to everything the team is building to see much of a cut from his 35.4 minutes, but Taj Gibson – a great role player, but a ROLE PLAYER – should not be playing over 33 minutes per game, as he is right now.  It would make sense to me if Dieng took 5 or 6 of Gibson’s minutes and maybe 1 or 2 of KAT’s. And this doesn’t even mention Nemanja Bjelica, who was playing great basketball in fewer minutes than he deserved, before his injury.

Dr. Lawyer IndianChief: The answer is a resounding “Yes,” but before I rev my engine on this, I just want to say that we’re not even doing this roundtable if Butler hits that last shot of regulation against the sixers (or Andrew Wiggins hits an open shot all game). That is, we’d be talking about Thibs rotations and minutes all season, sure, but if the Wolves would’ve won, the topic wouldn’t have reached DEFCON 5 levels brought on by national media/NBA twitter folks catching their thrice-yearly glimpse of the Wolves on ESPN and lazily attaching the MINUTES narrative to that god damn game, which by the way went to overtime (3 out of 5 starters played very reasonable minutes during regulation). If the Wolves win, we chuckle about minutes and move on. Also,  don’t even get me started on how I think the MINUTES narrative Thibs received during his Chicago tenure was also mischaracterized (cough). But that’s where we are…sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, the answer is “Yes Thibs is playing his starters too many minutes.” And yes, this is a problem. However, the reasons for this are complex and multifaceted. The prime culprit is unfortunate roster construction, which I’ll get to in the next question, but there are several others that I think folks are underestimating. I’ll provide three additional ones here. REASON NUMBER 1 is the simple reality that the young guys can handle it. I’m talking about Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony, who oh by the way are playing FEWER minutes compared to last year. When coaches have young, borderline all-star players, you play them, especially when they are tremendously conditioned and have zero injury history (as is the case with Wigs and Towns). This isn’t just a Thibs thing. You know who else gets minutes on par with Wigs/Towns? Ben Simmons, Anthony Davis, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. And these guys are way more banged up! But because they’re relatively young, and outstanding, you play them. This is part of the reason the minutes narrative needs to be viewed on a player-by-player basis. REASON NUMBER 2 is injuries. I think because the Wolves haven’t had a high-profile injury a la Rudy Gobert, Paul Millsap, or Kawhi Leonard, we’ve felt like they have been pretty injury free. However, with just over a third of the season played, we are discounting the four games Jeff Teague missed (where KAT/Wigs/Taj’s minutes SKYROCKETED compared to normal) and even more significantly, the long-term losses of Nemanja Bjelica and Justin Patton. Bjelica/Patton being out make it particularly hard to spell KAT, Jimmy, and Taj, and that’s where the minutes have begun to pile up. REASON NUMBER 3, perhaps the most overlooked, is that most of the games the Wolves have played have been close! There have been very few blowouts either way going into the 4th quarter, which means, yeah, you gotta have your best players on the floor to finish the games. I realize that this is a bit of a chicken/egg scenario (are the games close because Thibs is overplaying his starters through the first 36 minutes?), but there is a case to be made that the Wolves’ bad bench (which I do believe deserves a longer leash) has been losing leads and forcing the Wolves into close games. Moreover, this speaks to the importance of distinguishing the simple take of THIBS IS OVERPLAYING STARTERS BECAUSE OF HIS IDEOLOGY vs. THIBS IS OVERPLAYING STARTERS BECAUSE OF SITUATIONAL FACTORS. I don’t think we have strong evidence either way on this one, and the answer, at very least is that both are true. And P.S., this is kind of REASON NUMBER 4–there is significant pressure on Thibs to win at all costs given the franchise’s playoff drought. One more reason why we can’t look at this stuff in a vacuum.

Lucas: In short, yes, but I think the situation is much more complex than what it’s given credit for. There are many factors that are causing Thibodeau to rely so heavily on his starters right now including, but not limited to, their performance (they’ve generally been really good!), the bench’s performance (they’ve generally been pretty bad!), and old habits/attitudes. It’s easy to sit back and demand that Thibs play his bench more (even I’m guilty of that), but I’m not sure that that would be in the best interest of the team with this iteration of the bench unit.

