With a surprising 41-11 record despite a multitude of injuries, you have to wonder how the Chicago Bulls keep on winning. Do they have the best record in the league since the start of last season because of the players or because of the system employed by coach Tom Thibodeau?
It's sort of like the chicken and the egg question.
The Bulls are 103-31 since Thibodeau took over starting the 2010-11 season. This year, they have the same team outside of adding Rip Hamilton and rookie Jimmy Butler, with Kurt Thomas and Keith Bogans gone. In addition to hiring Thibodeau, the Bulls added Carlos Boozer, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver. John Lucas lll was added later during the season.
That team went 62-20.
In 2009-10, they were 41-41 with Vinny Del Negro coaching, and Kirk Hinrich and Brad Miller as the main contributors (who are no longer there, by the way). Tyrus Thomas, John Salmons and Hakim Warrick also spent some time with that club.
We're looking at a 21-game improvement, along with the Bulls having the best record in the league last year. They're in the same position this year despite injuries to Derrick Rose, Hamilton, Luol Deng and Watson.
Rose was the league MVP last year, and for the reason most fans thought—the jump in wins. He's one of the best players in the league, but he has already missed 18 games this year, yet the Bulls keep marching on.
Deng made his first All-Star team this year, and many consider him to be the glue that keeps things together. Despite a wrist that needs surgery, he's gutting it out on the court.
Boozer is the enigma—he's the guy everyone likes to criticize. Boozer is still putting up numbers, but instead of playing the post game expected of him when he came over, he's become more of a jump shooter. Boozer's defense will never be great, but he is what he is.
Joakim Noah falls into the same category. He's not a great offensive player, but he provides energy, along with defense and rebounding. His intangibles can't be measured statistically.
Hamilton was brought in as the missing link to provide the offense that Bogans couldn't, but he has spent more time in the training room than on the court.
The Bulls are defined by how deep they are, and that is exemplified by the "Bench Mob."
Taj Gibson provides great defense and rebounding off the bench. He does it so well, that some have called for him to replace Boozer in the starting lineup.
Watson and Lucas have played better than could be expected when trying to fill Rose's shoes, especially Lucas. It seems they take turns playing the Rose role and helping the team win games. They have done it so well that the Bulls are 13-5 without the league MVP.
Korver has provided more consistent offense off the bench, though he still gets into lulls a bit. Brewer plays great defense and has shot better from the three-point line this year than last year, but his overall shooting percentage has fallen.
Omer Asik is still raw offensively, but he provides solid defense and rebounding in a supporting role.
Butler has also contributed in limited playing time, and Brian Scalabrine is a fan favorite and human victory cigar.
Thibodeau was a lifetime assistant waiting for his chance. Known as a defensive guru, he transformed the Boston Celtics into a champion in 2008, changing their defensive schemes to the tune of the C's allowing 90.3 points in their championship season from 99.2 the season before Thibodeau arrived. They also limited opponents to a league-best 41.9 shooting percentage.
Thibodeau did the same thing after coming to Chicago. In his first season, the Bulls finished first in opponent field goal percentage (43.0) and opponent three-point percentage (32.6). They allowed only 91.3 points per game, finishing second in the league.
This year, they're still second in points allowed at 88.9 per game and are the best rebounding team in the league at 45.9.
Thibodeau doesn't just teach players his ways; he ingrains them into their heads until you think he's talking when they answer a question. He lives, eats and breathes basketball, and it shows. Academy Award voters don't spend nearly as much time in the film room.
He's a control freak, and Thibodeau works his team hard to get his principles down, but he also has a personality. His players like him, and he gets them to buy into his defensive philosophies.
Even the lesser defenders understand his help defense. If you aren't a great one-on-one defender, you can filter opponents to teammates sliding over to cover your gap.
No team plays harder than the Bulls night-in and night-out, and that's directly attributed to Thibodeau. He became the fastest coach in NBA history to 100 wins March 19 against Orlando, accomplishing it in just 130 games.
If the team wins, which they do quite a bit, he still always finds something they can improve on. Like Lexus, Thibodeau is pursuing perfection and won't ever be satisfied with anything less.
It's not an easy decision, but can anyone say the Bulls have the most talented team in the league?
Their record shows they're the best regular-season team since Thibodeau took over. Does their roster reflect that?
Rose is one of the best in the league, but is anyone else really even an All-Star, including Deng?
What the Chicago Bulls are is a group of blue-collar workers carrying a lunch bucket to work each day. They put in the time, and then they do some overtime to get the job done.
How else could you explain them continuing to win despite a plethora of injuries?
Thibodeau's system is the reason. He would be successful no matter where he coached, as long as his players bought into him.
It helps that the Bulls are a younger team. Veterans don't always listen as well, especially to a coach who is constantly screaming at them.
But just as it worked in Boston, it's worked at other stops along the way. Since Thibodeau came into the league, he's helped his clubs finish in the top 10 in team defense 15 times, so it's not a fluke.
The Bulls have a very good team, and I emphasize "team." That's why Thibodeau is the answer to my question.
Do I hear any objections?