After a horrible 5-14 start to their season, the Chicago Bulls slowly but surely climbed back to the fringe of relevance by winning 16 of their next 25 games. This success came in large part due to the tremendous efforts of Coby White and DeMar DeRozan, both of whom thrived as Chicago's star shooting guard Zach LaVine disappeared from the rotation due to multiple vague injuries.
The duo of White and DeRozan have averaged combined totals of 45 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists per game since that day, demonstrating just how instrumental they've been when it comes to bringing the Bulls back up the standings. As a result, DeRozan finished 10th in the All-Star fan vote among the East's guards, while Coby White is well on his way to making a convincing case for the Most Improved Player award.
In a somewhat ironic turn of events, however, Chicago's over-reliance on these two may end up being their downfall in the end. That's because the two players lead the entire NBA in one very important statistic that I find particularly concerning — minutes played.
Coby and DeMar have respectively played 1721 and 1717 minutes thus far this season, which marks the first and second-highest total minutes played of any player in the entire NBA. No other player has even managed to cross the 1700-minute threshold so far, and DeMar has even managed it while playing two fewer games than his fellow teammate.
Although Coby White and DeMar DeRozan lead the NBA in minutes played, the Bulls are still a mediocre team.
In a modern NBA where player's health and long-term longevity are prioritized above all else, it's uncanny to see players consistently log 38 minutes played or more on a nightly basis. Scottie Barnes, Jalen Brunson, and shockingly, Anthony Davis all help round out the top five in minutes played, but even that makes me question Chicago's method here.
Barnes is clearly Toronto's centerpiece for the future, while Brunson and Davis are engaged in a tightly contested playoff race. What's Chicago's excuse? This team is neither winning basketball games nor preparing for the future, so how can we possibly explain the unbalanced workload of this team's best players?
Like it or not, there are serious consequences for putting too much workload on the shoulders of your stars. Bulls fans know that better than anyone after we witnessed Derrick Rose's prime years wasted rehabilitating otherwise avoidable injuries. This much is especially true for a 34-year-old veteran like DeRozan, who would ideally prefer to maximize how many years of high-level basketball he still has in his legs.
Currently having played the 5th most clutch games this season, the Bulls are running their stars into the ground and still barely managing to win games. Even worse, DeRozan will almost certainly feel completely run down by the time the season ends if he continues playing this many minutes. Even if the Bulls do miraculously qualify for the playoffs this season, I doubt they'll have much left in the tank to make a legitimate run.
If this team wants to avoid another significant injury, things need to change from the top down. This team is sorely lacking depth and young talent, but management is unwilling to dip into the luxury tax to sign additional players and also appears unwilling to initiate a much-needed rebuild. Much to my disappointment fellow Bulls fans, it feels like things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get any better.