Chicago Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau's Guide to Playoff Defense
USA TODAY Sports
The Chicago Bulls continually exhibit top-notch defense, mainly because coach Tom Thibodeau concocts genius game plans on a regular basis.
This has already been on display in the playoffs, and thus it's a fitting time to analyze his defensive guide to playoff success.
There are numerous features to his philosophy that are repetitive, leaving us with the ability to glean what makes his schemes so formidable.
We begin with the foundation and head towards the intricacies that make "Thibs" a basketball mastermind.
1. Never Satisfied
The core reason why Thibodeau is a defensive virtuoso is his drive. He's never satisfied.
Even after a recent playoff win over the Brooklyn Nets, in which the Bulls supplied suffocating defense, Thibodeau still envisioned areas of improvement (see the following tweet).
Thibs: "Our ball pressure has to be better. Containment has to be better. Challenging shots has to be better. Rebounding has to be better."— K.C Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 26, 2013
This epitomizes Thibs' hunger. He is always heavily prepared and will always note ways the Bulls can still improve.
This will to win is what situates him amongst the league's elite coaches. It's chiefly seen through his defensive preparation, which is constantly accompanied by an avid desire to get better.
Most coaches would argue that such a characteristic should always be present, but very few actually embody it. Thibs is one of those few and it sets the tone for everything else.
2. A Comprehensive Effort
Thibodeau surely understands matchups, such as positioning Luol Deng on an opponent's best wing player or Joakim Noah on a foe's featured post option.
But even a basketball novice grasps that defense runs much deeper than that. Where things get deeper is where Thibodeau excels. He doesn't merely discern the best matchups; he enables the whole team to collectively defend together.
When facing an elite offensive player (currently Deron Williams), it isn't just one player (Kirk Hinrich) containing him. Thibodeau involves everybody in help-side defense and occasional traps and double-teams. He has a remarkable way of alerting off-ball defenders (typically through deep, raspy screams) when they must help or show on a screen.
The Bulls have some naturally good defenders with high motors (Noah, Deng, Hinrich and the emerging Jimmy Butler), but the defensive consistency and tenacity that Chicago exhibits is reflective of a coach who has laid a brilliant foundation.
The comprehensive effort the Bulls display is at the heartbeat of who they are. They don't defend individually. They defend as a collective unit.
Help-side defense is not a concept that only the finest basketball intellects know. It's a strategy implemented by seemingly every coach who runs a man-to-man defense.
Thidodeau's production through this is alarming, though. His execution of a gritty man-to-man defense with active help-side defenders is unmatched.
What makes Thibodeau's usage of this so effective?
The Bulls are so disciplined in their activity off the ball. They don't randomly insert players in the driving lanes when it's unnecessary and could potentially leave a deadly shooter open.
They jump in the driving lanes with precision and intellect. They don't get there too early, nor do they arrive too late. They show quickly and then (if necessary) return to their assignment.
The following video contains some clips, amongst other things, of Noah clogging the driving lanes with perfect timing, often altering shots and making possessions troubling for the Brooklyn Nets.
This proficiency helps the Bulls still achieve victories even when rather lackluster defenders (i.e. Carlos Boozer) play heavy minutes. Thibodeau's excellence in regards to timing creates chances for rather limited defensive players to still be effective.
This sense of timing is a key step in Thibodeau's guide. The Bulls don't merely understand fundamental defensive principles; they enact them with discipline and timeliness.
4. Knowing Personnel
Not only does Thibodeau understand his own personnel, but he also scrutinizes the personnel of each and every opponent with astounding efficiency.
This is likely his finest intricacy.
This doesn't mean that such players rarely score or only marginally contribute. Thibodeau just makes them work excessively hard to find their production.
He is a master at taking players out of their comfort zones.
Against the Nets, he has done this with Williams. Since Game 1, Williams has labored through the past three games, including 1-of-9 and 5-of-14 shooting in Games 2 and 3 and seven turnovers in Game 4.
Thibodeau limits the efficiency of unique players. A prime example of this during the 2012-13 regular season was Carmelo Anthony, who averaged an eye-popping 34.7 points per game against Chicago.
His field-goal percentage, however, was a measly 40.7 percent. This lack of efficiency largely explains why the Bulls won all those games.
This distinct knowledge of personnel and keen ability to frustrate talented weapons is what makes Thibodeau's guide to playoff defense so stupendous. He continually devises schemes that restrict opponent's strengths, and he somehow generates constructive formulas on a steady basis.
These four elements—a focused drive, a comprehensive team emphasis, extraordinary timing and a pristine sense of personnel—comprise the central elements for Thibodeau's guide to playoff defense.
His unwavering commitment to these components make him arguably the greatest basketball mind known to man. He's certainly worthy of his reputation as basketball's version of Bill Belichick.
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