Bill: Everyone has made really good points. The only angle I’d add to all of this: due to his power within the organization (Head Coach plus President of Basketball Operations), and the security of his contract (he’s owed $24 million through 2021), there’s no one who can even provide meaningful resistance to his minutes-binges. We’re going to get into it further in response to the next question, but in my mind, it’s not merely a question of whether Thibs plays the starters too many minutes. The answer to that question is obviously, “Yes.” It’s December; no one should be in “playoff rotation mode” with 50+ games to go. The more vexing issue is that there’s no one who can possibly check him on it. The media can ask about it repeatedly until it boils over somehow, but that’s an annoyance, not meaningful pushback.

Question 2: If so, is this more the fault of Coach Thibs (he should change his rotations of the players he has) or Present of Basketball Operations (POBO) Thibs (his coaching hands are tied due to a shallow roster that he assembled)?

Andy: Both take some blame here, but I think it’s more of a Coach Thibs problem. Thibs is a lot of things. Three of them are demanding, controlling, and stubborn. These characteristics lead to some really good results – they did in Chicago, anyway: great defense, team-oriented basketball, and the eventual development of young players into good or great ones. But these same qualities bring problems as well, and we see that when Thibs demonstrates such a lack of patience with his bench, versus his starters. He just can’t help himself: Instead of allowing Tyus and Gorgui some leash to play through a mistake or two, he pulls the plug on the bench at the first sign of a problem. At the end of the game, that leads to too many starter minutes (and a demoralized second unit).

Dr. LIC: To simplify my response to this question, I’m going to imagine that the POBO is not Thibodeau, but another person altogether. Let’s call him “Tom Brunansky.” Brunansky did a solid “B/B+” job of constructing the roster in the offseason, but at the end of the day, he overpaid for Jeff Teague and guys like George Hill, Dante Cunningham, Tony Allen, and JJ Redick didn’t want to come here, at least not for the money available. This left Thibodeau with a subpar bench, which has only been further hampered by the smattering of injuries I noted above. Brunansky did try to salvage his offseason by a move we all applauded at the time, signing Bazz for cheap, but he has proved unplayable (Here, by the way, is where we should give Coach Thibs credit–we were all screaming about the deplorable advanced stats when Bazz is on the floor, and well, Thibs stopped putting him on the floor). So, Brunansky’s moves have left the coach with few options. Like, if Bjelly is out, what is he supposed to do? Play Tyus and Gorgui five minutes more per game? (Yes). Play Georges-Hunt in Bazz’s would-be minutes? (Yes). Still, that would minimally impact the overall the starters’ minutes, which brings me back to a broader point: What folks are really quibbling over is the difference between guys playing 34 minutes and 37 minutes. Not sure how big of a deal this is.

Lucas: I’d say it’s about 65% POBO Thibs’ fault and 35% coach Thibs’ fault. POBO Thibs’ hasn’t done coach Thibs a whole lot of favors with the bench unit he’s provided himself. Shabazz Muhammad has been worse than anybody, including himself, thought he would be (and giving him a player option for next season isn’t,,,,looking,,,,great). Cole Aldrich and Marcus Georges-Hunt, for whatever reason, can’t even convince Thibs to let them polish the court let alone play on it. Aaron Brooks has been an unmitigated disaster whenever he’s stepped foot on the hardwood. The only bench players that have provided adequate to good bench minutes are Bjelica (whose production is unsustainable and he can’t stay healthy), Jones, Dieng, and Crawford with the former two being fairly inconsistent. Basically, the four players that have shown the deserve to play have played. But at the same time all four players have largely been inconsistent for their careers/last few years. Is that because they haven’t played much in the NBA (Jones, Bjelica, Muhammad), haven’t played the bench role much before (Dieng), or are towards the end of their career (Crawford) or is it because that they’re nature as bench quality players? It’s tough to know right now. It would be nice if POBO Thibs could go out and get a guard/wing or wing/forward combo player to come off the bench and provide some consistent minutes (though, admittedly, that type of player would cost a lot in return assets). That being said, coach Thibs could do a much better job at staggering rotations or even just tossing the bench out their for 3-5 more minutes per game. Having Dieng, Jones, and Bjelica out there for 20-22 minutes per game wouldn’t plummet the team’s chances of winning. Keep Crawford at the minutes he’s at (if anything maybe decrease a little bit) and add one to two more quality bench players and the minutes issue would, in theory, largely be resolved.

