INDIANAPOLIS -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has always been sensitive to the fact he likes to play his starters a lot of minutes. He held to form while discussing Joakim Noah's recent comments before Sunday night's game against the Indiana Pacers.
Noah, who scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 41 minutes of action on Saturday night, was asked after that game with the Brooklyn Nets whether it was more of a tough mental or physical strain playing so many minutes all the time. The center, who continues to deal with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, acknowledged it was both mental and physical.
He then added with a smile, "We have a great coach, but he doesn't understand the whole rest thing yet, I don't think. But it's all good. We all want to win, so it's good."
Thibodeau chided the media when asked for a response Sunday night.
"You guys fall for whatever he says," Thibodeau joked.
But then Thibodeau got serious and made his true feelings on the topic known.
"I wasn't there so I don't know the context in which he said it, so I'm not going to comment on that," Thibodeau said, "other than [saying] he's playing good basketball for us.”
“I felt in moving forward that he could handle starter's minutes now,” the coach said. “Last year we had Omer [Asik], so they shared the position more. I think he's grown; I think he's shown that. And I also think the added minutes have really turned him from being an average player into an All-Star.
“So if you pull his minutes back to 28-30 minutes, then he goes back to nine [points] and nine [rebounds]. I think he can handle [extra minutes]. He's played very well. He keeps playing better and better, and that's all I want him to do. Keep working on that; I want him to be mentally tough, physically tough and keep improving."
Noah, who averaged 30:23 minutes a game last season, is averaging 38:23 a game so far this season. He made his first All-Star team this season and is tallying 12 points and 11.4 rebounds a game.
For his part, Thibodeau has repeatedly stated that after coaching against Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen for so many years in the league and watching them play heavy minutes, his young players shouldn't have a problem doing the same. He reiterated that belief on Sunday night.
"A starter who's young should be able to play 36 to 38 minutes," Thibodeau said. "There's a lot of guys doing that."