It may come as a shock to some but Tom Thibodeau has been coaching in the NBA since 1989. In those years he saw great players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman play night in and night out, and on some occasions was sitting opposite them during a game.
This is important to understand, because this is where he got his mentality regarding minutes per game for his key players.
Too often has it been talked about – his stubbornness when it comes to resting his players. From the outside looking in, it would seem as if he doesn’t want to rest his players or doesn’t know how to, but it’s really only because he believes his players can take the wear and tear. Professional basketball players should be expected to play hefty minutes, and it could be said that that’s a clear statement in their contracts.
But when is enough enough? If you ask Thibodeau the answer is never. According to Thibodeau, “I sat on that other bench when [Michael] Jordan, [Scottie] Pippen and [Dennis] Rodman never came out. I sat on that bench playing against San Antonio when Tim Duncan never came out.” If we were to put reputations aside, are today’s athletes any less fit to play full games at a time than athletes of the 90’s?
If anything, today’s athletes are more fit to do such mire considering that the advances in technology and fitness today greatly exceed those of the 1980’s and 1990’s. They all culminate to make athletes more prepared for wear and tear on their bodies.
Thibodeau went on to say that if a player is past his prime (age 30) then his minutes should be reduced, but that younger players should be prepared to play a full games worth of minutes. But that seems contradictory when superstars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony are all averaging less than Luol Deng’s 39.1 minutes per game.
Yes, there respective teams have more firepower than the Chicago Bulls, thus allowing them to rest, but the question remains: are they capable of playing the full 48 minutes of a game?
The answer is yes. Chicago has two of it’s starting five players in the top 10 for minutes per game, and they show no signs of dropping out of the rankings, I have written about Thibodeau’s intense minutes per game on his players, but is it really that bad?
The biggest argument surrounding his intensive minutes is that it will eventually lead to the player breaking down from exhaustion, but do we know that for sure? In his career, Jordan averaged 38.3 minutes per game in the regular season, 41.8 in the playoffs, and played more than 80 games 11 out of 15 seasons.
Wilt Chamberlain averaged 45.8 minutes a game, Bill Russell averaged 42.3 minutes, and Allen Iverson averaged 41.1 minutes per game through their respective careers. What these numbers prove is that players can play full games at a time and that they should expect to do so.
Now, I’m not saying that players won’t get tired. Players need rest and a coach who would starve his players from necessary rest may not be doing his team a favor, but today’s players make it sound like a crime that they played 40 minutes a game.
In the age of computer generated fitness tests, electrolyte-replacing beverages, rigorous physical training during warm-ups and overall advancements in technology, I don’t think it’s wrong for Thibodeau to ask more from his players, and I don’t think he will change his ways until he needs to.