Bill: To be honest, I have a hard time compartmentalizing Thibs in that way and fairly splitting judgment between the two hats he wears. I keep coming back to his history. He went to a tiny Massachusetts college, then was an assistant at Harvard in the mid-1980s, as the school was in the midst of a decade-long streak of losing seasons. In ‘87, he befriended Bill Musselman at a coaching clinic; two years later, Musselman gave the 32-year-old Thibodeau a job as an assistant with the expansion Timberwolves. With that, his NBA odyssey began; two years with the Wolves, one as a scout with the Sonics, two seasons under John Lucas in San Antonio, two more under him in Philly, a decade with Jeff Van Gundy in New York and Houston, then three seasons with Doc Rivers in Boston, before finally arriving in Chicago. My point? The guy spent thirty years grinding to make it here. And to make it as an assistant coach, to show value in an industry with this much turnover, you have to grind. It’s what Thibs expects from his players because it’s all he knows. It’s what Glen Taylor signed up for when he hired the guy. So while it’s sensible (and cathartic?) for us to air out our minutes concerns, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that we’re having this discussion. Whether he’s got his POBO hat on, or his coach hat, it’s still the same guy that rose from Salem Freaking State University to having full control over an NBA franchise.

photo via Getty Images, David Sherman

Question 3: If you believe there is a serious minutes problem with Thibs and this team, what consequences do you worry about most?

Andy: This is a hard one to answer because I don’t think this minutes problem is that much of a problem. The discussion about it is way disproportionate to its actual impact on anything. To use a recent game example, the Wolves lost a tough one to the 76ers on Tuesday night, and because of the high minutes played by the starters, everybody voicing an opinion was certain that the reason for the L was fatigue at the end of the game. Never mind the fact that the Wolves were 1 for 22 from three-point range before Butler hit a couple clutch threes in the last minute to help force overtime. (In other words, shots finally started to drop when the supposed fatigue set in.) Had the Wolves shot merely poorly from downtown instead of comically terrible, they would’ve defeated a pretty good team by a comfortable margin. But they did shoot comically terrible from three, and that opened the door for the Sixers to win the game and for fans to ultimately cite fatigue as the primary factor in the outcome. I doubt fatigue has had any negative impact on their record to date, and if we were able to test alternative universes, it wouldn’t surprise me if the one where Thibs rides his bench harder involves more losses than what they have now. But if forced to admit it, my greatest fear is that Towns will develop some type of chronic and progressing ailment and — pressured by the Thibs-Butler Culture, even if indirectly — he’ll decide to continue playing through it, eventually leading to something bad. As long as KAT’s truly healthy, I don’t worry about 35 or 36 minutes per game, but he won’t always be healthy and it needs to be OK for him to admit that to himself, his trainers, his teammates, and his coach. In those times, appropriate adjustments need to be made.

Dr. LIC: My responses to the two questions above might sound like I’m trying to excuse Coach Thibs for the minutes issue or at least downplay it. Make no mistake, I think it’s a problem. Specifically for the 4th quarter reasons that everyone is harping on. But the 4th quarter issue is compounded by two largely orthogonal issues: (1) The isolation-heavy offense that also relies a lot on getting free throws and less on three-pointers. Free throws dry up in the 4th quarter as refs swallow the whistle more, and the iso-heavy stuff leads to guys standing around and clock being wasted. Not sure if Thibs, or Butler for that matter, can change his ways around this philosophy. (2) Defense, defense, defense. The 4th quarter stuff is a non-issue if the Wolves can figure out how to defend better throughout the game–this means if KAT figures out his positioning, if Teague can keep guys in front of him, and if they can shore up the transition D as a team. Here, I am very concerned.

Lucas: With increase minutes, logically, comes increased fatigue. The current best evidence in the available scientific literature has essentially proven that with increased fatigue comes decreased athletic performance (cough fourth quarters) as well as increased risk for injury, particularly muscular (though that’s not to say there also isn’t an increased risk for ligamentous injury as well). Additionally, simply playing more minutes also increases the risk for injury. After all, a player who is actually on the court is more likely to get hurt than one sitting on the bench. So, I guess you could say potential injury would be the consequence I worry about most.

