5 Adjustments Chicago Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau Still Needs to Make
Chicago Bulls’ head coach Tom Thibodeau has coached the team well thus far, keeping the Bulls competitive in the early part of the season. The Bulls have a winning record, and were in a position to win in every game they've played.
If Thibodeau implements the following five adjustments, the Bulls will have one of the better records in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
1. Play Carlos Boozer at Center
As a power forward, the 6’9” Carlos Boozer is undersized.
Instead of athleticism, Boozer has relied on guile and positioning over the course of his career. He outsmarts his opponents when he tries to haul in rebounds and when he scores; he usually scores from the perimeter. Boozer’s best offensive move is his fadeaway jumper from the elbow.
From the way he plays, Boozer could be effective during stretches of the game if Thibodeau played him at center.
The Bulls would benefit two ways.
On offense, Boozer would be able to draw his defender away from the basket when he shoots. This allows his Bulls teammates to crash the boards without the opposing center around to grab a rebound.
On defense, Boozer could guard slower players. He is strong enough to handle NBA centers in the low post. This would also keep him stationary.
Not having Boozer moving around much on defense would help the Bulls. He would not be away from his man when teams run the high pick-and-roll.
2. Go with a Small Lineup
By now, Bulls fans have seen the effect Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson have when they are in the game. Hinrich has started every game but one, while Robinson has been on the floor in the closing minutes of several games.
Hinrich is a better defender and offensive facilitator. Robinson is a better scorer and shooter. They both fill a need, but they never play at the same time.
It's time for coach Thibodeau to play small-ball.
A lineup of Robinson at point guard, Hinrich at shooting guard, plus Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah works.
Ball movement becomes the focus on the offensive end. The Bulls can stretch opposing defenses with four perimeter shooters. They would have the option to run their offensive sets through either player.
Against smaller teams, the Bulls can use the length of Deng and Hamilton to harass players. Their long arms would disallow a lot of penetration to the basket. Instead of playing man-to-man defense, coach Thibodeau can use a 3-2 zone, making the low post area a playground for Noah to block shots.
3. Play a Switching Defense When Opposing Teams Use the Pick-and-Roll
Opposing teams that run the high pick-and-roll play have tamed the Bulls. Teams usually have the player that Boozer is guarding set the screen. This gives their guard the option to make a pass to the screener or drive past a slow-footed Boozer.
To prevent this, the Bulls must go to a switching defense when they guard the pick-and-roll.
The switching defense has its share of flaws. The most common flaw is that it can cause a mismatch for the defense. In the Bulls’ case, they may find themselves in a scenario where Robinson has to guard LeBron James.
Switching on defense helps the Bulls because it would force each player to rotate better.
Boozer cannot afford to flash out while guarding the screener. He has to slide to the next player. If Boozer has to move on the pick-and-roll, teams will be forced to abandon the play. Boozer will be able to fall back into the low post, while a quicker Bulls defender can guard the ball-handler.
This can lead to turnovers. It can also become the precursor for a 3-2 zone.
4. Move Luol Deng to Point Forward
With Derrick Rose out of the lineup rehabbing his ACL tear, Luol Deng has taken over as the Bulls’ go-to player and their best player. When the Bulls need a basket, Deng has made one. If the Bulls need a rebound, Deng crashes the boards and hauls it in.
Deng has done everything Thibodeau has asked him to do. It is now time for Thibodeau to have Deng play the role of the facilitator.
During a five-game stint last season, starting from February 10th through February 18th, Deng averaged 5.2 assists. The Bulls were without Derrick Rose and Thibodeau used Deng as the point forward. Deng averaged 4.1 dimes in the month of February, and the Bulls were 11-3 for the month.
Deng makes good decisions with the basketball in his hands. He should be trusted to have the offense run through him.
5. Run Pick-and-Roll Plays for Taj Gibson
Taj Gibson should be a regular double-digit scorer, but he needs easier opportunities. By making him the screener on the pick-and-roll play, Gibson may have the chance to wreak havoc around the basket.
The Bulls have used the pick-and-roll during the season. They've done this with a combination of either Hinrich or Robinson at guard, and Boozer or Noah setting the pick. The play has had some success, giving Boozer and Noah chances at a high-percentage shot.
It has helped Noah. According to www.basketballreference.com, Noah’s true shooting percentage is .572. That is third on the Bulls, only trailing Jimmy Butler’s .712 and Marco Belinelli’s .672. Noah has used the post entry pass he receives after setting the screen as a way to get dunks and layups.
For Boozer, because of his lack of explosiveness, the fadeaway jumper is usually the shot of choice after he sets the screen.
Gibson plays above the rim and he sets good screens. Using him as the screener in the pick-and-roll play gives him the ability to get good looks at and around the rim.
Bonus Adjustment: Give Marquis Teague Some Spot Minutes
Marquis Teague was given extended minutes in the game against the Boston Celtics. He played 18 minutes, including much of the fourth quarter, in the 101-95 loss (via ESPN.com, courtesy of Associated Press).
Teague showed poise and maturity while helping the Bulls stage a comeback in a game they never led. He finished the game with five points, three rebounds, two assists and no turnovers. The Bulls were plus-nine in the scoring column while he was in the game.
Even more impressive, the pesky Rajon Rondo defended Teague through most of his time in the game.
Based on that performance, Teague needs some occasional playing time. If Thibodeau can find a way to put him on the floor, perhaps in the second or third quarter, his development would come faster.
Against the Celtics, Teague appeared ready for more.