Thibodeau defends high minutes for Deng, Noah

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
8:27
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Tom Thibodeau does not think he is playing Joakim Noah and Luol Deng too many minutes.

He wanted to make that clear Friday afternoon when asked if he thought Noah, who like Deng is averaging over 40 minutes a game, is seeing too much court time for the Chicago Bulls.

"No," Thibodeau said. "It doesn't matter. He's in his 20s."

The veteran coach chafed at the suggestion he was overworking the two most important players on his current team without Derrick Rose on the floor.

"Look, here's the thing, OK?" he said. "I sat on the opposing bench when Phil [Jackson] was coaching the Bulls. I used to sit there and say, 'When's he going to take those guys out, because I don't want to see them on the floor.' He never did."

That's when Thibodeau was an assistant with the New York Knicks. The same thing happened with San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, when Thibodeau was an assistant with the Houston Rockets, he said.

“We played them in the Finals in '99. Duncan never came out, so … who knows?” he said.

The point is, Thibodeau said, “I think there's more scrutiny all around and it's not just for a lot of minutes … it's never the right amount of minutes, that's the only thing I do know.

“So if a guy's not playing big minutes, it's not enough minutes,” he said. “Then if a guy's playing big minutes, it's too many minutes. So I don't know; you play to win, that's the thing. What gives you the best chance to win? Can a guy handle minutes?"

The coach said Deng has done well with his minutes over the past few seasons and Noah is handling his workload fine this season.

"That's what you go by," he said.

For their part, Noah and Deng recently said they are fine with the minutes they have been asked to play by Thibodeau. Deng mentioned several times he has talked to Noah about the rigors of playing 40 minutes a night.

"I feel good," Noah said after Friday's practice. "I think Thibs has been managing practice a little bit, slowing it down a little bit. It's usually what happens during a season, and we're in pretty good shape. Usually I feel pretty bad after the games but … we've had a couple days [off] right now, so I'm all right."

Noah said he is enjoying all the minutes but admitted even he didn't know he would be playing this much without Omer Asik backing him up this season.

"I didn't know it was going to be this much," Noah said. "But you never know, I think it all depends on the game. I know [Nazr Mohammed] is ready, he's been working. Taj [Gibson] is playing great, he's working hard; you can tell he's elevating his game right now and he's been playing good for us, so I think we're fine."

Noah was asked specifically if he could keep up the pace he has been playing at all season. Over four games during a five-night stretch last week, Noah played 171:35 of a possible 192 minutes.

"I don't really think about it like that," he said. "As a player you want to be out there on the court so … you don't really ask to get subbed out."

Noah, who worked hard with personal trainer Alex Perris to prepare his body for the grind of this season, acknowledged he is taking better care of his body than ever before.

"You learn from your experience," he said. "You know what your body needs, what food to eat; sleep is probably the most important."

Here are a few more highlights from Thibodeau's defense of his minutes allocation:

--On if there's more scrutiny for coaches compared to before:

"Who knows? If you study Phil [Jackson], his best players have always played high 30s, 40s, mid-40s in the playoffs. [Gregg Popovich], the same way when he had young guys. When Tim Duncan was in his 20s he played big minutes; now it's different. You've got a guy like Rip Hamilton who probably should be playing in the high 20s, mid-20s to high 20s, so it depends on where a guy is in his career. If he's in his 30s I think you've got to watch him more closely. Like Kevin Garnett: big-minute guy in Minnesota; rarely ever got hurt; huge minutes. And he got to Boston [in his] mid-30s and we had to watch his minutes more.

"You look at a guy like [Rajon] Rondo: big minutes, big minutes. So if a guy's young he can handle that. If a guy's older you watch it more closely. I think that's a big part of pacing your team. And when you're a young team, guys can handle minutes."

--On whether there is a difference for big men that play major minutes (as Grantland.com's Brett Koremenos pointed out Thursday, Noah is on pace to play the most minutes for a big man since Tim Duncan’s 40.6 minutes a game in the 2001-02 season):

"Depends on who you are. I think if you look at a guy like Duncan, he probably could have played the whole game. Wilt [Chamberlain] wasn't bad playing a lot of minutes. So it depends on the body type. Garnett was a huge minute guy; never bothered him. [LaMarcus] Aldridge is playing big minutes. We've got a lot of guys that can handle it, so I think when you look at the conditioning component, how they're taking care of themselves year-round, I think guys can do it."

--On knowing to slow down practices after playing guys so many minutes:

"That's part of pacing your team. If you're playing guys [a lot], how are you going to practice? How much contact do you have in practice? How many days off do you give your team? Those things all play into it. So if you're playing more minutes, maybe you're not doing as much physical contact in practice. Maybe you give them more days off. I think that's what a head coach has to do in determining how you're going to pace your team. You're looking at all those things."

--On injuries the Bulls have experienced, which have led to more minutes for other players:

"We have guys that have been hurt. Derrick's been out. Rip's missed a lot. But the thing that we do feel good about is our team. I think all the guys that have been called upon -- and we'll be calling on everybody over the course of the year -- they've been ready and they have to respond well. They have to know what their job is; they have to go out there, and they have to get the job done."

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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Jimmy Butler
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