Bill: Aside from the short-term worries (injuries, the self-fulfilling 4th quarter struggles) I worry about the long-term effect on the culture. I don’t really worry about the team losing Jimmy Butler, or anyhing, but I do wonder what goes on behind the scenes with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. I wonder if, in year 3 or 4 of this slog, it’ll get to be too much for one of them. I mean, a lot can happen… perhaps POBO Thibs will find a bench he trusts, perhaps the team will win 55 or 60 games next season and everything will be hunky-dory. Or perhaps he won’t, and someone involved will reach their breaking point trying to carry the team with such heavy workloads. I worry about burnout.

Question 4: Injury prevention and fatigue management have become big discussion areas in NBA writing over the past decade. From what you’ve read on the subjects, what do you generally find to be the best source of improvement for the game? On the contrary, what part of the new discussion do you think misses the mark?

Andy: I think the increased awareness of how grueling the NBA schedule is has been good for the game. Somewhere along the line, somebody started noticing that playing two games in two days made winning the second one more difficult than it should be. Adam Silver even adjusted the league’s schedule – stretching it on the front end into mid October to help limit b2b’s and the especially-difficult “4 games in 5 nights” scenarios. Everyone — players, coaches, advertisers, commissioners, and fans — should want the basketball to be played at the highest level possible. (If history could be rewritten and there was no cemented expectation of an 82-game season, but we knew what we now know, they’d almost certainly schedule fewer games.)

The part of the discourse that annoys me is the way “rest” is sometimes celebrated as the best thing that a basketball player can do for his or herself. If you’ll allow me to be the worst version of myself for a moment, it seems as if the Shawn Kemp workout regiment in the 1998 lockout is the fully realized version of the Resters’ vision of conditioning and training. (In case you missed it: Kemp infamously showed up severely overweight to Cleveland Cavaliers training camp after the ‘98 lockout.)

Sure, there was no more Reign Man doing stuff like this:

But who cares? Kemp was well rested! He showed up 315 pounds and couldn’t fly anymore, BUT: his joints were probably a little bit less sore when he entered that ‘99 season than when he was doing all of those crazy dunks in Seattle. I’m sure his muscles were less fatigued, too.  Those wild slams can’t be easy on the knees. By doing nothing, Reign Man was just taking care of his body.  He was ahead of his time, really.

Okay, more seriously: there are some obvious realities that can’t be forgotten when discussing these issues surrounding fatigue and injury prevention in basketball: One is that basketball players need to be in unbelievably good shape, and getting into unbelievably good shape requires exercise. Yes, even running, yes, even cutting, and yes, even jumping. Two is that “playing basketball” is, um, a necessary activity for anyone to become or remain good at playing basketball. It also accomplishes most of the whole “getting in shape” thing. (Shoutout to killing two birds with one stone!) Third, and unfortunately, playing basketball — while the most necessary thing any player can do to help advance their career — brings both risk of specific injuries (sprained ankles, torn ligaments, even broken bones) and inevitable degeneration of joints. Especially knees. As David Halberstam put it in The Breaks of the Game, “The knee is a delicate piece of equipment, a fragile human hinge whose architect had never suspected that its proprietor might spend some fifteen years in a profession where the principal act was jumping as high as possible some 70 or 80 times a night.” Unfortunately, a basketball career leads to knee problems. It’s an unavoidable fact. The hope is that those problems come later than sooner and that they receive the best medical attention possible, along the way. Appreciating that injuries are just a part of playing (and practicing) the game, you might come away more sympathetic to Thibs’s dismissive-sounding/possibly-dismissive-meaning “all we care about is the winning.” Does he take injury prevention as seriously as other coaches? No. Not with his in-game rotations anyway. But that doesn’t mean he ignores what it is – it might be the reverse, actually. Maybe he’s come to his own grips with the inevitability of injuries in the game, and the way that limits what can and cannot be controlled.

DO YOUR JOB! (Sorry, that felt obligatory.)

Dr. LIC: I don’t know, I kind of defer to Lucas on injuries. I’m way more worried about end-of-game and end-of-season fatigue than injuries. I think there is way more randomness to injuries than minutes. And if you look across the board of great players and great teams in recent history, they’ve all gone through it. I think about the current era, marked by the rise of the Warriors from 2014-this past season. When I think about the top teams during this time period–the Clippers, Warriors, Cavs, Celtics, Raptors, Spurs, Rockets, and Thunder–outside of Lebron, they’ve all faced significant injuries. Sometimes life isn’t fair. The world is not just. Embrace the anarchy of it all.

