Thibodeau discusses Bulls All-Star chances

956499.png

Thibodeau discusses Bulls All-Star chances

BOSTON Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau isnt one to play favorites usually, but its an open secret in team circles that hes a huge fan of Luol Dengs approach to the game, work ethic and consistency.
That why it was no surprise that when Thibodeau was asked about which Bulls have a chance to be named an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve Jan. 24, when the coaches votes are in, Deng was the first name out of his mouth.
Deng, certainly. To me, hes shown he should almost be a lock, in my eyes, based on the way hes played from the start of the season to the finish, Thibodeau said after the teams morning shootaround Friday at TD BankNorth Garden. I thought two years ago, Luol deserved to make and didnt make it. Then, he ended up making it last year, so sometimes it takes some time to build up and to finally be recognized because people will tend to look at the entire season also.
Deng, a first-time All-Star last season, downplayed the significance of the honor.
I think, as a player, you always want to be an All-Star. I think it just says a lot about your career, it says a lot about your team, people respecting your team with the record that you have and what youve done, so its something that you want to have, he explained. If youre not an All-Star, its not the end of the world, as long as you know youre having a good season, people appreciate what you do, your teammates appreciate what you do. You want to be an All-Star, but if youre not, you still could have a great season without being an All-Star.
Thibodeau also made cases for his other two frontcourt starters, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.
I think Joakim started off great, sort of tailed off a little bit with the flu, but is picking it up again. Carlos has been steadily getting better from the start of the season, to where hes playing great right now, he said. I think all three deserve consideration, but those things are so political. As I said, you can make a case for all of them and I think when you win it helps, and winning is the most important thing.
After Thursdays announcement of the All-Star Game starters, there are only seven spots left to go around on each conferences squad, so the competition is stiff. Although the Bulls fourth-place record in the East and the appreciation observers have for how the team has performed without Derrick Rose is considerable, its tough to see two, let alone three players getting the nod to play in Houston next month.
At the end of the day, none of us got voted in. Voting is fans and thats what they think, so thats what it is. But other than that, after that, whoever makes it, its what the other coaches think. Someone whos been playing well against them or someone that they see has had a good season, and as a player, all of us have got to respect that, Deng said. If were all in it, were all in it. But everybody deserves it. If none of us are in it, we know that were still playing well enough to be considered or for some people to think we should be in it.
Thibodeau believes that his coaching peers will take winning into account, which could help his players of the teams currently above the Bulls in the standings, Miamis Chris Bosh, New Yorks Tyson Chandler and Indianas Paul George have good chances to be named as reserves which could help his frontcourt stars be named ahead of players with better statistics, but worse team records.
I think most coaches do and I think coaches will look at what a guy brings to the team overall, have they done it consistently and then, some guys, its a build-up, too, he observed. But you can make a case for a lot of guys and theres certainly a lot of guys that are playing well, and are also deserving, and not just our three.

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).

[SHOP: Get up for the 2016-17 season, Bulls fans!]

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.”

[SHOP: Get up for the 2016-17 season, Bulls fans!]

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.”