With mounting injuries to key players on a handful of teams even before the regular season has begun, many coaches are resting their players as the preseason winds down. But for Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls, improving every day with a fairly new roster means all systems go with two games left in the preseason.
Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, Amare Stoudemire and rookie Austin Rivers are just a few big names who have suffered injuries this preseason, while John Wall, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Rose also will miss the beginning of the regular season. All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard underwent offseason surgeries to ready themselves for the start of the season, and are being brought along slowly.
In one of the most injury-riddled starts to an NBA season in recent memory, Tom Thibodeau said he sees the benefit in playing his starters with little limitations to form chemistry and good habits that will take the team deep into the season.
We want to continue to improve, Thibodeau said. Thats been the whole focus of our camp. Each day get better, just go step-by-step, build the right habits, do the right things and then the results will take care of themselves. I just want us to keep moving forward.
The Bulls host the reigning Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder tonight, and coach Scott Brooks has opted to rest Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with two games left until the regular season. And while Thibodeau will be cautious with his group, he said the benefit of playing his roster, to an extent, like he would a regular season game will help.
Youre building your foundation, youre building your habits, and youre trying to get ready to endure a long season, he said. But its important to focus in on exactly whats in front of you. You dont want to look behind, you dont want to look ahead. You want to concentrate on exactly what youre trying to get accomplished right now.
The approach, the attitude, readiness to play, knowing your opponent, all that stuff is important. So I want us to be building the right habits, and well see where we are after the game.
Thibodeau said he is happy with where his team is right now, thanks in part to a full offseason of workouts and training camp that saw six newcomers arrive in Chicago. And while increased preseason repetitions will help that acclimation process, Thibodeau understands his team will have to make adjustments moving forward
Were going to continue to add throughout the season, but you dont get it all in one day, or one week or three weeks, he said. Youre gonna continue to build and then you see how teams are defending certain things, so youll add counters in. Youll see how theyre trying to attack your defense so you may make adjustments to some of your schemes to take certain things away. So youre constantly building and trying to improve.
A healthy Hamilton brings scoring to Bulls offense
The Bulls have averaged 88.4 points in five preseason games, third lowest in the NBA, but a pleasant surprise has been the consistency of shooting guard Richard Hamilton.
The 13-year veteran missed 38 of 66 games last season with various injuries, but has logged at least at least 20 minutes and 10 points in four of the Bulls five preseason games. His 15.2 points per game lead the Bulls, and is shooting better than 51 percent from the field.
I think hes played very well in the preseason and health is critical for him and us, Thibodeau said. So hes got to continue to work on taking care of his body, which hes done. Hes put in a lot of work over the summer so were hopeful that he can endure the whole season.
Hamilton did not have time last summer to mold into a role in Chicago. With the NBA lockout spilling into late November, the 34-year-old Hamilton was thrown into the lineup while battling nagging injuries.
A groin injury forced him out of 10 of the Bulls first 15 games. He played in six games to end January, but missed the next 13 with a thigh injury. Later in March, he missed 15 more games with a shoulder injury. He returned in April and averaged 12.1 points on 45 percent shooting in 12 games to end the season.
With the injuries behind him for now, a healthy Hamilton looks to be a key piece to the Bulls new rotation.
He got hurt so early in the year and he never really got into a rhythm. The first time he got into extended games was April and so it was unfortunate for him and us, Thibodeau said. But hes a lot healthier this year, so sometimes theres not anything you can do about injuries. You deal with them as best you can. Hes healthy now and thats all that matters.
Bulls five-man mentality improves assist, turnover rate
The Bulls have an entirely new look at point guard this season, headed by Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson, while the team awaits the return of Derrick Rose.
Early results in the preseason werent pretty, as the Bulls compiled 45 assists and 63 turnovers through three games. But in the teams past two preseason contests, wins over Milwaukee and Minnesota, they have handed out 51 assists and turned the ball over just 30 times as a team.
Thibodeau attributes the better passing to the Bulls having what he calls a five-man mentality on offense.
Turnovers usually are, at the start of the season, theyre usually up, he said. But you want to get rid of the ones that are a result of being too much 1-on-1 or trying to make home run pass instead of simple plays. Keep the ball moving, make the right decision, make the quick decision, shoot it pass it drive it. Lets make a decision.
Those habits form through repetitions both in practice and in games, one of the reasons Thibodeau wants to keep his rotation in tact leading up to the start of the regular season.
A big thing is sharing the ball, and its a big part of the overall philosophy of the team. If a man is open you hit him. If youre being guarded by two or youre in a crowd, we want you to pass. If youre open and not guarded and its your shot, we want you to take it. Its not hard. Pretty simple, and again youre building those habits right from the start of camp.
Starting point guard Kirk Hinrich leads the team this preseason with 6.5 assists per game, followed by Nate Robinson (4.5), Richard Hamilton (2.2) and Jimmy Butler (2.0).