Lucas: I do think the trend towards playing less minutes is overall a good thing because of what we know about fatigue. Players are better at taking care of their bodies through diet and functional exercise than they’ve ever been before. Like with us common folk, eating right and maintaining a functional exercise program are great ways to stay healthy. In that sense, it isn’t rocket science. However, I think the current conversation around player health misses the mark on two things. One, rehabilitation science and health maintenance programs have improved exponentially over the last decade plus. I think the conversation typically revolves around increased minutes, fatigue, and injury risk without properly acknowledging that players are now receiving better, more scientifically backed treatments before and after games/practice. Proper rehab and health maintenance programs can help reduce the effects of long minutes and fatigue. Two, I think some of the science of injury risk has been misinterpreted. It’s true that injury risk increases with increased fatigue and minutes played, but I’ve often seen people associate that with “Thibs is actively hurting his players by playing them so many minutes.” From the literature I’ve read (obligation to point out that I’m currently in physical therapy graduate school and also that the research is ever changing), that’s not exactly what the research says. Thibodeau isn’t actively hurting the players knees, ankles, and muscles by playing them as many minutes as he is. What he is doing is increasing their risk for developing injury. I think that’s an important distinction that needs to be made. (A related aside: I’m not a huge fan of when people point to Luol Deng and Joakim Noah and declare that Thibodeau is the sole reason that their bodies broke down. That takes the extreme complexity that is athletic injury and boils it down into a super easy explanation that fits a common narrative. Thibodeau increased their risk for injury. Their genetics, biomechanics, mindset towards individual health, random dumb luck, and a number of other factors have them at where they are today.)

Bill: I think the understanding that the game is so much different than it was even ten or (especially) twenty to thirty years ago is a net positive. I think people are aware of, and sympathetic to, what the players are up against on a nightly basis, and that’s led to a more nuanced discussion of the league and its players. Spreading out the schedule to increase rest and cut down on back-to-backs and 3-in-4 or 4-in-5 situations was long overdue. So I think in general it’s been very positive.

Question 5: Could anything cause Thibs to change his ways?

Andy: I can’t imagine anything changing his process at this point. He’s been in the league forever and his past success reinforces his methods. The only thing that could change what happens from a practical perspective would be stronger bench play. Aside from Tyus Jones and the [somewhat ironically, for purposes of this discussion, due to his own limited minutes] injured Nemanja Bjelica, the performance numbers of the bench are terrible. That’s Gorgui. That’s Jamal. And that is especially Bazz. If Thibs either trades for a different bench guy or starts seeing better play from the players he’s already got, he might play them more than he is now.

Dr. LIC: Yes! And that answer is if they make considerable roster moves, most of which have to occur after FA restrictions loosen up (post-Dec15). It is unconscionable that the Wolves still have a roster spot open, but I think that they will acquire a wing to replace Bazz soon. Sean Kilpatrick on the open market intrigues me and I would love to go after DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley, or even Wes Matthews via trade. I am also throwing my hat in the ring for going after DeAndre Jordan at all costs (I know, I know we need a wing). As I’ve said on Twitter, if none of this comes true by the all-star break, I’ll happily light my torch and grab my pitchfork to start strolling toward Thibodeau manor.

Lucas: All we can do is hope that acquiring one or two more bench players that Thibs can trust to be consistent will help cut down on the starters minutes. But other than that, I’m a little dubious.

Bill: I suppose I said my bit already; I think Thibs is what he is, and I think we’ll be grappling with the “minutes dilemma” for the entirety of his tenure here.


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9 thoughts on “AWAW Roundtable: Let’s Vent About the Minutes Debate, Shall We?

  1. Good discussion on a topic which I think is an Achilles heel for Thibs. In today’s NBA, you need diversity in your team to mix and match players and create a mismatch your stars can exploit. Forget the minutes being logged by young guys like KAT and Wiggins. If Butler and Taj are byproducts of heavy use, than I hope it transforms our young wunderkinds into their veteran counterparts asap. I’m more concerned with the lack of diversity Thibs puts on the floor night after night. In Golden State, you have two point guards that are as different, yet effective as you can get in Curry and Livingston. We have two (or some could say three PG) that are all about the same size, style of play and defensive prowess. They can run Livingston as a point guard or a two which gives that team a lot of flexibility in the front court. San Antonio can run Ginobili like a PG or SG or SF and that gives them huge flexibility. Same with Harden and now CP3. Thibs sees that flexibility in his starters, but his bench are just lesser versions of the guys on the floor, with few exceptions.

