Photos from Wayne Terry/PFO
We’ve heard the story before. Joakim Noah is presented as a cautionary tale of what happens when a player works with Tom Thibodeau for too long. Knees give out. Ankles bust. Players can’t hang like they used to. “Too many minutes.”
Besides the locker room questions, this is one of the first points of objection from Sixers fans when a Butler contract comes up. He won’t age well, Thibs has ruined him. Another example of wasteful coaching.
There’s just one teeny tiny problem.
Jimmy Butler hasn’t really played that many minutes. No, really.
Well, he’s played a lot of minutes, for an NBA player. A lot of guys don’t make it to 29 in the league. But most guys aren’t All-Stars. Most guys don’t carry teams in their careers. And most of those guys start games as rookies. Let me show you what I mean. Here are some career minutes played for other guys of his age and caliber, per Basketball Reference.
Minutes Played (Total):
Kevin Durant, 30: 30,620
Russell Westbrook, 30: 27,444
James Harden, 29: 25,258
DeMar DeRozan, 29: 24,892
Steph Curry, 30: 23,104
Blake Griffin, 29: 20,496
Klay Thompson, 28: 19,598
Kemba Walker, 28: 19,706
Paul George, 28: 19,617
Gordon Hayward, 28: 17,548
Jimmy Butler has played 16,548 minutes. That’s right – Gordon Hayward, who missed an entire season and is a year younger than Jimmy Butler has 1,000 minutes on him. Thibs might play his starters an awful lot, but he certainly doesn’t play young bench guys. We might easily forget that Jimmy Butler wasn’t always Jimmy Buckets. He came off the bench for 104 of his first 124 games and posted 8.5 mpg in his rookie year (42 games played). The minutes myth is just that – a story, made up and then repeated on Twitter and in podcasts. The truth is that Jimmy posted far fewer minutes than the other elite players his age.
The most powerful warning of Thibs’ deeds may not be entirely on him, either. Joakim Noah’s flop in New York has been pointed to over and over again as “Look what Thibs does to players!” But recently, that may have been shown to be less than truthful as well. Joakim has revealed that he partied too much, and was suspended for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. He admitted, “I wasn’t ready for New York.” I’m very much not saying that the beatdown he took under Thibs didn’t contribute to this, just that the downfall of Joakim’s career was not due to the minutes alone. Granted, he also played 9 years in Chicago to Jimmy’s 6.
But, the Injuries
There is truth to this: Butler averages 69 games per season (yes, really) in his last 5 years, since becoming an everyday starter. He did play 82 games in his second season, but that was almost entirely off the bench. For comparison, here are those same guys in the past 5 years (regular season):
Average Games Played (Last 5 Seasons)
Kevin Durant, 30: 64
27 GP in 2014-15. Averages 68 GP/S since
Russell Westbrook, 30: 71
James Harden, 29: 78
DeMar DeRozan, 29: 74
Steph Curry, 30: 73
Blake Griffin, 29: 60
Klay Thompson, 28: 78
Kemba Walker, 28: 75
Paul George, 28: 64*
Played 6 games in 2014-15, averages 79 excluding that year
Gordon Hayward, 28: 63 *
Played 1 game in 2017-18, averages 78 excluding that year
There is a definite cause for concern here, but I don’t think it’s as dramatic as it seems. He misses 13 a year on average. Some of these guys with similar numbers also have a history of injury, like Steph, or have had dramatic injuries like Paul George or Gordon Hayward. Butler has missed more games than the average superstar, but I don’t think 69 games per year is anything to scoff at.
Of course, there’s always a question of how Jimmy’s game will age. He’s not a spot-up shooter like Klay, aging like Reggie Miller. Jimmy’s strength and ability to get to the rack are important to his game, but he also isn’t completely reliant on acrobatic dunks or power-post-ups. He is somewhere in the middle of power and finesse.
This isn’t to say everyone should want Jimmy to sign a 5-year max contract. There’s going to be disagreement on that due to preference. You can even be concerned about the number of games he misses. But I think it’s very much fair to say that the rumors of Jimmy’s Thibs-ing have been greatly exaggerated, and that it is a poorly researched narrative. I’ve never heard any concern about Durant’s minutes (14,000 more), Paul George’s minutes (8,000 more), or George’s minutes (2,500 more). In other words, these are normal minutes, find a new slant.