Contributions from players like Luol Deng and Joakim Noah have played a major role in the Chicago Bulls' success this season, but you can’t leave out the guidance of the team’s brilliant coaching staff.
Although the Bulls’ current record of 15-12 isn’t exactly amongst the NBA’s best, it’s actually an outstanding mark, as franchise point guard Derrick Rose hasn’t logged a single minute this season due to a torn ACL.
Also, a 15-12 record is quite impressive, knowing that Chicago ranks just 26th in the league with a not-so-marvelous 92.9 points per contest.
The Bulls obviously aren’t winning because of their scoring or lack thereof, but due to their exceptional play on the defensive end, thanks in large part to head coach Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau, now in his third season with the Bulls, is absolutely one of the game’s top coaches and possesses one of the best defensive minds in all of basketball.
Under Thibodeau this season, the Bulls currently own a defensive rating of 101.8, which ranks them seventh in the league. That’s a phenomenal stat for a team that lost solid defenders such as Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer in the offseason.
The Bulls have held their opponents to just 92.1 points per game, fourth-best in the league. In fact, opponents have reached the 100-point mark on only seven occasions thus far.
In addition, Chicago ranks fourth in the league in opponents’ three-point percentage, fourth in field-goal percentage and fifth in total rebounds.
Thibodeau has obviously gotten guys like Deng, Noah and Taj Gibson to continue to buy into his hard-nosed defensive system, just like they did the past two seasons.
While you can rave about coach Thibs’ defensive approach, you just might question his strategy to play key starters major minutes.
Deng and Noah, easily the Bulls’ two best players with Rose inactive, have rarely seen the bench this year. Deng is leading the league with an unbelievable 40.5 minutes per game, while Noah is right behind him in second place with 39.6.
It seems as if Thibodeau is trying to wear his players out before the All-Star break.
Apparently, Thibodeau hasn’t trusted his bench too much, as he has often gone with an eight-man rotation. Gibson, Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler are the only three reserves who’ve seen the floor every game this season.
Thibodeau’s reluctance to use the bench just might be the reason behind the Bulls’ loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in November. The Bulls dominated the majority of the contest, owning an enormous 27-point lead late in the third quarter. However, the team simply collapsed, as the Bucks went on a 31-4 second-half run en route to a 93-92 victory.
All five starters for the Bulls played at least 36 minutes in the game, with Deng logging a ridiculous 47 minutes. Yes, you read that right, 47 minutes—meaning that he only received a one-minute breather.
Getting that much playing time would be understandable for a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals versus the Miami Heat, but not in an early regular-season game versus the Bucks.
Only three bench players for the Bulls got into the game, while six reserves saw action for Milwaukee. And three of those six actually played more minutes than Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, the Bucks' two best players.
If Thibodeau had opted to play his bench more, perhaps the Bulls would’ve won easily and could have avoided an extremely embarrassing home loss. Yes, blowing nearly a 30-point lead is quite embarrassing.
Although Thibodeau doesn’t possess a passion for using his bench, he has done a fine job overall this season, guiding the Bulls to a winning record without D-Rose, arguably one of the league’s top-five players when healthy.
Thibodeau receives a lot of credit for the Bulls’ success, but another member of the coaching staff, Ron Adams, deserves to be mentioned as well. Adams, serving as Thibodeau’s lead assistant, has been instrumental in the team’s stifling defense this year.
In addition, Adams has helped Rose prepare for a comeback, doing individual shooting drills with the former league MVP.
The Bulls’ coaching staff, which also includes the likes of Andy Greer, Adrian Griffin, Ed Pinckney and Mike Wilhelm, has performed admirably. And as a result, the team appears to be headed for the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.
Stats used in this article were accurate as of 12-27-12.