    Thibs treats his bench like a group that gives his starters a rest, not as another weapon to bring in with starters to change the dynamic. Tyus sometimes comes in and gives the starters a bit of energy and moves the ball around more than Teague, but essentially he is there to give Teague a rest, not to create a mismatch for the other team to deal with. Same with G. Crawford has been able to change the mix, but he really hasn’t been able to take on the PG role or play strong enough to be a SF. If he is hot, then he can be a good player off the bench. If not, Thibs is better off keeping Butler and Wiggins on the floor. It would be great to see Butler, Wiggins and Crawford in the line-up together and see how the other team would handle that length and ability to get to the basket. Belly is the one player that could be a game changer, but he doesn’t always show up and seems to get ticky-tack injuries that keep him from being a reliable source.

    Thibs the POBO put Thibs the coach in this position. Maybe Patton becomes a shot blocker and defender that creates some diversity, but right now he is very lean and would get pushed around like KAT does by bigger low post guys. Having dealt Wiggins and the pick instead of LaVine and Dunn would have given us some more flexibility than Andrew gives us, but LaVine was hurt and would not have helped us get to the position we are now, and Dunn didn’t look like he could ever be the PG he is for Chicago. So even Thibs isn’t immune to Wolves bad luck.

    Which brings me to my last point, Players look at the way Thibs handles his bench and think, “Why if I have options would I want to sign with Minnesota?” BAZ hasn’t played well, but you have to think that he could have gotten more run with a Sacramento or Dallas than being in the doghouse for being what he is. So the Dante Cunningham’s, Tony Allen’s and plenty of other players probably think, “I either have to be a starter or don’t care if I play”. So you either have to pay more (Cole Aldrich, etc.) or you have to settle for G league players that are just hungry enough to take any position that gets them on jets, nice hotels and great per diem food budgets. If he played some of these guys and let them show off a little, maybe he could create trade interest and get a player that gives us more flexibility.

  2. Want an easy solution to end the debate for good? Fire Thibs. Hire Budenholzer after this season and this team goes to a whole new level.

    Then we become a fun team to watch and I guarantee KAT would try harder on D.

    1. Except Bud isn’t getting fired and there’s no reason for Butler to be here without Thibs. Guessing you don’t have a plan for how to replace him, though.

  3. -Overall the tone seems to be, ‘I guess the minutes thing is a bit of a problem, but man why do people blow it out of proportion?’ Simple answer: because it is coaching 101. Even the most inexperienced fan notices it and notices nothing (until last night) being done about it. It’s hard to not harp on something this basic, that makes us a complete outlier in the league. It’s not even about impact. It’s about obviousness.

    -There is some discussion of how the big minutes create long term fatigue and injury possibilities. There is also some discussion on how it can cause end of game fades (and yes, I agree that minutes is only one of many factors contributing to this). But something missing is the dynamic of rest vs. effort in game. Basically, coaches come to a ratio. They have a group of generally better players (sometimes a 6th man is better than 4-5 man as a calculation) and not as good players. They decide on a level of minutes to give each that gives them the best chance to win. This isn’t just about long term viability and saving energy for more important parts of the season. Fresh legs are very important and a competitive advantage. So the ratio gets balanced between, basically, having your best players out there as much as possible, and having fresh legs out there as much a possible. At some point, a way less talented player who is rested is better than a super talent who is gassed. Your most important players need a certain amount of in game rest to remain, for lack of a better term, what we expect of them as the game wears on. There is no replacement for this in game rest (want-to, taking it a little easier when on the court). This ratio is something every other coach seems to understand and do pretty well except ours.

    -As for POBO vs coach, it’s pretty comical because they seem to be at odds. If we do imagine one as a different dude, it would be hard to imagine the coach not being a little mad at the POBO for giving not enough bench pieces and not enough wings. That being said, let me be totally clear–the starter minutes being this out of whack has little to do with available personnel and everything to do with the way Thibs does things. He has a long history of difficulties with the minutes thing and mistrust of bench units and young guys as well as general inflexibility. And part of the reason you guys dismiss this issue as not that big a deal is because it is so small–just 4-8 minutes less for most of the starters would completely eliminate any hint of it. Somewhat less of an adjustment would make it much less worrisome. This isn’t hard, but it’s very important for being a better team going forward. Even with just an 8 man rotation, more minutes for Gorgui and Tyus (would not suggest it for Crawford) would help. Tyus, in particular seems to need more. That wouldn’t solve it, but just giving Hunt 16 minutes is a giant step towards normalcy and solving one of our many issues as a team (and a really basic one, thus the constant harping). Being an NBA coach is incredibly difficult, but when fans see something like this they think, “Even I could do that”. And that drives them nuts when they expect a top level product, when they see a coach getting millions a year. Coaches shouldn’t be THIS easy for the laymen to critique.

