If you follow the NBA, you already consider Chicago Bulls' head coach Tom Thibodeau one of the best at his craft. He took a team, which won 41 games in consecutive seasons, and led them to the Association's best record the two years after. He is the fastest NBA coach to reach 100 victories.
His calling card is developing different ways to stop teams using defense. Few coaches are as adept as he is when creating a defense to give opposing teams fits.
Like most of his ilk, he has flaws.
Creating offensive schemes is not his strong suit. Partly to blame is that he has always coached Bulls teams filled with one-way players. For the first two seasons, Thibodeau had players who were defense-oriented. This pattern has reversed this year, but the results are paltry.
Derrick Rose has missed the entire season at this point, and the Bulls offense has become stagnant. Thibodeau went creative on both side of the ball to compensate for loss.
Joakim Noah's jumper is not a beautiful sight. What is a thing of beauty is that his shot goes in. A huge smile comes across his face, as the made basket is a sign of things to come.
Confidence is a wonderful thing.
Thibodeau has encouraged Noah to look for his shot and Noah responded by taking it.
The Bulls are tough to defeat when Noah looks for his offense. In the Bulls' 32 wins, Noah averages 13.7 PPG. In their losses, his scoring is more than four points less. Thibodeau needs to keep telling Noah to shoot it.
As a Bulls fan, watching Luol Deng not involve himself in the offense is a maddening affair. He does not take as many shots as one would like, but the truth is he is vital to the team’s success. Without him, the record would be far worse.
Deng is the Bulls’ MVP thus far.
Thibodeau trusts Deng to defend the opposing team’s best perimeter player while looking for ways to score. Deng being selected to the NBA All-Star team for a second straight year was a reward.
Deng has a coach that believes in him, and Thibodeau is wise to do so.
In his rookie season, Jimmy Butler rarely saw the basketball court. He has appeared in every contest on an average of 22 minutes a game. In becoming a vital part of the rotation, Butler brings athleticism that the Bulls otherwise lack.
Thibodeau does not have a problem sending his second-year swingman out to guard the Miami Heat’s LeBron James or the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. Butler does what he can in limiting the scoring opportunities of whomever he defends. He does his best work when the stage gets bigger.
Defense is not the strength of Carlos Boozer’s game.
The same can be said for Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli, but they all buy into Thibodeau’s defensive philosophy. They have become adequate on the defensive end.
This does not mean that either player will earn All-Defensive team honors any time soon. Neither player hurts the Bulls as much on that side of the ball as fans once feared when the roster was originally put together.
Thibodeau is constantly pacing the sideline, screaming out rotations and shouting out when a rival player has been in the lane too long. He does some of his best coaching during these times.
The good thing is that his team responds to him. Getting some of the lesser defenders to bulwark the paint is tantamount to his coaching accomplishments.
Watch Thibodeau answer a question about Derrick Rose’s rehab and you will be guaranteed to get a long pause, then a non-answer. You might even catch him get a bit agitated with the mere mention of how his superstar guard is faring during his comeback bid.
That is how a head coach should act when discussing Rose’s injury status.
It is best if Thibodeau remains cryptic about this.
What does he stand to gain if he gushes about Rose’s progress?
Thibodeau does his healthy players a slight disservice if he allows himself to be caught up in the “Derrick Rose Watch." He has to coach Boozer, Deng, Noah, etc. It is his priority to get them prepared for the game ahead, while coaching as if Rose may not return at all this season.
The other task that Thibodeau must face is helping the healthy players understand that “No. 1” will not suit up until he is cleared and ready to go. A 32-24 record is proof that he has done just that. He is not falling into the trap that all is lost because his best player is on the mend.
With all of the intelligent decisions Thibodeau makes, he has room to improve, something that he must change. Trusting his bench players more is one of the changes that must be made.
Nazr Mohammed is mired in a season-long slump. That does not mean he cannot contribute.
When the Bulls face teams that have size, Mohammed cannot be glued to the bench. He is too good of a defender to play as little as he has.
If the team is in need of outside shooting, Thibodeau must go to Vladimir Radmanovic and Daequan Cook. They both can stretch the floor. Why aren’t they out there at times? The excuse that they do not play good defense is indefensible when the team fails to score 90 or more points in four of their past six games, all losses.
Giving those guys time on the floor gives them confidence going forward, while allowing Deng and Noah to rest. If those two are rested, the Bulls' chances of advancing in the playoffs are enhanced.
Thibodeau must change this.
The other adjustment that must be made is replacing Richard Hamilton in the starting lineup with Belinelli.
Hamilton has done nothing as of late to warrant his position as the starting shooting guard. It is time to see what Belinelli has because unlike Hamilton, Belinelli will probably return next season.
Belinelli played well when he was among the starting five. The ball movement was crisp and the scoring was up.
The offense needs a shot in the arm, and the Italian sharpshooter is the way to go.