NBA

Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler becomes latest injury casualty under Tom Thibodeau

Jay Asser 19:00 24/02/2018
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Jimmy Butler suffered a right knee injury in the loss to Houston on Friday.

Before a prognosis was even determined, the initial reaction for many after Jimmy Butler went down with a right knee injury was to blame coach Tom Thibodeau.

Do a quick search of ‘Thibodeau’ on Twitter and you’ll see there’s no shortage of people asking for him to be fired and putting the Butler injury, suffered in the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ 120-102 loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday, squarely on his shoulders.

Butler wasn’t able to put any weight on his right leg as he was helped to the locker room and although x-rays on his knee returned negative, according to Yahoo! Sports, an MRI is scheduled for Saturday to know the severity of the injury.

If Butler was coached by anyone else, the outcry wouldn’t be nearly the same, but because Thibodeau has a history of running his stars into the ground – Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah all deteriorated under his helm – the Butler injury seems like a continuation of a theme.

Although it’s hard to ignore the pattern, it’s also impossible to discern just how much blame Thibodeau deserves. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle – the heavy minutes load Thibodeau places on his best players makes them more susceptible to injury, but many of these injuries have been freak occurrences, down to bad luck.

Butler’s case looks particularly bad for Thibodeau because the swingman both led the league in minutes per game coming into Friday’s action (37.3) and just sat out the All-Star Game for, according to him, additional rest.

But Butler ranked in the top five in the league in average minutes over the previous four seasons – two with Thibodeau and two with Fred Hoiberg – and played at least 65 games each year, so it’s not as if being a workhorse is new for him.

Still, the cumulative effect of all those minutes likely adds up and even if Butler’s just 28 and in the prime of his career, it’s fair to wonder why Thibodeau wasn’t restricting his minutes more this season.

If Gregg Popovich, who is widely considered the best coach in the game at the moment, can have consistent success while resting his players – occasionally sitting them out completely – why wouldn’t someone like Thibodeau choose to follow suit?

It’s 2018 and even though injury prevention is a largely uncharted field, no one can argue that rest is beneficial. That said, calling for Thibodeau’s head after any of his players go down seems reductive.

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