    -I think Thibs kinda coasts in his own world sometimes and doesn’t see the trees for the forest. But I do think, quietly, he’s worked himself to the point of adjustment. Not so much with his approach and coaching (that’s a TALL order). I think he’s starting to think about roster moves or even trades going forward in the season. Not sure what we can do with the assets we have, though, but I think he’s seriously mulling moves at this point.

    -Am I supposed to be impressed that Thibs clawed his way up to his position? In some ways it makes him feel like a fish walking on it’s fins surrounded by actual land animals with legs. Given his behind the times systems and approach, this analogy is particularly apt. But more to the general concept of deserving a crack after putting in the years… how many NBA head coaching slots are there? Yeah, I expect everyone that has one to have worked hard to get there. In fact there are likely thousands of hardworking, deserving, somewhat qualified guys who will never get a shot at it. I have to assume some are better talents than Thibs, and more pleasant. So, no blue collar Thibs love over here. DO YOUR JOB!

  4. Forgot to mention that Tom makes some good points. He kind of opens a pandora’s box of issues. I spoke extensively above about how limited minutes and back up players provide a fresh legs advantage that almost all teams recognize without much deliberation. The round table talks about fatigue, injuries, fading etc. But if we expand the conversation to not simply be about starter minutes, but also about a bench it raises other problems with how Thibs distributes minutes. You have to have a bench (and play it) in the NBA. Most great teams that head to the finals have particularly good benches and ‘deep teams’. This isn’t just so they can have their best players rested with the smallest amount of fall off while they aren’t on the floor. It also gives them flexibility with combinations and rotations, as well as resiliency during inevitable injuries. Thibs refuses (generally–last night was a step in the right direction) to play enough bench players enough minutes. This doesn’t just have a negative affect on the starters (fatigue, fades, injuries) but it keep a bench from developing. The guys don’t get enough minutes to get going, and many of them get few or no chances at all to play. As I stated a while back, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy–I can’t play the bench because they are so bad, but of course they are so bad because I don’t play them. This is a trap Thibs is constantly in, willfully or not. But having a bad bench, no tested depth, and few players you trust playing small rotations greatly limits combinations and flexibility. This makes a team like ours which has been only going 8 deep and playing bench guys limited minutes easy to predict. Our rotations become expected and not very diverse. We don’t have that many combos. We don’t have different options against different opponents. (Not that Thibs is flexible enough to take advantage of this even if he had 10 deep played up and ready all the time). So aside from issues with the starters, overplaying them can lead to an atrophied bench that is underdeveloped, not ready to take over when injuries occur and it greatly limits rotations and adjustments to various opponents. And this is all stuff most teams are doing better than us, giving them an advantage over us they shouldn’t have. And as to Tom’s last point–there’s quite a few reasons why Thibs makes this not a tempting place for people to sign. The way he handles his bench is but one. We are lucky that Gibson and Butler weren’t dissuaded, but I don’t expect it to be easy to get guys to come here going forward.

  5. There are things worth looking into: giving Crawford more minutes, reducing Teague’s minutes a little bit, staggering minutes so that Butler or Gibson is always on the floor to minimize the defensive problems, bringing Gibson’s minutes down to what he’s more used to, having flexible rotations where certain things (Jones paired with Teague, Bjelly at the 3, Butler at the 4) are played in certain matchups. Some teams start subbing guys out in the first 5 minutes of each half, so it’s not like they have to go with traditional rotations of only subbing the starters out once per half.

    It’s been interesting how this has been emphasized locally. Jim Pete went off on Twitter about how dumb he thinks this “too many minutes” argument is. Even living fossil Patrick Reusse wrote a story about the minutes and the misconceptions about Thibs as a coach.

