He’s won over 200 games in four seasons (205 to be exact) as Chicago Bulls head coach, he has a .657 winning percentage over that time, and also picked up an NBA Coach of the Year award in 2010-11 when the Bulls won a league best 62 games. Tom Thibodeau’s career in Chicago has been more successful than statistics can indicate, though. Consider losing your star player in consecutive seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14), and still reaching the playoffs at no lower than a five seed in each of those seasons – how many coaches would still have their job if they lost their best player to injury two years in a row?
Yes, there have been a few ruffled feathers between Thibodeau and Bulls management – times when Thibs’ job security almost astonishingly came into question given his remarkable success. Particularly, with general manager Gar Forman and Executive Vice President of basketball operations John Paxson and perhaps the dysfunction came to a head when assistant coach Ron Adams and longtime personal friend of Thibodeau’s was relived of his duties before last season.
But organizations rifts aren’t uncommon when you combine highly competitive personalities like Thibodeau’s, Forman’s and Paxson’s. And moreover, winning will solve or dissolve any uneasiness or creative disagreements. This offseason, Paxson and Forman have assembled an unusual fit of players for Thibodeau to figure out how to orchestrate.
Currently the Bulls’ roster is broken up into three divides: guards, wings, and big men. There’s three point guards with Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, and Aaron Brooks. Four wings Tony Snell, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, and Doug McDermott. And five big men with Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, and Cameron Bairstow.
The roster is comprised of players more oriented towards generating quick ball movement, floor spacing, and spot-up shooting. Theoretically, this Bulls team will rely less on Derrick Rose’s ability to score one-on-one, and present an offense featuring team-ball like the San Antonio Spurs have mastered.
At Thibs’ disposal are a variety of options in how to use a roster that’s nearly ten guys deep. Basically, the only mainstays will be Rose playing predominately at the point, and Noah predominately at center. But even for Rose and Noah, the Bulls’ most important players, Thibs must be mindful of keeping their minutes down this season. Ultimately, the bigger picture outweighs the best players because there’s security in the depth the Bulls possess.
Mixing-and-matching players into the remaining three positions will be Thibs’ biggest challenge; finding the right lineup combinations that gel and work best. Gibson, Gasol, and Mirotic alone all technically play the same position at the ‘4’ or power forward. But is being frontloaded like the Bulls are an indication Thibs is willing to play smaller lineups more often or overcrowd the frontcourt?
Unfortunately, everything to this point is a mere hypothesis and nothing tangible will be uncovered until we see the Bulls play in preseason (schedule should be announced soon) and once the regular season begins. But what we do know is that Bulls teams under Thibs have never ranked lower than fifth in team defensive efficiency ratings.
Although the Bulls have never had so many players capable of shooting, never had a team with this type of potential to offer with interior passing, and never had a second unit that probably will be more offensively efficient than some starting lineups – it’ll come down to defense.
Thibs hasn’t shown much patience in the past with allowing guys to make continual defense lapses, unless Thibs has no choice but to play a guy like D.J. Augustin last year, and Nate Robinson the year before that. Thibs will stick with his core guys that he trusts most: Derrick, Jimmy, Taj, and Jo. But what Thibs can’t lose sight of is the development of rookies Mirotic and McDermott, or allow Tony Snell to hidden on the bench for too many games.
As much as it’s crucial the Bulls don’t falter the season, it’s equally pivotal to get the most out of a roster so deep. Because if he doesn’t, there goes the Bulls biggest advantage over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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