East's top seed doesn't change Thibodeau's mentality

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East's top seed doesn't change Thibodeau's mentality

INDIANAPOLISIn typical Tom Thibodeau fashion, the Bulls head coach expressed no visible sense of enjoyment about the Bulls clinching the Eastern Conferences top seed in the upcoming playoffs.

Well, its the next step along the way. As Ive said before, you try to put as many things in your favor as possible, said Thibodeau, in his first public comments since Tuesday nights Heat loss to the Celtics, locking Miami into the Easts second seed. Its not the end-all, it also doesnt guarantee anything, but I think it gives you your best chance.

It might seem, that by calling off Wednesday mornings Bulls shootaround at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Thibodeau was reacting to garnering the top spot in the conference. However, he explained that not was that not the case, but he didnt intend on switching things up as the regular season winds down.

Obviously you try to put as many things in your favor as you can, but I dont think you change your approach. I want our guys to be consistent with that, how we get ready for each game, and if youre doing the right things along the way, the results take care of themselves. You dont have to worry about seeding and all that, so whoever is in there, youve got a job to do. Youve got to get that job done and thats the way I want them to look at it, said Thibodeau, growing exasperated by the medias line of questioning. I dont want them looking at, we need the first seed or, we need the best record. No, all we need to do is concentrate on Indiana. When that ones over, then we concentrate on the next one. When that ones over, then we concentrate on the playoffs. I dont want us jumping around, skipping steps, thinking about this, thinking about that. Once you start doing that, thats when you have your missteps. Just stay focused on the task at hand.

By seeding and all that, the coach was referring to the fact that the Bulls entered Wednesday tied with San Antonioagainst whom they own a tiebreaker, having beaten the Spurs in the teams lone matchup this seasonin the race for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. But while the ultra-competitive Thibodeau wants to win every game, he believes in his squads foundation.

Youre tested every year, but I think you begin the season and you always keep the end in mind. You try to build the right habits as you go. You want to develop a consistency and I think our guys have done that, he explained. Our preparation doesnt change each game. We want to try to accomplish the same things and try to just prepare ourselves the best we can.

I dont want us to change and for us, its the defense, its the rebounding, its the low turnovers, inside-out, share the ball, he continued. That shouldnt change. How you prepare shouldnt change and if we do that, were going to be fine.

Still, in the Bulls second-to-last regular-season outing, Thibodeau plans to play his regulars, though not for extended minutes. It helps that the game will be a test against a formidable division opponent, one who also plans to play its starters, possibly with the exception of Danny Granger, who has a sore knee.

Well see how it goes. I still think we need to find some rhythm with guys, but were going to keep doing the things that we have been doing, said Thibodeau. There are certain things I want to get a look at. Our starters have only played in 14 games, so they need some time together. Were not going to overextend their minutes. Well see how the game unfolds. I also want to get a look at some guys on the bench and some different groups together, too.

I dont know any other way to have them play together than to play together. The only way you can do that is put them out on the floor and let them go. Now, were not going to extend their minutes, where its overly taxing, but at this point in the season, youve either built the right habits or you havent, he continued. If youre waiting to change when the playoffs get here, its too late. Its what youve done all season long that gives you your best chance and all it does, with home court and all that stuff, all youre doing is giving yourself your best chance and thats all you can ask for.

With veteran shooting guard Rip Hamilton finding his stride as of late, All-Star point guard Derrick Rose is the one starter who could probably use more work.

Were going to see that, said Thibodeau. He said hes feeling great, so thats a good sign. Were going to see how that unfolds.

Thibodeau could use the game to get a look at different lineups, such as Rose being paired with backup point guard C.J. Watson in the backcourt. He emphasized the squads depth being a strength heading into the playoffs, despite most NBA coaches typically shrinking their rotation in the postseason.

Our bench is our bench. We did the same thing last year. The starters played a few more minutes, but for the most part, its going to be basically the same. Then, we have great flexibility. We have a small forward who can go to power forward. We have C.J., whos comfortable going to the two. We have great flexibility with our roster and thats by design, said Thibodeau. Each game is different, particularly down the stretch here because you dont know who theyre going to sit and whos hurt. Obviously Pacers reserve guards Leandro Barbosa and Darren Collison together, that would be a grouping that you could get a look at that type of lineup. It depends on what your matchups are, depends on the circumstances in the game, but we feel good about where we are right now, in terms of overall health and rest.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”