    What hasn’t been explained convincingly yet is why it’s a big deal that Butler/Wiggins/Towns are played the same amount that other teams play their stars. Towns gets beaten down the court constantly and is generally playing flat footed defensively, but it’s assumed that he’s more fatigued than other bigs who play the same minutes? Giannis runs point and is the Bucks’ rim protector, but Captain Casual Andrew Wiggins is too fatigued to play similar minutes? Playing too much in the 4th could be a concern, but nobody is up in arms about CJ McCollum playing entire 4th quarters for the Blazers (which he frequently does).

    Russell Westbrook was driving full-speed and dunking on guys in triple overtime tonight; he played the last 9 minutes of regulation and every minute of the 3 OTs, 37 regulation minutes and 15 OT minutes. Maybe, just maybe, it shouldn’t be a big deal to have a good NBA player play hard for 35-38 minutes per game and be able to finish the game effectively.

    1. The starter minutes thing isn’t a mirage. We are an outlier in this regard from all other NBA teams this season. We don’t seem to have good motives/arguments for being such an outlier. It doesn’t matter what Reusse (eye roll) or Jim Pete tweet about it. We lead the league in starter minutes and it is a concern.

      That being said, I don’t think it’s the primary reason the two young starters (KAT and Wiggins) look like they do. They could both use a slight reduction in minutes, ideally, but they have a lot of more important issues. And theoretically, their young legs can stand up to being overplayed better (although both are fairly weak players which causes fatigue to quickly appear in a way we might imagine it happening to an older player). That doesn’t mean we aren’t playing too many starter minutes. The reason this is talked about so much is, as I pointed out, because it is SO obvious, but also because deniers or down players throw gas on the debate. Yes, our starter minutes are an issue among many others. Lets move on. Thank god there is a game tonight, hopefully with a 9 man rotation in it for us…

  6. As I said in my first reply, I don’t care about heavy minutes for twenty somethings who work hard for three hours, mostly every other day. I know they have activities that they need to do for the franchise and their pocketbooks, but they are not overworked. Butler and Gibson are products of this same coach and seem much more prepared and energized than their younger teammates each night. Developing a bench that has specific skills to help augment the starters is more important that resting starters during the course of a season. Because of Injuries and the bench moves great teams make, you need to have players that counteract or fill in during the season. We don’t have a lot of flexibility in our team to create those line-ups that make an opposing coach scramble to offset our change. When you put in a PEK for KAT, you change the way the defense needs to react. No more pushing our center out of the low post. No more backing a smaller center down low. Now they need to go outside and try to pull our big man out. Replacing KAT with G, doesn’t change much for the opposing team to defend. G is just a lesser version of KAT, great to come in against smaller bench centers, but really nothing new.

    We have been placing blame on Teague for his $19 million salary because taking a Darren Collison would have allowed Thibs, the POBO, $9 million more to add flexibility and depth. Teague has played about the way he was expected to play, which is frankly and sadly better than Ricky did. The down side is that we don’t have a long PG like Dejounte Murray or Livingston to replace Teague and cause teams to change who they guard. Tyus has been a good player, sometimes playing better than the $19 million dollar Teague, but doesn’t really cause the defense to think differently. Belly with his outside range and ability to pass and put the ball on the floor can be a make-up changer, but Thibs should have been looking for another guy like him, since Belly has never been healthy and missed games last year too, putting Thibs in a bind.

    The last thing I want to add to the conversation is what I love about Butler and Taj is that they don’t make excuses for losses and they don’t seem to mind playing hard all game long. Jimmy and Taj both get fouled with no call from the refs, they chirp about it, but not during the course of the game leaving them out of position. They wait for TO or stopped play to “respectfully” talk to the refs about calls they missed. KAT and Wiggins need to emulate these two players and the sooner the better. It drives me nuts that KAT not only chirps immediately about every missed call (must be a KY thing) but does it while his player is beating him down the court for a dunk or layup. He also irritates the prima donna refs in this league, so he continues to get no calls. Wiggins (I love gjk’s nickname for him, Captain Casual) for all his athletic ability, seems unconcerned about hustling down the floor and maybe getting a lane to drive to the basket and get an easy score. I wonder if we eliminated all the time during the game where he isn’t running hard, working hard to box out his man, etc. if he actually would work for more than 10 minutes a night. Next year he will be paid $30 million. David Kahn called KLove a third wheel on a championship team (probably his only right thought while he was here). What would Kahn call Capt Casual?

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